The 4th of November is National Stress Awareness Day! We talk about stress a lot here at Beingwell. We know that it affects us all, can wreak havoc on our physical and mental wellbeing, and the emotional impact can make everything else feel much harder to cope with. And we value the importance of educating others about the effects of and how to reduce stress, but what about those who also help others manage stress, cope with daily life and support poor mental health? Stress management when we’re loaded up with other’s stress, doesn’t come easy - so keep reading for our top tips.
The psychological challenges that healthcare workers face, whether that’s after a crisis like an accident or even the pandemic, or in their everyday workload, supporting patients and their families, combined with long hours, highly demanding roles, decreased sleep, and high stress environments is a recipe for chronic stress and burnout. Two conditions that without support can leave us feeling unable to do our jobs, disheartened and even irritated by the workload and so exhausted we have no option but to take a break.
Although there are challenges, the role of supporting others with their health, whether it’s physical, mental, social or emotional, is not without its rewards. The satisfaction of successfully treating a disease, fixing broken bones, helping patients manage their mental health, the sense of purpose and feeling of contribution to the wider community certainly motivates many of us to train for and take these kinds of roles. But when we spend our working days guiding others on how to manage stress, how easy really is it to take our own advice?
Whether we’re talking, or listening, to people about stress most of the day - meaning it’s likely playing on our mind - or guiding people through stress reduction techniques, or working in stressful conditions, even when we know what to say to our patients and clients doesn’t mean it comes easy for us.
Stress reduction for healthcare workers
Before we get to the tips, it’s important to note that it’s ok to be stressed or feel unable to apply our own, or colleagues, advice or knowledge about stress to our own lives. This can lead to frustration and can trigger unhelpful looping thoughts about our inability to effectively manage stress in ways we know, have trained in, and that works. And we at Beingwell, where we offer a lot of good advice and tips for supporting our wellbeing, are no strangers to this feeling. We are humans too, so it would almost be stranger if we could nail it every time and never feel stressed ourselves - even equipped with the knowledge.
1. Switch off and rest between shifts
You’ve probably suggested this before, and almost definitely will again, to your own patients or clients. Ensure you are switching off and taking time to rest, whether that looks like going for a walk in the early hours of the morning, watching some good TV, doing some yoga or meeting up with friends. Take care to rest well, and support your sleep as it can help us process our emotions from the day.
2. Allow yourself to feel and find your release
When we’re dealing with challenges day in, day out, we’re going to experience challenging feelings too. Avoid bottling them up or pushing them down, and allow yourself time to feel them. Sitting with our feelings can be uncomfortable, but it’s perfectly normal, it’s also ok to enjoy things in life that others don’t get too. While it might be unfair, this too is normal. Feel what you feel, and find your release. Empty your thoughts onto a page, draw your feelings, go for a run, do a kickboxing class, meditate. Try a bunch of different ways to build that toolkit to support yourself.
3. Take care of yourself
How many times have you spoken to others about self-care and its importance - and how many times have you been left feeling a little fraudulent because you’re not always doing it yourself. Protect yourself against stress by taking care of yourself, your diet, exercise and sleep regimes, practice coping mechanisms, find your joy and make time to relax. Having a solid self-care routine will also help us manage when things feel particularly stressful or difficult, whether it’s down to work, challenging clients, or your personal life, as a routine to fall back on that we know helps us.
4. Exercise when you can
Exercise is a really great way to stave off the effects of stress, not only by helping us take care of ourselves, but giving us a boost of endorphins, energy and focus. It’s not for everyone, and many of us don’t feel we have the time, but it doesn’t have to look like training to run marathons every other weekend. It might be as simple as a slow yoga routine, a good stretch at your desk, or walking to work. Anything that gets the blood pumping, as often as we can even if it’s not the most athletic.
5. Connect with loved ones
Our support networks can be really helpful in managing our stress levels, from providing welcome distractions, having a good old whinge about life and providing belly laughs that keep you chuckling for days. And you guys know how good laughter is for us. Connecting with the people we love helps us feel safe and secure, allowing our stress response to deactivate, to get a boost of serotonin, and contribute to good wellbeing. While it won’t make the days any less stressful, it can provide some light relief we all need when stress is high.
6. Establish a healthy working cultures
Normalise the need for rest, to express feelings, conflict resolution, going home at the end of the working day not 3 hours after. Hammer home the importance of healthy working cultures, whether that’s leaving the hustle culture at the door, providing effective means of communication, acknowledging the importance of self-care and the space to do so. Reduce additional stress for healthcare workers by reducing the amount of work-related stress that could arise from non-patient related things like conflict, poor environment or conditions.
7. Hold boundaries
Protect yourself against unnecessary stress by holding boundaries at work, and outside. Whether that looks like politely dismissing tasks outside your workload, reminding patients of your role and the relationship boundaries, or simply knowing when to say no to others. Our stress levels can quickly build when we don’t have or hold boundaries - and just having them doesn’t mean others will respect them, for example working past our actual hours or taking on additional tasks for others when we don't have the time ourselves. Practising holding boundaries, recognise your worth and the importance of them for stress management, so we can continue to show up to work without overwhelming or unnecessary stress to add to our lives.
8. Seek your own support
Offering our support to others takes a lot of our energy, emotional capacity and brain power. And sometimes we need that level of support returned - which many professionals in healthcare must be provided with - so take the support, even if you feel you don’t really need it all the time. As you would with patients or clients, act preventatively and protect your mental health before it becomes problematic. Plus it’ll give you your own space to process feelings and manage stress levels that come with the role.
Working in healthcare, supporting others, treating people and providing a service is hard work, comes with stress, and will mean there are a few really tough days to get through. But with these tips, and many more snippets of your own or colleagues’ advice, we can successfully reduce the potential stress we’re exposed to and support ourselves when it’s unavoidable. We’d love to know if you have any more suggestions, tips or advice for other healthcare workers, so please do get in touch here and keep an eye on your inbox for a mention in the Weekly Dose.