What is stress? Stress is a bodily response to external pressures. It’s an emotional state that we go through when dealing with difficult situations, and it can have a major impact on our health. When faced with work deadlines, family problems, and other daily stresses, our bodies release hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream. These chemicals can lead to high blood pressure or weaken the immune system over time.
Stress can occur when people are pushed to the edge of their abilities or tolerance for an extended period of time. Everyone’s tolerance level is different. It can depend on different factors such as age, resiliency, previous experiences with dealing the pressure, physical and emotional health, financial health, and so much more.
Stress isn’t always a bad thing; it’s an unavoidable reality of life. Stress can trigger or fight or flight response, heightening our awareness of difficult or dangerous situations so that we can act quickly at the moment.
When people experience chronic (long-term) stressful situations for an extended period of time, they may start experiencing negative symptoms such as anxiety, depression, relationship breakdowns, health challenges, and much more.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a seemingly never-ending sprint for those working ICU, emergency, and other units in the hospital; it’s been like a call from hell. The grind has been relentless, with wave and wave of sicker and younger patients. Working in this environment will weigh down even the most stoic front-line worker. I can only imagine the mental torment providers have felt when faced with patient after patient that they can no longer save. This is heartbreaking. It can cause one to question their calling into medicine or even their ability as a physician. For those of you reading these articles, please know that you are enough. You have been pushed beyond the norm for a typical day in medicine. You have basically been at work for over a year, literally in the trenches, surrounded by pain and suffering.
For those of you who are reading this blog post: Please take care of yourself! Make sure you get enough sleep most nights so that you don’t become a victim of your profession. I know getting sleep is hard, but try to eat nutritious, filling meals and find small, meaningful ways to take care of yourself. Please don’t bottle in your feelings as feeling hurt; frustration is not a sign of weakness. Thank you so much for your sacrifices; the world is a better place because of you. From one fellow physician to another: Namaste.
Tomi Mitchell is a family physician.
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