PRESSURE
VALVE

I’m a family practice doctor in solo practice. That means that I have the responsibilities of being a doctor and the responsibilities of being a business owner. And that can be stressful. Every medical magazine I get for the past few years have had at least one article about physician burnout. What it is. What causes it. How you can get past it. And I can’t say I haven’t been burnt out before. When my sympathy for my patients is overridden by irritation, I know I’m burning out. But as a solo doc I can decide to take a vacation. Or shorten my day. Or anything else I need to get my perspective back. 

But burnout is certainly not restricted to the medical field and I see it more in my female patients. They work at one job and go home to the second job – taking care of kids, cooking, cleaning and trying to please their spouse. It’s tiring. Especially when kids are small and dependent and you have parents and other family that are also dependent on you. These women come to the office depressed and anxious and all-around overwhelmed. So I ask them what their “pressure valve release” is. What do they do that is solely for them?  I am always surprised how few women have an outside interest beyond work and family. 

Obviously, for me my “valve release” is all things bodybuilding. Lifting is akin to meditation for me. In the gym, I need only concentrate on the weight moving up and down, my breathing going in and out and my muscles flexing and relaxing. I am in my own space and in my own head. I like deciding what exercise to do next depending on what feels best with no real set plan. It’s me and my body and the music in my ears and nothing else. It relaxes me and sets me up for the rest of the day. 

At a bodybuilding show, they call me “doc” but the work is as far from my IRL job as possible. It’s a long and tiring day regardless of whether I am promoter, judge or tabulator, but it is also infinitely satisfying. Again, it’s something just for me. Something that is not part of me being a doctor or a mother or a wife or even a daughter. Just me. 

You may love your work (like I do) but it is still work. You may love being a mother (like I do) but children are also work. And this does not account for all the other people that women regularly care for. I know that going to a nail and hair salon are socially acceptable reasons for a woman to get out of the house but you can’t do hair and nails every week, can you? Which means a woman needs to think beyond the salon to find reasons to get out of the house, socially acceptable or not. Music lessons. Swimming. Adult education classes. Hiking. Book clubs. There is something for every woman. 

You don’t need to be a family doctor to have burnout. In our society, you just have to be a woman. But finding something that helps release that pressure – whatever that something is – makes for an emotionally healthier person overall. It’s the mini vacation we all need. It’s what helps to get us through yet another demanding week of work, of kids, of family, of ...