Reschedule, reprioritise, recharge and review

Leanne Rowe AM

28/12/2018 1:06:37 PM

GP and author Dr Leanne Rowe discusses her four-step approach to managing stress over the festive season.

Dr Leanne Rowe said her strategy for managing inevitable stress has allowed her to rediscover ‘joy and beauty in life’.
Dr Leanne Rowe said her strategy for managing inevitable stress has allowed her to rediscover ‘joy and beauty in life’.

After a busy, challenging year, it can sometimes be hard to switch off our overstimulated minds and enjoy a well-earned rest over the festive season while catching up on our family and personal responsibilities.
As is the case with many professional roles and leadership positions, a GP career has never been more complex and challenging, and it’s important we are proactive in managing the inevitable stress that comes with our vocation.
Here is a four-step plan that helps me, based on rescheduling, reprioritising, recharging and reviewing.
I practise meticulous time management to take back control of my time.
For many years, I was reactive to crises of the day, especially when I was in isolated rural practice and my children were young. I argued I did not have time to do anything else.
Since my husband was diagnosed with cancer nearly a decade ago, I have managed my 168 available hours each week more effectively. I track where I am spending time, wasting time, and could be using my time more effectively.
As the family breadwinner, I now work about 40 hours per week and need about 56 hours to sleep, leaving me a precious, flexible 72 hours, which I use carefully, freeing up time for much needed love, laughter, beauty and solitude.
All of us have experienced time of heavy workload and impossible hours on call. If you are working 80 hours a week, have a sick family member or a worrying relationship issue, or any number of other issues, I would argue it is even more important to free up some time for rejuvenation.
When the pressure of my work is excessive, I sit with a blank sheet of paper and I write down everything that is currently worrying me. These range from major events such as the situation in the Middle East, climate change and working in Melbourne CBD at the time of the recent terrorist attack, to local issues such as being confronted by an angry patient, to more minor issues like receiving a parking fine.
I reassure myself that feeling stressed is a natural response to the many issues floating in the background and forefront of my mind. I cross out items I can’t influence and focus on solutions for things I can.
Here are some helpful questions is ask myself:

  • What is the evidence for this way of thinking about the problem?
  • Is there another explanation for what I am feeling or what is happening?
  • What is the worst that could happen in this situation?
  • What is the best that could happen out of this?
  • What is the most realistic way things could work out?
  • What would I advise a colleague if he or she were facing the same situation?
These questions help me put a stop to ruminating in my time off. I redirect my focus to my priorities and time to things I can solve, which gives me a greater sense of achievement and control.
I know it is more effective when I recharge fully rather than run my battery on 10% and risk running out of power.
But I am not a machine. I am human and I accept my humanity, including when things are inevitably challenging. I proactively maintain good habits before my battery runs out – healthy nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, sleep, sunshine and time with my lovely family.
There is value in taking time for idleness rather than filling my life with shallow distractions.
When I am feeling stressed it is usually because I am too focused on work. It helps to review my goals in other dimensions of my life to put things in perspective on my time off:
  • My spiritual life. How am I caring for my soul?
  • People. Am I spending enough time with people I love?
  • Mental health. What gives me joy, and am I doing this?
  • Physical health. Can I fit in more exercise? Have I had my routine check with my own GP?
  • Personal life. What activities energise me, and am I doing them?
  • Legacy. Do I have a big picture of what I want to achieve in my life in 2019, not just in medicine?  
It seems paradoxical that since I have learnt to be more proactive with how I use my time, delegate, set firm boundaries and say ‘no’, I have a more positive influence on the culture of my medical workplaces by protecting my capacity to care for my family, my patients, my colleagues and myself.
I have learnt it’s important to have a strategy for managing inevitable stress, and by doing this I have rediscovered joy and beauty in life.
What works for you?

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Rob Trigger   11/12/2018 10:35:42 PM

Great article Leanne thanx - you are still an inspiration so many years down the track

Trisha B   13/12/2018 8:25:24 PM

Agree with Rob. Thanks for your words of wisdom. And in reply to your question: art works for me and spending time in Nature.