The Top 3 Fears Most Physicians Have (and How to Address Them)
On the outside, physicians often appear calm, confident, and knowledgeable. Inside, though, most physicians are plagued by many of the same fears and anxieties as everyone else.
Although fear is a healthy and natural part of life, too much can be debilitating. It leads to anxiety, burnout, addiction, and even suicide. However, taking steps to address and overcome fear will help you have a happier and healthier life. As a physician, you’re not alone if you're struggling with fear. Here are the top three fears many doctors have and some practical steps you can take to start addressing them:
#1: Fear of Making Mistakes
Perfectionism, or the fear of making mistakes, is common for doctors. While a careless error in another line of work might lead to certain inconveniences, it can be life-or-death in medicine. While you have to hold yourself to a higher standard, it becomes an issue when it’s debilitating and causes significant mental distress.
The desire to get everything right equally, whether it’s a vital matter of saving a patient’s life or filling out mundane paperwork, can lead to obsessive-compulsive tendencies, lack of work-life balance, and burnout.
To address perfectionism, you need to accept your humanity. To be human is to make mistakes, and a healthy acceptance of that will help you practice self-compassion and lower the pressure you put on yourself. Also, focus on progress over perfection. Instead of trying to avoid mistakes, find ways to grow and learn from them. Seek mentorship, set realistic goals, and celebrate how you are improving as a physician.
Physicians often struggle to separate the “must-haves” of their career from the “nice-to-haves.” Some parts of your job demand your complete concentration and skill, but that doesn’t mean every part of your life and career needs absolute perfection. Ease your high standards on parts of the job that don’t affect your patients’ health to relieve the anxiety and stress that comes with perfectionism.
#2: Fear of Becoming Poor
While being a doctor may be one of the most lucrative careers today, many still feel financially insecure. Peniaphobia, or the fear of becoming poor, is common in among physicians. Most physicians also have to pay off a staggering amount of debt just from medical school alone. One survey found that 74% of students attending public med schools said that they had education debt, with an average of $194,280 in student loans. Add to that the fact that most physicians don’t start earning real money until ten years after the average non-medical student graduates college, so they can often feel financially behind everyone else.
The best first step to overcoming the fear of being poor is to become financially literate. Many financial advisors have great information on how to pay off debt, manage your income and investments, and plan for your future. Read a book or take an online finance course. Popular financial gurus include Dave Ramsey, Ramit Sethi, and Tiffany Aliche.
Understanding how finances work is uncomfortable for many people, especially those who come from low-income backgrounds where a scarcity mindset is common. However, addressing this fear will help you feel more at peace and secure in your future.
#3: Fear of Death
Not all physicians face death on a daily, or even regular, basis. However, most people have at some point, and it doesn’t necessarily desensitize them to it. Many doctors develop a fear of death after witnessing it firsthand, while others are motivated by their fear to become physicians in the first place, in order to fight the things that cause it. The fear of death, or thanatophobia, is more than feeling anxious on occasion about dying. It can disrupt your daily activities and significantly impact your quality of life.
Seeking the help of a mental health professional can help you navigate your feelings around death and confront your fear in a healthy manner. In addition, exploring spirituality and philosophy can also help you develop a strong belief system that can help you cope with the concept of dying, something most doctors must come to terms with.
Overcome Your Fears that Hold Your Back
All of us have fears. However, they don’t have to hold you back as a physician. If you deal with daily fear and anxiety, speak with a mental health professional to get the spiritual guidance, practical advice, and emotional empathy to overcome the blocks holding you back in life. The more you can overcome your fears, the fuller and happier your life will be.
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