5 Tips for Preventing GP Stress

This April is Stress Awareness Month, and while many are rightly encouraging individuals suffering from stress conditions to consult their doctor, there is one demographic who are particularly prone to stress who often get overlooked – GPs themselves.

General practitioners are often the first point of contact for patients experiencing high levels of sustained stress, among other mental health conditions, but studies show that GP stress is on the rise – and it’s a problem that needs to be acknowledged.

In fact, according to a recent survey conducted by Pulse magazine, 9 in ten trainee GPs cited stress as the main motivator for wanting to work part-time, saying the job is too intensive to work a full five days, due to increasing waiting times and staff shortages.

Today, GPs in many practices are suffering from increased pressure to provide the same level of patient care as has always been expected, with far fewer resources, and for many, more appointments.

How to manage GP stress

Research conducted by The Independent found that many GPs are seeing the strain of their workload in their mental health and personal life. However, they emphasise that GPs can still thrive, provided they find a way to manage the stresses of the job.

So how can GPs experiencing work-related stress manage the pressures of their career in order to maintain mental wellbeing? Here are a few tips.

Remember to look out for the symptoms

As GPs, we all know the symptoms of stress – we diagnose them all the time. But do we remember to look out for them in ourselves? Or, moreover, do we value our own wellbeing as important enough to investigate and act upon? Remember, your health is just as important as your patients’, and, after all, you can’t perform at your best if you are distracted and withdrawn.

As GP update recaps, these are a few of the symptoms of stress GPs often experience or overlook:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Shaking and tremor
  • Dry mouth and sweating (especially in meetings)
  • Excessive sleeping or insomnia
  • Persistent difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability and anger
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Social withdrawal and avoidance behaviours
  • Obsessive and compulsive behaviours
  • Frequently feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling muzzy headed
  • Drinking and smoking too much

Creating a support network

The first, and perhaps most important step to preventing GP stress is to establish a functional support system for doctors.

In a good practice environment, this will also be set up by management and HR staff, but in the busy day-to-day workings of a GP surgery, employee wellbeing can often take a back seat behind patient care and administration duties. Whether you set up a monthly meeting, talk with your peers or use an online group to communicate, this is a great way to share solidarity, tips for stress management, and advocate for your fellow GPs.

At home, this should continue, with partners and family members providing a source of support, listening to your feelings or offering advice. Of course, this is mutual, but if you are experiencing stress, it is important to remember that even if you are a trained healthcare practitioner, you can always benefit from speaking to a sympathetic loved one.

Practise what you preach

You may be thinking – this is all obvious advice, this is what I tell my patients every day – and you’re not wrong. But, as a GP, it can be very easy to forget to practise what you preach. The advice you give your patients is likely to be a good starting point for managing your own stress, but you need to take the time to do it.

Whether you choose to try out mindfulness activities, use online resources, increase your weekly exercise for those all-important endorphins, improve your diet or simply get more sleep, all of these basic pointers will dramatically reduce your stress levels, and make the pressures of being a doctor much easier to manage.

Flexible working arrangements

Of course, there are direct changes that can be made to your workload to reduce GP stress. As many doctors are now finding, flexible working arrangements are one of the best ways to reduce stress as a GP.

Zoe Greaves, a GP trainee in north-east England, told The Times:

“I enjoy clinical work, but have seen colleagues burn out doing it five days a week. I feel more challenged and engaged with my work when I have variety to my week.”

Whether you choose to go part-time or look for a more flexible GP job such as working as an out of hours doctor, it is well worth looking into ways that your work can be tailored around your lifestyle to maximise your wellbeing and mental health.

To find out more about our flexible-working GP jobs, contact us today on 03000 243 333.