Self Care During Your Residency: You Can't Take Care of Others If You Don't Take Care of Yourself

Home / Campus / Faculty and Staff Assistance Program ( Published on 2015-06-30 )

By Rob Starkey, Psy.D.
Faculty and Staff Assistance Program

The stresses of residency are numerous including being overworked and underpaid, receiving more criticism than praise, having too much to do with too little time, having to neglect your personal life, and working in a high pace, high stakes environment that maintains the idea of a shared goal while continuing to have an undercurrent of competition. In addition, the transition from student to resident can be a challenging one due to the abrupt change in status.  

As residents at UCSF, you are among the most driven, intelligent individuals in the world. Many of you were the academic superstars of your high school, college, and medical school classes. Now, you may find yourself struggling in your work and having difficulty maintaining your confidence. Feeling stressed and overwhelmed is perfectly natural but the good news is that there are ways of ameliorating your stress through self care. It is all too easy to neglect yourself in the process of trying to complete the multitude of tasks before you but there are things you can do.   

Below you will find some ideas for coping with and reducing your stress:

  1. Decrease or discontinue your caffeine consumption. Caffeine can mimic and exacerbate the effects of stress on the body.
  2. Exercise regularly. Exercise can help to reduce built up tension and reduce stress.
  3. Engage in relaxation/meditation techniques. Take a few deep breaths periodically during the day and try to let some of the tension out. Breathe in for 2-3 seconds and out for 5-6 seconds. Try to notice any tension in your body and breathe out the tension.
  4. Get sufficient sleep. Sufficient sleep relaxes the body and mind. Practice good sleep hygiene if you are having difficulty falling or staying asleep. Furthermore, studies indicate that having a TV in your room negatively affects sleep so you might want to consider removing the TV from your bedroom. Also, reducing the brightness of your lights before you go to sleep can improve your ability to fall asleep.
  5. Allow for time-outs and leisure. Allow yourself to have fun or just get away from the stresses of work sometimes.
  6. Set realistic expectations. Mistakes will be made so try to give yourself a little compassion when you do make a mistake.
  7. Try to reframe or reinterpret stressful situations. Situations can be interpreted in many different ways and your attribution can make a big difference in how it makes you feel. For instance, by framing the attending giving you a hard time as her having a bad day or that she is trying to help you become a better physician can be a better way of understanding the situation rather than taking it personally.
  8. Keep a journal. Journaling can provide a good outlet for your feelings and thoughts and can provide clarity on issues.
  9. Have a ventilation/support system. Maintain or develop a good support network. It’s okay to lean on other people sometimes.
  10. Maintain a sense of humor. Try to find the humor in things and appreciate the positive moments during your day. Savor those moments when you are talking to the interesting patient or the funny exchange between colleagues.
  11. Ensure a balanced diet. Maintain a healthy diet and watch your intake of sugars, fats, salt, and alcohol which can all exacerbate stress.

Many of you are under extraordinary amounts of stress and the demands on you can be overwhelming. Physicians are often held in an exalted position in our society which can have as a side effect an internalized expectation that physicians don’t have problems. You must have extraordinary internal resources in order to have attained the academic success that you have attained but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have problems. If life starts to feel like it’s too much, reach out to someone. We at the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) can provide you with counseling services as well as referrals for therapists in the community. FSAP services are free and confidential and available for both personal and work-related issues. Please contact us at 415/476-8279 or visit the FSAP website.