The term “stress,” as it is currently used, was coined by Hans Selye in 1936 who defined it as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” Selye’s theories attracted considerable attention in basic medical sciences; however, stress soon became a popular buzzword that completely ignored Selye’s original definition, even until today. Some people used the word to describe a known unpleasant trigger or situation to which they were subjected. For others, stress was their reaction to this in the form of physical or emotional symptoms. Still others used it to refer to what they perceived as the end result of these repeated responses, such as an ulcer or heart attack. Many scientists complained about this confusion and one physician concluded in a 1951 issue of the British Medical Journal that, “Stress in addition to being itself, was also the cause of itself, and the result of itself.” 

If you ever connect with physicians and healthcare providers locally or at conferences far away, you have likely heard this sentiment or something very similar: “The practice of medicine is literally killing me.”  In addition to our hectic schedules, increasing professional and patient demands, potential poor lifestyle choices, and feelings of physical and emotional exhaustion, the stress syndrome is in full effect for many devoted clinicians.  As we continue to pursue higher knowledge to serve our patients professionally and our livelihood personally, we could benefit from an analysis of our stressors and stress responses.  Why?  Interestingly, some physicians continue to thrive despite their environment and others become depressed, failing to notice how their responses to their environment add to their stress levels.  Said differently, we have a choice in the matter of how our environment affects us.

Stress is difficult to define because it is so different for each of us.  Without a change in perception or a change in process, Einstein’s famous definition of insanity will continue to apply to us.  Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a common rut and mediator of the stress response. Fortunately, simple, foundational solutions can provide clinicians a vehicle for changing the game and engaging in our worlds with less stressors, and hopefully, with less stress effects.  By leveraging time through group medical appointments, incorporating an integrated clinical team and implementing universally successful practice management principles, we have the opportunity to transgress the stress adaptation syndrome in our office and create a more harmonious version of ourselves, complete with a splendid side effect of happiness that will flow into our personal worlds.

Shilpa P. Saxena, MD is a Board-Certified Family Practice physician whose passion and purpose come to life through providing education and tools to improve the healthcare experience for patients and physicians. As founder of SevaMed Institute, Clinical Faculty for the Institute for Functional Medicine and Guest Faculty/Fellow of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, Dr. Saxena shares her advanced primary care Group Visit Toolkits for those interested in igniting their practice through enhanced patient education and insurance-billable Group Visits.