Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

We tend to forget that even high-status professionals like doctors and lawyers are human. Just because they’re smart and have a lot of education doesn’t insulate them against stress.

Indeed, a study recently reported in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that more than half of doctors now report feeling burned out. An American Bar Association study found "as many as one in three lawyers is a problem drinker and one in four has some form of depression or anxiety."

On my NPR-San Francisco radio program today, I interviewed eminent trial attorney Gary Gwilliam on the emotional side of being an attorney. He had a severe drinking problem but no longer drinks, so my core question was, "What got you into and out of drinking?" He said he developed an alcohol problem to relieve work stress and simply because he liked drinking. What got him on the wagon was a confrontive intervention by his friends and family. Today, he meditates to keep on the wagon.

Here is what I do to prevent and respond to stress.

Preventing stress

I made a number of career decisions to minimize my stress:

  • I chose a career that mostly uses my best skills and skirts my biggest weaknesses.
  • We're less stressed when we have at least moderate control over the situation. So, I decided to be self-employed.
  • To reduce time pressure, I leave plenty of time between clients. Inevitably, there's something that requires that buffer: a late client, my wanting to give a client a few minutes extra, a personal activity I need or want to do between sessions.
  • When I have a deadline, for example, an upcoming speech or radio show, I start preparing as early as possible to avoid adrenaline- and cortisol-fueled last-minute cramming.
  •  I work from home thereby avoiding the ever-longer and thus ever more stressful commutes.

I recognize that not everyone can or wants to make such choices but it can't hurt to think if and how you could structure your worklife so as to reduce your stress.

Dealing with stress

Of course, no matter what you do to prevent stress, it's an unavoidable part of life, in and outside of work, Here's what helps me cope with stress:

  • Often I get stressed when I think of all the things I have to do that hour or day. In those situations, I take one deep breath, write all the things I need to do, pick the one I want to work on first and then force myself not to think of anything else.
  • I take one-minute breaks. When I'm feeling stressed, I often take just one minute to  play with the dog, look at flowers, Google something fun, buy something on Amazon, etc. I find that restorative without wasting much time, which would make me more stressed because I'd still have all those tasks to do but with less time to do them.
  • When I worry about something, I face the worst-case scenario. Unless it's a terminal disease, I can survive it. Let's take an extreme example: The stock market crashes and I lose almost all my savings and so do most people so they can't afford to hire me as a career coach. Worst case, I'd have to take a job as a fast-food order taker. Sure, I'd have to move to modest digs but without the complications of a professional career and lifestyle, I might be freed-up to do new and interesting things. And I'd bet that with reasonable effort, I'd soon get promoted to manager and if one fast-food joint wouldn't promote me, I'd find another that would. And that's an unlikely worst case. It is de-stressing to realize I can survive some pretty bad worst cases.
  • I try to retain perspective: "How important is this in the cosmic scheme of things?" or even just, "A month from now, will I likely deem this important?"
  • If I find a person difficult, I try to be grateful that I am not so problemed and try to  think of the person with charity rather than anger.
  • Distraction. If a reasonable amount of thinking about a problem doesn't yield a solution or if a problem's resolution is out of my control, I force myself to think about something else. I imagine that some readers find that simplistic. I can only say that it has worked well for me. For example, it has brought my lifetime hypochondria under far greater control than all the therapy and reading I've done.

Feel free to share your stress-busters as a comment below.

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia. His new book, his 8th, is The Best of Marty Nemko.

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