So there you are, sitting at your reading-station and trying to get through your stack of things to do…and one of your top workplace-vexations pays you a visit.
Pick your poison: Your least-favorite tech makes a rookie blunder and screws up a study, perhaps, or PACS fails just as you are hit by a quartet of STATs. It’s the middle of your work-week, just a little bit after your lunch-break, so you have already had your patience tested several times today and you have no reprieve in sight. What do you do with your aggravation, your stress?
I’ve seen a few methods I wouldn’t recommend. Throwing things, for instance. Yelling, using foul language, or otherwise verbally abusing the staff. Breaking furniture or other office equipment. Publicly criticizing your workplace via Facebook or Twitter. Such things could get you disciplined, fired, or even sued.
There are other suboptimal choices, too, which might not have quite as dramatic effects but still eventually create more problems than they solve: Grinding teeth, clenching fists, pressing a little more forcefully on your keyboard than was really necessary, making snide little comments in your reports (or patients’ charts).
Some maladaptive coping-mechanisms aren’t really visible in the workplace. For instance, I once had occasion to speak with the wife of one of the calmest, most long-suffering radiologists I have known. I mentioned that her husband was, in my view, practically a saint, as he never lost his cool despite endless provocation. She informed me that he did, indeed, have his boiling point, but “I feed him a couple glasses of wine and that calms him right down.”
I stumbled upon my method of choice during residency. It wasn’t a complex technique or brilliant discovery, just a pleasant side-effect of something I was doing anyway: Exercise. At times during college and medschool (and certainly during my busy internship), it had been all too easy to let my fitness-regimen fall by the wayside. I had too few hours in each day to squeeze it in, I was too tired or stressed, the weather was lousy, gym membership was too pricey, etc. But I never lost sight of the importance of keeping physically fit, to enhance both quality and quantity of life, and I promised myself that once I was no longer working 12-hour days on a regular basis, I would crack the whip on myself and maintain some healthier habits.
The more I adhered to my regimen, the more I noticed other, less-easily quantified benefits: I had more energy during a typical day, and slept better at night. My mood was better, and even my thinking seemed sharper. Daily stressors affected me less…and, when I did feel one “zing” me, I would bring that negative energy with me and use it during that afternoon’s run or weight-lifting session. It might fuel an extra pull-up at the end of a full set or a flourishing sprint at the end of my final mile of running. Perhaps because of that, the most stressful job I have ever held brought me to the best physical condition I have ever enjoyed.
You don’t need to spend hours each day, run marathons, or heft bars loaded with huge weights to get started; even 30 minutes of brisk walking or regular usage of a treadmill will show you some results before long. There’s essentially no downside, and your potential upside is limitless.
Some Days You Just Can't Win, by Jennifer Frank, MD
On Finding Work-Life Balance, by Cheryl Orr, MD
Prioritizing Work-Life Balance, by Jennifer Frank, MD