The Women in Medicine Badass Radioshow

Episode #5: Stressed? You Have More Control Than You Realize

Show Notes:

Alright alright alright! We made it to episode 5. How are you all doing out there? I hope you are doing so fabulously. 

And you know, I got to say, today we’re to be talking about stress. Not the most exciting topic perhaps. However, it is real. Stress is everywhere and we need to talk about it. You know I was doing some background investigation and here’s what I found: That 49% of women physicians reported having high levels of stress. So that’s like practically one in two of you. Well maybe you’re not all physicians, but don’t worry. I got nurses covered as well. You know, according to the American Holistic Nurses Association, nurses are experiencing workplace stress at higher rates than most other professions. So this is real regardless of what you’re doing day to day because if you are a woman in medicine you are likely experiencing a lot of stress. 

Here’s what else I found out: 44% of women physicians felt mentally tired. 17% took antidepressant drugs. 73% reported verbal abuse at work, and 33% reported physical assault at work. So this is all how it culminates. This is how we become stressed out. There are so many different factors that can lead to stress and that we need to talk about this. 

Alright so now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about some other stress-related situations that you might be facing. It could be that you are under a lot of pressure at your job, that you aren’t necessarily facing something external like pressure but feeling a lot of worries internally and having a lot of worried thoughts about the future and being able to cope and things of that nature. You might feel like you don’t have control over an outcome that you want, and not feeling in control is definitely something that can lead to a sense of stress. Maybe you feel overwhelmed by all of the responsibilities that you have, or alternatively maybe you don’t have enough work and you’re just feeling stressed about not knowing what to do or worried about perception. What are people going to think? Your job might be physically demanding, it might be emotionally draining, and you might feel very disempowered. 

So there’s all different reasons, all of them good reasons, why you might be feeling the way that you do. And so now that you know what might be leading you to feeling stress and how prevalent it actually is in this industry, let’s talk about what you can do about it.

The first thing I want you to consider is whether the that you are facing is something that is within your control. This is a huge distinction that can really help you think about things differently. Not everything that happens to you falls into the same bucket but that you start to have criteria. 

So for example, if you have a lot of tasks that you need to get to and it’s up to you to get them done then that’s in your control. But if you are not able to have the kind of autonomy to make decisions at your job, that’s not something that’s within your control. These are just a little examples. But I want you to think about what is stressing you out and which bucket it falls into. And once you have those things sorted out into those two different buckets, here’s you can do with that. 

Things that are within your control you can problem-solve around. You can say, “Well, you know, I’ve been taking too long getting these tasks done because I get easily distracted and so I need to be more focused with my work.” Or “I’m getting so tired throughout the day seeing patient after patient that I just don’t have the energy to keep going and I’m losing my focus. The more brain fog builds up, the more stress accumulates. And so rather than going for that other cup of coffee or that candy bar, what I can do is take some breaks in between patients, maybe even if it’s 30 seconds take three deep breaths, or do some stretching.” 

What can you do in your day that you have control over that’s going to let some steam off, help release some of that stress out of your system, and get you back on track? 

With regards to the things that you don’t have control over, you want to be able to reflect on the fact that these things are out of your hands. And there are a couple things that you can do. 

One is just accept, right? Which is a mindset. Acceptance is about just saying, “There’s nothing I can do about it and so I’m not going to focus on it.” So letting it go. 

The other thing is to just notice what feelings are coming out as a result of not having control over this thing that is causing you stress, and what thoughts are related to those feelings, right? We become stressed out because we have thoughts that we can’t deal with certain things, that we aren’t going to be able to handle it, that it’s too much for us. So those are all thoughts. They’re not real and identifying those can help you to be more in line with the kind of person that you want to be at work and to feel the way that you want to feel. So if you don’t want to feel stressed out, how do you want to feel? And there are some thoughts that align with those feelings. If you want to feel in control even when you don’t have control externally, you can absolutely do that by managing your thinking. 

So I want you to really think about how to make these changes by taking all of these areas in your life, specifically in your job, that creates stress for you and dividing those into those two buckets. And the reason this is so important, especially if you are in the middle of your career, especially if you’re a front-line worker, and especially if you are a female nurse because what we know is that stress is highest in women that are in mid-career, that are nurses, and that are front-line. Now, you may not meet all of the criteria but you probably meet one or two or three of those. You’re definitely a woman if you’re listening to this. You’re probably frontline, and you might be in the middle of your career. You may not be a nurse. You might be a physician, but listen, you’re still experiencing all of this stress, so this is relevant. 

The reason we talk so much about stress and women is because there’s actual data that shows that females are more stressed than males. That’s because they respond to stress very differently. From a hormonal perspective we respond differently than men. We’re more emotional and so we become more emotionally invested in things and that can lead to exhaustion on an emotional level. 

And I’d like to share a quote by the author John Gray which I think really helps to capture this idea. He says, “A woman under stress is not immediately concerned with finding solutions to her problems but rather seeks relief by expressing herself and being understood.” 

Now this is important because women and men may have different coping strategies and there are different kinds of coping strategies that you need to know about. And it really boils down to these three. One is what we just talked about which is emotional coping and that happens by talking to somebody about things that are on your mind. You know, if you call up a friend, if you have a therapist, if you’re talking to your coach… These are ways of expressing what you are going through and getting somebody to feel empathic and really understand you. Could be a colleague. 

The other two kinds of coping strategies are problem-solving, which is what men traditionally go to more quickly. They’re less likely to talk about their problems and more likely to get into action mode. “Okay, what do I need to do about it?” And they just jump into action. And that can work for some people but if it doesn’t work for you, what really you need to know is that when it comes to coping, after you have dealt with your emotions and you have connected with somebody and you feel really understood, the next step is now to get into problem-solving mode. So you need to really think about how to get your needs met, and then how to solve the problem that is causing the stress. And that might be just what we said which is understanding that it’s out of your control and letting it go. It might mean changing your thinking about it. It might mean that you go for a run. I mean there’s a lot of different ways that people de-stress. 

The last kind of coping mechanism is avoidance. It’s when you’re not really interested in dealing with it and you run away. If something feels really stressful, like you have a deadline that’s approaching and you’re working on some project. Maybe you’re an academic. Maybe a researcher and you’ve got some deadlines. You might go on Facebook and check out what everybody else is doing, right? So you’re procrastinating. You’re putting it off and that’s because it just feels overwhelming. And in that case you gotta know that distraction and avoidance are temporary solutions. So give yourself permission to take these breaks and do something that gets you out of your work zone if you need to just recalibrate, if you need a break, if you want a timeout, if you want to just shift your focus. But then you gotta be strategic about what you spend your time on. 

If checking Facebook is not going to help you get your work done because then after you’re done with that getting back to the task is even harder, then that’s not a good solution. If you get on Facebook with the intention of checking it for five minutes and you’re on there for 5 hours then that’s also not very helpful. You want to check in and see whatever it is that you’re doing that you know exactly how long you’re going to do it for and then have the intention of getting back to the work that you need to do. So really being intentional about that is going to help you. And also think about what it is that you’re doing during that period in order to make sure that you are on track, that it’s not making it even more difficult for you. 

So if you are going to watch a movie, if you’re going to listen to a podcast, if you’re going to take a walk, whatever the case maybe, just make sure that it is actually letting go of stress and that it’s increasing your energy as opposed to depleting it and then you’re doing it right, then you’re on the right track. 

All right? So just to recap: we’ve got different things that cause stress. Women need to deal with it often, first on an emotional level. So how are you doing that? How are you connecting? Make sure that you’ve got somebody that you can reach out to for support, somebody who’s not going to be critical, who’s going to understand, who’s going to be there to listen without interruption, and that after you speak to them you feel better. If that’s something that you need, Identify some people that you can go to. Maybe you have another colleague at work and the two of you can swap stories and keep each other on track. Maybe it’s not a good idea to talk to a colleague and you want to talk to somebody outside of work. If you’ve got a coach that you can chat with when you’re really feeling stressed then that’s really helpful. If you’re in therapy that’s fantastic because as we said, when you’re not dealing with the stress it can really wreak havoc on your mental health. You might feel depression. So whatever you need to do, do it and make sure that you’re just aware of what you’re doing at all times, why you’re doing it and how you’re going to get back on track. 

All right? So hope this was helpful and I’ll look forward to speaking to you again next week. Take care.

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