Medical training and practice are high demand, stressful positions that put medical students, residents, fellows, graduate students, faculty, and staff under significant stress. Stress can be defined as demands placed on an individual by the environment. Although stress itself is not bad or negative, excessive stress or feeling that one's resources are overly taxed by environmental stressors can lead to the experience of "stress," anxiety, burnout, and negative health consequences.
Below, please find multiple strategies to help manage stress.
Stress can affect people physically both on a chronic or acute level. Acutely, stress can activate a physical response often referred to as the fight or flight response, which is the body's alarm and readiness system. When this occurs, one's hypothalamus signals the adrenal glands to release a surge of adrenaline and cortisol, prompting:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Blood flow away from extremities
- Dilation of pupils
- Tunnel vision
Although this response is adaptive for short-term responses to stress (i.e., if one were about to be hit by a car this response would activate an individual to run), it can be maladaptive when this response becomes dysregulated or fires to often.
Health Consequences Associated with Stress
Several health consequences are related to excessive stress including:
- Suppression of immune function
- Heart disease
- Psychological disorders (i.e., depression, anxiety)
- Sleep problems
- Digestive concerns
Strategies to Cope with Stress
Multiple strategies exist to help cope with stress including relaxation strategies, assertiveness, and prioritization.
Relaxation strategies allow individuals to gain a greater sense of control over their physiological arousal by evoking a parasympathetic (or calming) response in the body. There are many different strategies one can use for relaxation, ranging from short-term breathing exercises to more involved imagery exercises. Please see the links below for downloadable relaxation Podcasts.
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Vinyasa Flow Yoga - More challenging Yoga posture flow with meditation
Prioritization and Assertiveness
Stress is often times challenging due to having too many obligations to effectively accommodate one's resources. As such, when an individual feels that his or her resources are being overly taxed, one will experience more stress. In order to cope with this, we can engage in prioritization, which is when we "kill the close snake first" and assertiveness, which is when we learn to say no in situations where we can say no.
Please see the links below for specific information on prioritization and assertiveness.
- Assertiveness: Self-advocacy and prioritization in which an individual asserts his or her needs to increase the likelihood of reaching goal, but also to increase sense of self-efficacy for asserting needs. Assertiveness is not aggressive communication.
- Passive communication: Not specifically or directly expressing one's needs. This leaves the person using this style feeling "you matter, I don't" in interpersonal situations.
- Aggressive communication: Communicating in a manner to have your needs met at the cost of someone else's needs. This leaves the person using this style feeling "I matter, you don't" in interpersonal situations.
- Assertive communication: Communicating your needs in a mutually respectful and understanding manner. This leaves the person using this style feeling "I matter and you matter" in interpersonal situations.
For individuals under high-stress situations, stress can create psychological concerns such as anxiety or mood disorders. Should you experience the following signs, it may be beneficial to meet with a psychological health professional for consultation and/or treatment.
- Sleep problems (i.e., difficulty going to sleep, waking up too early, multiple middle of the night awakenings) lasting more than two weeks
- Difficulty controlling stress or anxiety
- Difficulty getting work done
- Difficulty with concentration
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Thoughts of hurting yourself
- Decreased interest in joyful activities
Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.