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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

When doctors get stressed this is what they [Wise Wednesdays]

Celebration: It’s four years since the first Wise Wednesdays. It was on How to deal with cabin fever, and seems as relevant as ever…Happy Fourth Anniversary Wise Wednesdays community! Thank you for reading and engaging.


People ask me: you had such a rewarding job, why did you change?

While it’s true that medicine offers deep meaning and satisfaction, it’s also stressful.

A cohort study found that 28% of doctors had symptoms of psychological distress (compared with 18% in the general population) and that the fear of making mistakes was a top cause. Suicide rates are also higher among doctors.

Sadly, a vicious cycle can arise of more stress occurring due to fear of making mistakes, and more mistakes being made due to stress which costs lives.

The study concluded (rightly in my view) that while progress had been made in occupational care for doctors, the culture and work conditions are still suboptimal…

In the meantime, do doctors embody self-awareness and self-care? Not quite. When doctors get stressed some of the coping mechanisms that they use include:

Medicalising (focusing on the technical aspects of the situation) - what Freud called intellectualisation

  • Losing compassion and going numb (compassion fatigue)

  • Becoming angry or loss of temper (as a reaction to feeling helpless in the face of uncertainty)

  • Self-blame and self-criticism

  • Releasing tension through humour and venting

  • Drinking alcohol and using substances especially if easily accessible…

I’m sure you’ve realised that these coping mechanisms are not specific to doctors. Perhaps, they’re most true for those of us who are conscientious and have rescuer or fixer tendencies.

Rescuers tend to have low awareness around boundaries and therefore impaired self-preservation instincts and difficulty with conflict…It’s easier to resort to the coping mechanisms.

Rescuers also hate being the one who needs help. They’re bad at identifying their needs, asking for help, and receiving help. Trust me I’m a doctor.

For the record, I feel the essence of my work is the same. I’m still using my strengths and experience to help people live healthy and flourishing lives.

But I believe that I could never have learned as much as I have about myself – nor outgrown the worst of my rescuer tendencies and helped others do the same - had I continued on the same track.

One big lesson I’ve gleaned: in times of stress, increase your self-care, don’t drop it.

Whatever you do, put your oxygen mask on first. The world is counting on you for it.

Have a great week,


p.s. Join me for a unique workshop on Wednesday, May 28th, where I will share with you the powerful principles and tools that help me and my clients sustain and channel energy in alignment with deep values and vision. You’ll learn science-based strategies to manage your energy; how to shift your mindset by modifying limiting narratives; and the key pitfalls to avoid in times of high uncertainty so you can make a positive impact when it’s most needed.

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