It's never too late to learn money management skills

Dr. Mamta Gautam

The holidays are over, and things should be calmer and stress­ free, right? Not entirely true! While some stressors have been relieved, they have just been replaced by other ones. Stress is a fact of life in medicine. While it can be enriching and reward­ ing, it can also lead to distress. This is a great time to remind ourselves of things we can do to manage and reduce our level of stress. They seem deceptively simple, but are not easy to do consistently, and require ongoing commitment and practice.

Dealing with stress - general strategy

The number one cause of stress, regardless of the cause, is a sense of lack of control. We perceive that in this situation, we have no choice, and feel trapped.

Thus, the number one skill in dealing with stress is to chal­ lenge this perception, and to regain a sense of control.

Our share of the role in the stressful situation is usually very small, say 2% of the entire situation. We think logically, and so focus on the bulk of the problem, the 98% that is not about us. Yet, control is an illusion; we have no control of anything outside of ourselves.

Thus, we appropriately perceive that we have no control. We need to remember that our 2% is the part that we have 100% control over, and identify and focus on this. This includes our thoughts, hopes, wishes, needs, expecta­ tions, weaknesses, strengths, reactions, skills, expertise, education - the responsibility of this part becomes our strength!

Keeping stress positive- specific strategies

There are many things physicians can do to focus on our 2%, and optimize this.

  1. Take care of yourself first. As we hear in the airplane safety demonstrations, we are no good to anyone else if we pass out. Self care is not a luxury, but an investment that allows you to be more available to those who rely on you. This includes regular exercise, proper nutrition, having a family doctor, and regular medical checkups.
  2. Time management. Organize your day and activities, set priorities, plan ahead, and delegate. Learn to say no. Try not to take your work home.
  3. Take regular time off. Plan to have regular holidays, and weekly breaks, using the Tarzan Rule, where you do not end one without booking another one (just as Tarzan does with vines as he is swinging). Do not wait for a crisis to force it. Look for unplanned breaks in your day, and enjoy them as gifts of time, instead of getting irritated and frustrated.
  4. Use support systems. Surround yourself with people who are good for you - a good friend, a mentor, a loving pet.
  5. Share your stories. Reach out to people, and get support when you need it. While it seems that everyone else is coping well, you are not alone in our difficulties
  6. Laugh more often and be positive. Humour has therapeutic benefits. Children laugh over 500 times a day, but by adulthood, we are down to 5-15 laughs daily. Look for humour in your day, laugh, and enjoy. Add fun to work.
  7. Relax. Try out different relaxation techniques or meditation. Practice daily, for 15-20 minutes.
  8. Learn to waste time. Put aside time when you do not have to be responsible for anyone or anything. Take a break, do nothing you have to do.
  9. Create a financial plan. Money is the second key factor that prevents us from making a positive change to reduce stress. Plan your finances, so this is not a barrier.
  10. Let go of your guilt. Guilt is the main reason why physi­ cians do not do things that are good for them. We feel highly responsible, work compulsively, and feel guilt if we do not meet these presumed responsibilities all the time. Usually, what we are considering doing is reasonable, legal, moral, ethical, possible, healthy and is the very thing that we should do!

    Medicine is ripe with rich and rewarding possibilities. It is worth investing the time and thought necessary to minimize the inherent stress and to maximize this potential.