Sunday, June 20, 1999

Headline: Kentucky author helps doctors deal with stress

Psychology professor George Manning and his collaborators have come up
with some formulas that could help us all

Byline: JOE WARD
The Courier-Journal

WHO DO doctors call when they want to know how to deal with stress on the job?

The American Medical Association called George Manning. He's a Northern Kentucky University psychology professor who - with a couple of colleagues - has written ''Stress: Living and Working in a Changing World.''

On Thursday he discussed stress with about 400 doctors at a seminar in Chicago.

''There is no question that physicians feel a significant amount of stress,'' said Bill Monnig, a Northern Kentucky doctor who brought Manning to the AMA's attention.

''They face increased regulation by thirdparty payers and government'' that is eroding their autonomy, Manning said. ''They've got increasing volumes of paperwork and phone traffic,'' and ''their incomes are eroding no matter what they do.''

Manning, interviewed before the talk, outlined some topics he planned to discuss:

* Burnout - what it is, what to do about it and why it matters. ''A calmer, more rested doctor seems more focused and careful,'' he said. ''He's not as apt to get sued.''

* ''Critical balance.'' This pits physical, psychological and spiritual resources against the corrosive effects of change and everyday hassles. ''You can handle a lot of stress if you have the resources,'' he said.

* A warning against ''maladaptive coping patterns,'' such as trying to compensate by sleeping less or by ''self-medication'' with alcohol, tobacco, or tranquilizers and other drugs.

He said he would remind the doctors of ''the things that make them happy'' - such as positive relationships with patients and colleagues, and the sense of clinical competence that studies say most doctors enjoy.

He also planned to reacquaint them with such coping techniques as escaping for a while through relaxation, eating right, having a hobby, and ''managing emotions instead of letting them manage you.''

Of course, doctors aren't the only people who face stress. It's hard to find anybody who doesn't.

And Manning's book - written with Kent Curtis, a professor of organizational studies and leadership development at Northern Kentucky, and Steve McMillen, director of executive development and performance improvement at Hillenbrand Industries in Batesville, Ind. - is for everybody.

In addition to being a psychology professor, Manning is a consultant who helps managers and employees smooth out problems in the way they work - together and as individuals.

In 1996, also with Curtis and McMillen, he wrote a book called ''Building Community: The Human Side of Work.'' It focused on groups - on ideas for understanding and dealing with other kinds of people.

''This book is more for the individual,'' Manning said. It's aimed at mental health professionals, who can use it as an aid in their work, and at college-level stress management courses, where it can serve as a textbook.

But it's also for the typical ''overworked, overstressed American.''

In his books, as in the seminars he's been conducting for 30 years, Manning uses a lot of examples and self-administered diagnostic tests. And he illustrates points with anecdotes from the lives of famous people - including Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon, George Burns and Muhammad Ali.

''He doesn't give you a lot of psychological mumbo-jumbo,'' said

Rodney Hochman, chief medical officer and senior vice president at Sentara Health Care in Norfolk, Va.

''I think he makes it real,'' Hochman said. ''He brings it down to a level where it's understandable to most people.''

Hochman worked with Manning in 1994 and 1995, when Health Alliance of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky was being formed by pulling together the staffs and management of six area hospitals.

''It surprises me how he is able to engage his audience,'' said Monnig, the doctor who brought Manning to the attention of the AMA. Jack Cook, Health Alliance's chief executive officer, has, like Monnig, seen Manning in several settings, and has a similar impression.

''George just has a tremendous way with his people skills,'' Cook said. ''He's as fresh in every one of these seminars as if he'd never done it before. He's our preferred educator.''

Becky Lewis, who was chief executive officer of the former Humana Hospital-Lexington, said that whatever it is that Manning does, it works.

Her hospital, she said, was ''the last Humana hospital in the world'' retained by the insurance part of the Louisville-based company when it spun off its hospital division in 1993.

'It was kind of like living in limbo,'' she said. ''They didn't know when they'd be sold and who they'd be sold to.'' So she called Manning in to get the staff focused on what they had to do to make the best of it.

''He's got this unique style where he doesn't intimidate people,'' said Lewis, who now works at Marymount Health Center in London, Ky. ''He draws people out, and they are opening up before they even know they are. He was incredibly helpful.''

Manning and the other authors keep the book from becoming tedious by chocking it full of quizzes to help readers examine themselves for such things as burnout, healthy living habits and even how long they

expect to live.

There is food for thought, and action, in its 507 pages - exemplified well by Chapter 22, which outlines ''The 1x3x7=21 Plan.''

''Too many people spend the first half of life building their wealth and losing their health, only to spend the second half of life losing their wealth to regain their health,'' the authors say.

To avoid that, they say:

* Use positive imagery to fight negative impulses - putting ''mind over matter'' - at least once a day.

* At least three times a week, have a 30- to 60-minute physical workout involving such aerobic exercises as walking, jogging, cycling or swimming.

* Arrange your life to permit the equivalent of seven restful nights of sleep a week.

* Finally, have the equivalent of 21 nutritious meals a week, avoiding too much fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar and sodium, seeking adequate starch and fiber, and avoiding excessive alcohol.

The book was published by Whole Person Associates, Duluth, Minn.