Women physicians need to monitor their stress level and address it productively. We do have choices. Balancing our lives involves taking control and setting priorities about what we want. Women who are happy and thriving in their careers have adopted the following strategies.
Office management. Take control of working hours by scheduling breaks and days off, varying the type of work, keeping up with paperwork, and personalizing the office with pictures and photographs.
Time management. Learn to be better organized and set priorities about what needs to be done. Use the FLAG method: file it, let someone else deal with it through delegation, act on it, or put it in the garbage. Schedule realistically, and do not overcommit yourself.
Work environment management. Lobby effectively for work equity policies, parental leave policies, flexible hours, child care, safety measures, workshops on assertiveness training and leadership skills, and mentoring programs.
Network management. Use colleagues for support, and share stresses and successes with them. Seek mentors, and actively reach out to them. Add fun to work activities. Learn to set boundaries. Say “no” if appropriate, and stop trying to please everybody.
Transition between work and home
Stop before you start. Stop rushing at the end of the workday; take a few minutes to take a deep breath and relax. Consciously prepare to be home: consider what is ahead, what will be required, and how to best deal with it. Plan to say “hello” to people at home.
Don't take work home. If there needs to be an exception to this rule, set definite limits on when and where in the house to work, and stick to them. Give your family your undivided attention when you are with them.
Housework. Ask for help, and be specific. Share both the thinking and the doing of the jobs. Allow children to help from an early age. Group chores together to enhance productivity. Consider options, and delegate if possible. Prioritize the chores, and let go of things not at the top of the list.
Child care. Consider the options and pool resources. Say “yes” to help, and “no” to extra demands and interference. Spend less time trying to make the children perfect. Spend more time with your children, enjoying them, and celebrating the pleasures of parenting.
Partners. Take care to maintain the connection, emotional attachment, and intimacy with your partner. A good relationship takes constant work. Learn to resolve conflicts productively. Time together is the glue for all relationships.
Personal life stresses
Take care of your own needs. Eat well, and get adequate rest, sleep, and exercise. Set limits, relax, and slow down. Indulge regularly and spontaneously. Learn something new. Learn to “waste time.”
Solo time. Time for yourself is essential. Balance time alone and with your partner. Feel comfortable asking for solitude, and offer it to the other. Consider it as an investment in all other relationships.
Make friends. Friends provide support, escape, and laughter. Humor is therapeutic; surround yourself with fun and humor daily. Keep friendships alive—even voice mail messages, e-mail, or cards can help to maintain contact.
Resources for women physicians
Finances. Learn to manage finances. Live within your financial means. Pay off non-tax deductible debts. Money (or lack of it) is a major cause of stress. Money problems often prevent physicians from making the very changes needed to better manage their stress.
Phases. Remember that life has many phases. As you make choices, you may have to sacrifice something (eg, having children instead of pursuing an academic career). It helps to remember that this is only for now, for this phase—not forever. Moving into the next phase enables you to reassess, make new choices, and set new priorities.
Attitudes. Be aware of the attitudes that help perpetuate a sense of stress. The 2 key ones are guilt and perfection. Guilt is what you feel when you think you are not meeting expectations. Learn to acknowledge this guilt and let it go so it does not prevent you from meeting your personal needs. Perfection is an illusion, and striving for it can be a block to happiness. Accept that you will not be perfect. Good enough is good enough.