In today’s corporate health care world, physicians are exposed to high levels of stress in the course of carrying out the duties of their profession, making them susceptible to experiencing burnout. Burnout has far-reaching implications not only for doctors but also for patients and the health care system that employs them. Burnout among doctors increases the risk of depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, fatigue, alcohol and drug misuse, premature retirement, and perhaps, most seriously, suicide. Stressors in medical practice come from a variety of sources, from the emotions arising in the role of patient care to the overall environment in which physicians practice. Corporate administrators are generally not sympathetic to physician recommendations to improve the workflow of patient interactions but simply want the task done at all costs.
As is apparent, our doctors are often exposed to high levels of stress in their day-to-day work and are at greater risk of experiencing mental disorders, substance abuse, suicide, and impairment in functioning as a result.
Stressors from emotions and situations that arise outside the doctor–patient relationship are also prevalent. Governmental and corporate requirements imposed upon them are steadily increasing and constantly changing in nature, taking their emotional toll on the physician. In addition, doctors have to find time in their day for clerical-type tasks like inputting data into unruly electronic medical records, contacting health insurance companies to secure proper care for their patients, and responding to patient emails and phone messages.
Total all factors together, and the pot on the stove has reached the boiling point and is ready to boil over! What may be of help, besides being told you have to become more resilient?
One possible source of help is found in the “great outdoors.” Gregory Bratman, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Washington, shared evidence that contact with nature is associated with increases in happiness, subjective well-being, positive affect, positive social interactions, and a sense of meaning and purpose in life, as well as decreases in mental distress. The exact mechanism of how nature helps mood disorders is unclear, but researchers agree that time in nature tends to lift spirits. Ming Kuo, an environment and behavior scientist at the University of Illinois, says that even a short blast of nature exposure tends to raise a person’s mood. Research also shows that even if they are artificial, the images, sounds, and smells of nature can have positive health effects.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Catoctin Mountain Park in Thurmont, Maryland. It was a day to remember. Come along with me on the visit and see if this virtual visit doesn’t lift the spirit.
Walking on paths less traveled,
winding uphill, downhill,
traversing the mountain’s side.
Towering trees …
chestnut oak, white oak, sugar maple, shagbark hickory,
and countless others,
all stretching upward to the sun
Dancing white woolly aphids on a young beech tree,
an unusual and special sight.
Spritely green Christmas ferns scattered about,
each claiming its space on the forest floor.
A sprinkling of white wood asters
is spotted on
both sides of the winding trail.
On the dirt trail are pieces of
brilliant white quartz …
the “poor man’s diamonds.”
Up above in the canopy so high,
the raspy calls of the raven
and pileated woodpecker
pierce the silence
as they fly to avoid detection.
Squirrels scurry about,
storing the new crop of acorns for the winter ahead.
Gigantic jagged gray rock walls, covered in teal green lichens, stand as sentries,
guarding the treasures of nature.
Along the edge of a rocky precipice,
a purple passion flower vine
wraps itself around the hanging vegetation
and adds to the beauty and awe of the day.
One feels blessed and chosen
to have the opportunity to view the grandeur that lies all about.
Nature supplies the blessing …
all you have to do is
meet it halfway.
Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient advocate.