Health Careers Journal

Tips for Handling Stress as a Health Care Worker

When the residents of Seattle Grace need to reduce their stress, they’re often found with their coworkers at Joe’s Bar pouring down a few pints and a couple tequila shots to boot. While the method of stress reduction used by Grey’s Anatomy’s finest is questionable, the need to keep the life and death, hope and loss, work of a hospital at bay is real. One-fourth to one-third of U.S. workers report high levels of stress at work. Work related stress can negatively affect the lives and health and safety of workers. Follow these tips toward helping you handle work related stress.

Exercise. You knew that was coming, or at least you should have. The Center for Disease Control reports only one half of adults get the exercise they need as outlined by public health recommendations. Exercise is known to decrease Cortisol – “the stress hormone”. While Cortisol helps our bodies to combat stress, too much can result in chronic stress which is associated with higher blood pressure, decreased immunity and abdominal fat as well as other poor health outcomes. The benefits of exercise go beyond decreasing Cortisol, including but not limited to: decreased risk of certain cancers, decreased body weight, increase muscle tone, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, reduced risk of stroke and decreased risk of developing high blood pressure. Just as importantly exercise can provide you with increased feelings of wellbeing, along with the much needed stress reduction.

Eat well. Did you know that citrus fruits are high in antioxidants, help reduce carcinogens and reduce formation of malignant tumors? Diversity in your diet is essential for you to stay healthy; eating a diet high in fiber and whole grains, rich in fruits and vegetables and lean proteins will leave your body better prepared to handle unavoidable work related stress. Not to mention your stamina, focus and energy level will improve while on the job and at home. Personalize your eating plan at MyPyramid.gov

Sleep. When you signed on to be a health care professional the first thing you signed away was the right to a typical schedule. Long shifts, midnights, and mandatory holds are part of the job and they all contribute to difficulty sleeping, as well as decreased quality of sleep. We all know that sleep is important, what’s difficult is making it a priority. Outside of work concerns, family and life demands can make consistent and adequate sleep a mystery. Inadequate sleep causes lack of focus, irritability, short term memory difficulty and delayed reaction time; all dangerous side effects for health care workers. While sleep may not directly decrease your stress, ample sleep will improve your ability to deal with the stress you do have. Make sleep a priority, get help from your health care provider if you are still having trouble getting what you need. See how much sleep you need and find tips for shift workers at sleepfoundation.org.

Go fishing. Okay, you don’t really have to go fishing but getting a hobby that will provide a healthy diversion to the stress you’re handling at work and home can be a wonderful tool in the fight against stress. They say laughter is the best medicine, in the case of handling stress that may prove to be true.

Avoid unhealthy stress relievers like excessive alcohol, drug use or smoking. While they may help decrease your stress in the short haul, over the long run the damage done to your body will far outweigh the immediate good feelings.

Taking care of your body is a first step in successfully handling the inherent stress of a career in the health industry. As health care providers we should aspire to be role models for our patients and colleagues by doing the best we can to do that.

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