3 simple games to lower doctor stress and prevent burnout

Burnout is a constant threat for physicians. Research consistently shows an average of 1 in 3 doctors suffering from symptomatic burnout on any given office day. In my work with over stressed and burned out doctors, I have found that most of us work way too hard being the superhero to our staff, patients and families — and don’t have any fun at all. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Research shows you can lower your stress (and your risk for burnout) with simple steps you can begin taking today. You can even make these stress relieving activities into a game.

Games work for several reasons:

  • they stimulate your competitive juices
  • you can win prizes
  • they are fun

And these are closely tied to one another. If you know reaching a certain goal gives you a reward, you will push yourself to get there and do your own version of a “touchdown dance” when you win.

So, before I share three burnout preventing games. Grab a piece of paper and write down little rewards you would enjoy winning.  Treats that make you smile.  Fun things you don’t give yourself very often. The more the better. (Ideally not all of them are food!)

Here are some examples to get you started:

  • a pat on the back
  • a 5 minute walk outside
  • an ice cream sandwich
  • read a chapter in a book for pleasure
  • a movie
  • a pedicure
  • a massage

Got your list? Keep this list handy. Add to it whenever you think of another prize you would like to win.

Now let’s look at 3 research-proven ways to lower your stress levels. For each one, let me give you a single action you can take tomorrow to lower your burnout risk. Then let me show you how to turn it into a game. Please read the options below and then pick just one game to play.

Strategy #1: Release stress with the squeegee breath

Remember the last time you saw a professional window washer? A single stroke of their squeegee wipes the window completely clean. You can do the same thing with your breathing. Wipe yourself clean of stress and worry in a single breath. This allows you to be completely present with your patients and staff at work. It also helps you leave work behind and be completely present with your family at the end of the day.

The  squeegee breath

  • take a big breath – all the way up to the top of your head – and hold your full inhale for a 3 count
  • then exhale all the way down to the tips of your toes — inviting any stress, tension or worry out with your out breath
  • hold the full exhale for a 3 count
  • then allow your breath to resume its normal rhythm

Tomorrow at work take this squeegee breath each time you touch a doorknob to go into the room with a patient. Touching the doorknob “triggers” your squeegee breath and clears you for the office visit ahead.  See what difference you notice in the quality of your day.

Make it a game

  • keep track of how many times you take a squeegee breath in your day
  • give yourself one of the rewards on your list if your number is three or more.
  • keep track of your personal best – the most times you practice the squeegee breath in a day – and give yourself an additional reward each time you hit a new personal best
  • notice that any day where your number is three or more and a personal best is a double reward day: take two prizes from your list and feel free to do your touchdown dance as well

Strategy #2: Create more balance with “it’s been too long”

What is one relationship that is in need of your attention lately? Someone you would like to connect with and it feels like it has been too long? It might be your Mom or Dad, spouse or significant other, one of your children, a friend.

Grab your calendar, right now. Connect with them and schedule a “date” for sometime in the next two weeks. Minimum of 15 minutes, on the phone or in person.

Then show up and see how it feels.  If it felt really good, make sure you schedule your next date with this person before this date is done. Bring your calendar to the date and ask them to bring theirs. Put your next date on each of your calendars so you have “one in the hopper.”

Make it a game

Give yourself a reward each time you,

  • book a new date
  • attend any date
  • remember to book your next date with this person during the current one – before the two of you part company
  • look for double reward dates – you showed up and remembered to book your next date before this one was done
  • pick two rewards from your list and really enjoy them

Strategy #3: Find more joy at work with the treasure hunt

What is one thing you love about what you do? Think back over the last month or so. What is one interaction you remember that made you smile and reconnected you with what you love about your career again? This is most powerful when you take a moment to write this remembered experience down.

Now, onto your next work day and before you start to see patients.  Set an intention to experience this again in the day ahead, to seek it out and savor it just once today.

Say it out loud, “Today I am going to look for a way to experience (fill in this blank with the thing you love).”

Hold this intention during your day and see how it feels. Good luck on your treasure hunt!

Make it a game

Track the days you “find treasure” with tick marks on a monthly calendar.

  • reward yourself whenever you find treasure 2 or more times in a month
  • keep track of your personal best in a month and reward yourself each time you hit a new personal best
  • double rewards for months when you find treasure twice or more and hit a new personal best

Power tip

Play these games with your staff, in an environment of sharing personal success rather than a competition.

  • helping each other remember to breathe
  • sharing stories about your dates
  • each looking for treasure and sharing when and how you find it

The ball is in your court

You can lower your stress and beat burnout immediately with these simple steps. Playing a game dramatically increases the odds you will be successful. Are you ready to get started? Please pick just one of these games now and get going. Let the games begin!

Dike Drummond is a family physician and provides burnout prevention and treatment services for healthcare professionals at his site, The Happy MD.

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