Shrinks, too, have problems

Are psychiatrists better equipped to deal with the stresses of life? Or are they as vulnerable as their patients? Aruti Nayar checks out

At times, psychiatrists also get stressed out but, they feel, they are better equipped to deal with life’s tensions
At times, psychiatrists also get stressed out but, they feel, they are better equipped to deal with life’s tensions

MODERN life is like a pressure cooker. We are constantly letting out steam. When the safety valve will give way, no one knows. As the rest of the humanity tries to figure out strategies to deal with stresses of life, it was interesting to check how those trained to help others manage. Do they crumble? Are they as vulnerable as those who seek their counsel?

“Cumulative and chronic stress can lead to long-term exhaustion and psychological as well as emotional problems. Pressure and frustration are today the most common reasons for stress. We need effective ways to cope with it. Competitive lives have increased our pressures and, consequently, stress. Some people even lose their jobs because of declining efficiency and inability to cope with stress”, says Sachin Kalra, a psychiatrist from Chandigarh, at present on an assignment in Australia. He feels he is fortunate enough not only to help people but also his family to cope with the problem. “It is a common joke that psychiatrists in the long run lose their emotional control because they deal with people with emotional problems. Actually, the case is just the opposite. Early awareness helps to nip the problem in the bud,” he adds.

Vani Kler
Vani Kler, working with Cheema Hospital, Mohali, says that as a psychiarist, expectations from her are high

Simi Waraich
Simi Waraich, a consultant with Fortis, Mohali, feels that the job requires her to understand the causes of stress

Vani Kler, a psychiatrist working with Cheema Hospital, Mohali, agrees with Kalra that “professionals in mental health are better equipped to deal with daily life’s stresses.” Says Simi Waraich, a consultant with Fortis, Mohali: “We all change according to our experiences. Working in this field definitely affects us in a lot of ways. How we change depends on our individual personalities.”

Professionally, psychiatrists are privy to tensions brewing in peoples’ lives, and they analyse and identify patterns of stress and its expression. This process also gets generalised in their own daily lives. Good planning and organisation skills that are a must for efficient patient care help these professionals to minimise pressures in their own lives. Kalra explains: “A continuous mental exercise can be daunting. I am tested every moment that I work.”

Says Kler: “Though mental health professionals might be time-starved to relieve their stress by recreation or holidaying, they are certainly better equipped to identify pointers to a burnout. They know when they need a break, ventilation and treatment.” According to Simi, “a psychological-minded individual gains insight into his/her behaviour while working with patients and modifies it accordingly.”

Psychological mindedness is the ability to introspect and examine one’s behaviour to understand why one acts in a certain way—why one gets angry, or gets into self-destructive relationships. Kler, too, is of the view that psychiatrists are better equipped at harnessing their physical, mental and emotional resources. However, Kler also says: “On the flip side, the daily challenges are greater in the case of mental health profesionals. Behavioural expectations from them 
are greater.”

They are expected to be calm and adjusting always, which is virtually impossible for any human being. When they fail, they are the first ones to feel guilty. Psychologists can identify maladaptive behaviours whether in themselves or in others. This awareness helps them deal better with the day-to-day hassles.

According to Dr Rajender Singh, a city-based psychiatrist, “my profession has certainly helped me. The knowledge of emotional problems and their impact on personality has helped me cope with the ups and downs of life effectively. I feel it is easier for a psychiatrist to convert pathological stress or distress to healthy stress. The patient has to suffer firstly from illness and, perhaps, more from the stigma of the society.”

Most important, shrinks can see the links between the current problems within themselves and with others. Teaching people about assertiveness, communication and coping with depression helps one to deal with these things in one’s life too.

Waraich is of the view that “one becomes a social anthropologist of sorts while studying human beings. Our profession makes us understand human beings better.” A key thing one learns is to be 

Even if one gets an emotional insight into one’s behaviour, it is not necessary that insight is translated into action. One may continue to lose one’s temper or have other problems.