8 pick-me-ups when you're feeling low

Stress, depression, the practice blues ... whatever form your problems take, you need to learn to deal with them before they become life-changing dilemmas. Try these strategies to beat back burnout and stay jazzed about your work.
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Apr 01, 2006

1. Get back to your roots. Most of us receive the greatest satisfaction from our clinical successes. The rewards of making our patients healthy are in fact the reason that we put up with all the stresses that go along with practice. So ask some of your patients to cheer you up.

You might call on a recent difficult case and discuss your patient's progress, or ask them to come in for a progress exam. Even discussing the outcome of a case with your staff and associates will remind you what a skilled doctor you are and how many lives you touch in a positive way. The rewards of a difficult-case-gone-well will put the rest of the day's stresses in perspective.

2. The fountain of youth. Get an infusion of idealism from the eternal optimists—students. If you're near a university, call the student affairs office and offer to visit with the students for a lunch seminar or an evening discussion. Most schools have veterinary business clubs that are salivating to speak with someone in the real world.

The docs-to-be will get some much needed perspective on life after graduation, and you can let some of their enthusiasm re-ignite your idealistic fires. Remember how it used to be when you were young and innocent, and try to take that fervor back with you to the practice.

3. You're out! There's not a practice in this universe that will suffer seriously from the doctor taking a day off, no matter how darn fabulous and indispensable you think you are. If you have a multi-doctor practice, there are no excuses. And even solo docs aren't essential all the time. If you think you're indispensable, just ask yourself, "What will my clients do when I'm in the hospital with a heart attack?"

Schedule a day off during the week—without cell phones or any other way to be reached. Let the world turn by itself for a few hours, and see if the sun comes up tomorrow without your help. I think it will.

4. Make something of yourself. Get busy doing something new and different; boredom is often the root of depression. Do some remodeling in the clinic, or take that course in bone plating. Perhaps this is the opportune time for you to learn Sanskrit or take up the didjeridoo.

Whether professional or personal, a large project with long-term goals and outlook is often the thing to take your mind off the trivial and mundane. Make it challenging so the effort will engage your mind. Nothing puts problems in their place better than achieving a large, difficult goal. Think back: You were pretty happy the day you graduated medical school, weren't you?

5. Really get outta Dodge. St. Augustine said it best: "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." You should frequently travel far away from the clinic, to a different side of the country, or better yet, to a different country entirely. If you do it right, you'll go somewhere there is no cell phone service and you can't figure out how to operate the pay phones to call the clinic. Once you're gone for a couple of days, you'll realize that if something is going on at the clinic, there's nothing you can do from there, so you'll begin to relax. Immerse yourself in the wonder and complexity of another place and culture, and observe how other people solve the challenges of humanity. You may see how fortunate you are for what you have or how impoverished you are for having too much. No matter the venue, you'll realize that your entire life doesn't have to revolve around your clinic, and you may even be able to bring back some of that balance when you return. Travel offers perspective, information, and inspiration—all of which are enriching.

6. Peer at your peers. When we act like a competitive rather than a collegial profession, we become isolated and can assume we're the only one with problems. The best way to disabuse yourself of this ridiculous notion is to hear other folks complain.