16 Aug 2019

Coping with Stress from Medical Complaints

Coping with Stress from Medical Complaints

Stress in the workplace is a problem that we have probably all had to face at some stage, and it appears to be on the increase. For our doctors and physicians, the work environment can be especially stressful and pressurising, particularly when it comes to the handling of and coping with complaints.

The Health and Safety Executive defines work-related stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them”. Surveys conducted by The HSE have found that those working in the healthcare industry report the highest levels of stress, depression and anxiety related to their work compared to any other industry. Those working in the healthcare industry were also at higher risk of suffering from burnout.

With one in 10 GPs having to take time off work within the past 12 months due to stress or burnout, and a further 22% worrying that it’s likely that they will too over the next year, it’s clear that this is a problem that needs a solution.

In addition, doctors at the receiving end of medical complaints are particularly at risk of burnout, as well as mental health problems. The first steps of coping with stress, begin with identifying the problem, understanding how stress affects the body and recognising the symptoms.

Women with head in her hands

How stress affects the body

Stress triggers biological responses, typically called the fight or flight response. This includes:

  • The release of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol)
  • Increased blood sugar and blood pressure
  • Increase in heart rate

The fight or flight response is a survival mechanism that occurs when you’re faced with a threat or a stressor. Although this response is important in order for your body to cope, overtime repeated activation of this series of responses really takes its toll on your body.

In today’s highly stressful world, the body becomes overworked and doesn’t have the chance to recover. Research reveals that chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure and brain changes that may cause mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.

Symptoms of stress

Stress can have a negative effect on you in a variety of ways.

  • Emotionally – you may feel worried or overwhelmed
  • Mentally – you may feel anxious or depressed
  • Physically – you may suffer from headaches or have trouble sleeping
  • Behaviour – you may carry out avoidant behaviour such as avoiding dealing with high-risk patients

It is important that you look out for these symptoms and can recognise when you’re feeling stressed. If you are going through a difficult time dealing with the stress of a medical complaint and are showing signs of these symptoms, follow our suggestions for coping with stress and seek help.

Coping with stress

Firth-Cozens (2001) developed a systems approach model of interventions to improve physicians’ wellbeing and patient care. It explored how organisational and occupational stressors, such as lack of support, paired with individual differences, such as coping ability, can affect the wellbeing of doctors through stress. This has a knock-on effect that may lead to poor patient care, increasing the likelihood of patient complaint. The model demonstrates a vicious cycle, where the increased risk of complaints acts as a further stressor on a doctor.

Nearly half of GPs say that their ability to care for their patients has been negatively impacted by the stress of working as a GP. Based on this, it has been suggested that interventions must work at a variety of levels to target the improvement of a doctor’s wellbeing and patient care.

Systems approach model

Image Source

Here are just a few of our recommended methods that you could put to practice to help reduce the negative influence of medical complaints on your wellbeing.

Make sure you’re covered

If you’ve received a medical compliant and you’re feeling stressed and struggling at work as a result, do not disregard it. Ensure you have Medical Insurance to cover any legal expenses if a claim is brought against you. Once you’ve taken out medical insurance, you no longer have to worry about the cost of legal representation. With the stresses of money dealt with, you will be better able to focus on yourself and your wellbeing.

Turn to family and friends

The buffering theory suggests that having a social support system helps to buffer an individual from the negative effects of a stressful event, such as receiving a complaint at work.

Although patient confidentially creates boundaries to what can be shared, talking to your close family and friends about complaints you’ve received is a much-needed source of support. They will be able to support you at a more personal level and help to put things into perspective for you. Remember a problem shared is a problem halved.

Support in the workplace

Discussing complaints with colleagues and having support in the workplace is an important part of alleviating the demands put on doctors and softening the blow of any complaints. Being supported by and giving support to your colleagues is crucial in creating a workplace environment that encourages those who are struggling to seek help. Having processes in place such as mentoring and counselling are helpful to provide doctors with emotional support, as well as to facilitate teamwork.

Make the most of support services

The British Medical Association (BMA) has implemented a confidential Doctor Support Service offering support to those who are subject to a complaint or have learnt that their license is at risk.

The BMA also has confidential Wellbeing Support Services readily available to all doctors and medical students. This includes a telephone counselling service open 24/7 or if you’d prefer to speak to another doctor, a peer support service.


Mindfulness can lead to less intense stress responses. One great method for practicing mindfulness is through the use of the app “Headspace”. Headspace helps you to train your mind through a series of exercises, including breathing exercises and meditation. When meditation becomes part of your daily routine, the mind becomes more open and less reactive meaning that you have an improved ability to cope with stressors, such as receiving a complaint from a patient.

One study using the Headspace app revealed that just eight weeks of meditation at work led to a 46% decrease in distress and a 31% decrease in negative feelings.

Practicing meditation and mindfulness techniques also has other advantages including improved sleep and focus and better relationships with others, which in turn will have their benefits in the workplace. This is a great place to start and shouldn’t take too much time out of your busy schedule.

Women meditating

Healthy body, healthy mind

Physical exercise is an important part of both mental and psychological wellbeing. There’s an overwhelming amount of evidence pointing to the physical health benefits of being active, but we sometimes forget how essential regular exercise is for your mental health too. Exercise can act as an efficient stress-reliever; it mediates the release of endorphins, helps to relieve muscle tension and distracts you from the worries your job may bring. It’s also a brilliant way to improve your mood and help you sleep better.

If you’re struggling to cope with stress as a result of a medical complaint, make sure you follow some of these steps and contact us today.



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