Physicians, lawyers, and pilots in Philadelphia, in Hawaii, and across the country face challenges that come with the stress of their jobs every day. Some professionals are well-equipped to cope with the stress in a healthy way. However, sometimes the stress is overwhelming or the individual just isn’t able to manage it appropriately. March is Self-Harm Awareness Month, a time to look closely at the connection between self-injury and stress. Self-harm among professionals can be the result of their innate sense of perfectionism and the stress of their work.
Perfectionism and Stress
Professionals, including doctors, lawyers, and pilots, quite often feel they cannot make a mistake. This type of perfectionism can ensure the health and safety of those in their care but can also create a significant level of stress within the professional, affecting their own mental and physical health. Researcher and professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, Paul Hewitt, says that living with an internalized voice of perfectionism is anything but easy.
This harsh internal dialogue can be difficult for a perfectionist to live with, especially when their inner critic continues to tell them that they’re not good enough, regardless of what they do or how hard they try. Professor Hewitt says perfectionism can verge on self-abuse, adding that perfectionists “are hugely hard on themselves, with a hatred that is breathtaking at times.”
Self-Harm is Not a Mental Illness
Research indicates that self-injury occurs in as many as 4% of adults in the US. Self-harm can be a way to cope with or relieve painful or hard-to-express feelings. That relief is temporary and, without proper treatment for the related issues of self-injury and stress, a self-destructive cycle can develop. Self-harm among professionals could be a way for them to have some control over their bodies when they feel like they can’t control anything else in their life because of the stress they endure daily.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says that self-harm is a behavior that indicates a need for better coping skills but is not a mental illness in itself. Self-injury can be associated with anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition, if an individual uses drugs or binge drinks alcohol, they are at greater risk of self-injury since alcohol and drugs reduce a person’s level of self-control.
Self-harm can be a kind of release for an individual who is not sure how to deal with their emotions. Self-injury sometimes stimulates the body’s endorphins, the pain-killing hormones, raising the person’s mood. If the individual does not typically feel a lot of emotions, however, they might engage in self-harm as a way to cause themselves pain so they can feel something real to replace their emotional numbness.
Self-Injury and Stress
People who are particularly stressed, including those suffering from PTSD, are more likely to engage in self-harm. One of the main reasons for self-harm among professionals is that they feel it can help them reduce stress and tension. Other reasons for self-injury may include:
- Reducing anger
- Expressing and releasing distress
- Blocking upsetting memories and flashbacks
- Decreasing the symptoms of feeling numb.
At Risk for Self-Harm
Professionals who lean toward perfectionism put themselves under additional stress, beyond the normal stress of their job responsibilities as lawyers, pilots, and medical professionals. People who are at higher risk of self-harm include those who:
- Experience depression, PTSD, and certain other personality disorders
- Were abused or experienced trauma as a child
- Have low self-esteem
- Misuse or are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Treatment for Self-Harm Among Professionals
Professionals in the healthcare, legal, or aviation fields may be concerned about seeking treatment for their self-harm behaviors. However, mental health treatment, along with substance abuse treatment when appropriate, can make a significant difference in their continued well-being. Addressing the issues of perfectionism and stress, including PTSD, is critical to understanding the underlying causes of their self-injury and substance use disorder.
Help for Professionals Available at Providence Treatment
In Philadelphia and in Hawaii, self-harm among professionals can be treated successfully by the professionals at Providence Treatment. We understand the stigma that may have you concerned. We are a recognized leader in the treatment of behavioral health disorders and substance use disorders, and we also know how important it is for you to be able to prioritize your mental health during COVID-19. We use a telehealth technology that enables us to remain HIPAA-compliant and ensures your confidentiality is maintained. If you need help, contact us at 484.469.9592.