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Mental Exhaustion As Physicians

May 27, 2024

Working as a physician is one of the most demanding jobs. The long hours of work drain you physically. The nature of the work, making life and death decisions for patients, and the long lists of administrative duties are more than enough to cause mental exhaustion. Your brain is constantly operating on overdrive. If you are not aware of it or do not address your mental health, you are at risk of burnout and mental illness.

It used to be challenging for me to keep up in the second half of the day. After seeing patients the whole morning, I was already exhausted. Thinking that I wanted to leave work sooner, I chose to work straight through and did not take any lunch break or any other breaks. The result was that I ended up being irritable and having trouble to concentrate.  I left the patient charts incomplete, partly to keep my patients as close to their scheduled time as possible, and partly to avoid doing them. It took me much longer to complete my charts, and sometimes my weekends were occupied by catching up with charting.

Do you find yourself unintentionally slow down toward the end of a work day? You feel physically tired. You have difficulty in focusing. It seems to be more challenging to make important decisions at the end of the day. Your emotions are also affected. You seem to be more irritable, easier to feel anxious, and feel dreaded with your situation. You feel stuck and trapped. Does that sound familiar to you?

When you are mentally exhausted, you tend to put things off or avoid making decisions. You may not even want to keep your commitments. You may consider to call out sick, or actually call out a sick day. You have a hard time connecting with your patients or with your family. Some people may resort to substance abuse, either to escape reality or to act on the belief that those substances can make them feel better.

Chronic mental exhaustion may also affect your physical health negatively, including symptoms such as stomach upset, insomnia or a weakened immune system.

To manage mental exhaustion, it is important to recognize its existence first. What is the main reason for you to experience draining of your mental energy? Is it from the long hours of work? Is it from the many decisions you have to make for patient care? Or is it from all different reasons?

If it is a mainly a work-related cause, explore if there is anything you can change about your job. Are there any external changes you can make? Are there any internal factors you can improve within your ability?

To maintain mental health, it is important to have good physical health. Do not deprive yourselves of the basic needs – adequate sleep, balanced diet and exercise. Exercise can also decrease stress.

Always remember to breathe. Sometimes by taking a step back and making slow, deep breaths may help to restore some of your mental energy.

Take a break. More than once. Schedule them. Breaks can be short. Even a 3-minute break may improve your mental energy. This is a time for you to recharge. It is helpful to do that several times a day. Sometimes it is best to completely leave the environment when you are taking a break.

Incorporate relaxation practices in your day, such as massage and yoga. Journaling is also another way to restore your mental energy.

Practicing gratitude opens up your mind to focus on what you have and what you get to appreciate. Being grateful throughout the day keeps your mental energy higher and decreases the chance of mental exhaustion.

To keep yourself mentally healthy, it is important to know when to say no. Setting healthy boundaries is important.

Mental exhaustion may happen to anyone. Physicians are more susceptible to it because of the nature of our jobs. It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental exhaustion. When you are mentally drained, it is easy to feel irritable, anxious, distracted and dreaded. Your physical health may also be affected. Recognize and acknowledge when you are mentally exhausted. Explore to see if your work situation can be changed. Remember to breathe, take breaks, sleep and exercise. Practicing gratitude is also helpful to recharge you mentally. Of course, know when to say no is vital to your well-being.

Are you ready to stop feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Are you ready to have more time to do what you want?


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