Warming weather likely has many of you thinking about summer vacation season, which is only a couple of months away. But perhaps not enough of you.
A recent Glassdoor survey revealed that only 54 percent of U.S. employees had used all of their vacation time in the past 12 months. Given the current burnout rate among physicians, forgoing time to decompress is not a wise move.
Even if you think of yourself as a “superhero, workaholic, Lone Ranger, perfectionist,” and you seem to be firing on all eight cylinders, you might not be functioning at your best. With that in mind, here are 8 clinical signs that you need to take a vacation.
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Elevated resting heart rate
Your nurses take the vitals of every patient you see. But when was the last time you took your own? When taken first thing in the morning, your resting heart rate can be an overall indicator of readiness, rest, and recovery. Athletes will often check theirs immediately after waking to determine how hard they can push themselves in training.
Start by establishing your baseline resting heart rate. If you start to notice that yours is high first thing in the morning, a stress-reducing vacation may be in order.
You’ve been seeing your dentist every 6 months, right doctor? The next time you go for a checkup, ask if the dentist sees any sign of bruxism.
Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw will leave telltale signs of worn enamel or a tense TMJ. These will often happen while you sleep. Both are good indicators of high levels of stress. Although you can wear a mouthguard while sleeping to protect your teeth, this will do little to address the underlying issue. Go get some R&R.
Are you wide awake at night and falling asleep at your weekly all-hands meeting? Even though you might act like a disease-curing machine, you still need your 7-8 hours of sleep like the rest of us mere mortals.
As you’re likely well aware, this is an area where it’s likely worth a consult from a colleague to rule out something serious like sleep apnea. But even if it’s stress that’s keeping you up at night, it’s still just as serious. An extended vacation removed from the sleep-disrupting blue light of our smart devices could help reset your circadian rhythm.
Still not convinced you need a vacation? How about we let the data speak for itself. Blood, urine, and saliva tests are available to determine your level of cortisol, the stress hormone. Urine and saliva tests may prove to be more accurate, especially if needles stress you out. Abnormal cortisol levels could also indicate Cushing’s syndrome, the result of too much cortisol, or Addison’s disease, too little.
Vitamin D level
This is another area where a blood panel speaks for itself. While it’s possible to orally supplement Vitamin D, it’s primarily derived from sunlight. This creates a bit of a dilemma: Sun exposure at the risk of skin cancer, or Vitamin D deficiency. We’ll let the dermatologists and endocrinologists settle that one, but I think we can all agree that you should never get sunburned.
The consequences of Vitamin D deficiency are also pretty clear. Without sufficient Vitamin D, children can develop rickets and adults’ bones may become brittle — problematic if you’re at risk for osteoporosis. Get your blood panel done, and show it to your boss if they deny your vacation request.
Psychosomatic pain/GI distress
Feeling aches and pains without any signs of injury? It could be your body telling you that it needs a break. Time to pack your bags and head for Tahiti. The same goes with inexplicable GI distress. It could be that job-related stress is pushing your body to the brink, even though you feel clear and focused in your mind.
When was the last time you interacted with another human being outside of work? Moreover, when was the last time you took your significant other out on a date? Maybe you’re single. When was the last time you tried dating? Social withdrawal could be a sign that you’ve had about as much stress as you can handle. Maybe try online dating, or plan a special evening with your certain somebody, then tell your boss you’ll be taking a week sometime in the near future.
Exacerbated chronic conditions
A recent MDLinx survey found that 75 percent of U.S. physicians have a chronic condition, and 74 percent said that work was a contributing factor to the condition. If you’re one of those doctors, have you noticed that your chronic condition has worsened as of late? Do you think it’s mere coincidence that you haven’t taken a vacation in two years? Time to book that once-in-a-lifetime trip you’ve been putting off.
A final thought
As doctors, it’s easy to get caught up in caring for others and ignoring self-care. Time away from work is essential for providing the excellent care that your patients need. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, treat yourself like one of your patients and follow your own doctor’s orders. Take a vacation!
Eight clinical signs you need a vacation include:
- Elevated resting heart rate: An indicator you aren’t adequately recovered.
- Bruxism: A sure sign that you’re stressed out.
- Insomnia/somnolence: Your circadian rhythm is a mess. Take some time away from blue light-emitting tech.
- Cortisol: If your stress-hormone level is high, it’s a sure sign that you need to take time away from work.
- Vitamin D: Sure, you could pop a pill, but why not get it directly from the sun? Book a beach vacation.
- Psychosomatic pain/GI distress: If you can’t pin either on a condition, it’s likely that this is stress manifesting physically in the body.
- Social withdrawal: All work and no play makes doctors dull boys and girls.
- Exacerbated chronic conditions: If an existing condition has gotten worse, stress is likely a contributor.