6 ways to handle stress as a healthcare professional

In these unprecedented times, the spread of COVID-19 has put a strain on healthcare systems around the world. We wanted to support you by providing six coping strategies you can use to deal with stress in a healthy way.  Being a doctor or a nurse is one of the most stressful occupations in the world. Your decisions can massively determine whether a patient lives or dies. With so much responsibility on your shoulders, it is easy to get stressed. So below we have compiled six tips on how to handle stress at work in the hospital to help you manage your stress load.  

Handle 1. Concentrate on one thing at a time 

We all know that there is plenty to do in healthcare. That is why it is understandable that you want to take on as many tasks as possible to help your clients and keep them satisfied. Still, it is important not to overwork yourself. When tension builds up, try to slow down to a slightly slower work pace. Handle stress by focusing on the task at hand (Harvard Health Publishing). In healthcare the most important thing is the care of the client.  Stay calm and focus on them.   While the care of the client is the crucial point of healthcare, there are plenty of areas that need preparation to be able to ensure that the client gets the treatment they need. Do you often find yourself searching for equipment that you misplaced, forgetting appointments, or accomplishing less than you intended? Being organized will help you overcome these issues, allowing you to be more efficient and productive – so that you can concentrate on your task and become less stressed.

 2. Know your boundaries and communicate 

Setting your boundaries as a healthcare professional can be difficult. It is not always easy to say “no” during a busy shift period as you do not want to let your team down. However, if you constantly keep pushing your boundaries, there will come a time when the workload will be too much for you too. If you keep on going without taking care of your own health, you run a risk of getting burned out. It is up to you to discover where your limits lie. So do not compare yourself with your colleagues! Find out what you can and cannot handle and take that seriously. Learn to listen to your body by recognizing signals. Palpitations, gloominess, high fatigue, irritation, or headaches can be signs that you need to slow down.  It is important to have workplace debriefing meetings because sharing one’s feelings can help validate and normalize emotional responses to tough situations. Talking to colleagues, outside of work, about the highs and lows of an intense day can be an effective way to deal with emotions. Some healthcare professionals tend to have a high tolerance level, and while this is appropriate in some situations, it is important not to bottle up your feelings for too long as this may lead to ongoing and unresolved stress. Opening about workplace stress allows you to tap into the support of others and learn how to manage stress (CDC). 

3. Set priorities 

Talk to your manager and ask what is expected of you. Even if your agenda is overflowing and you still have several tasks to do, work from your heart, then you often know where your priorities lie. Be transparent and indicate to the team how many hours of care can be used per day and then discuss together which tasks you will fulfill. Make sure that the most important ones get priority. There are few things that add more stress than running late. Plan. Leave earlier. Do what it takes to not always feeling like you must “beat the clock.”  For example, as a team you could work with a whiteboard to set the points for improvement. Then discuss these points with each other and see what stands in the way of care for the client and optimal cooperation. This can be a positive method to tackle problems and give everyone a chance to provide input.


4. Get plenty of rest 

During busy days or critical intensive events, it is common for medical professionals to feel frightened or anxious because there is a lot at stake. Shortness of breath, sweaty palms or a racing heart are common to have. While this is normal, you need to quieten this sympathetic nervous system response so you can think clearly and act effectively. To do this, focus on taking deep and slow breaths, and relaxing any tension you feel in your neck and shoulders.  Sometimes all you need is a few minutes to disconnect from your environment to prevent your stress level from going overboard (Greene and Miller). If possible, step away and do some deep breathing exercises or take a short walk. And do not forget that a little humor does wonders to diffuse a stressful situation.  \

5. Take some time to reflect 

It can be helpful to write down what you want to achieve in a workday/week. By focusing on working towards achieving your goals, you get a positive feeling. Take a few minutes every day – outside of breaks – to take a critical look at your workday. What went well? What could you have done better? Then discuss the objectives and the practical details with your colleagues. Be honest and open with each other. Talk to each other and not about each other. It may be equally difficult to hear criticism or criticize others. But it can be very relieving to express your feelings. In turn this could improve the atmosphere on the work floor as you know where everyone stands. 

6. Switch off and have fun 

When you witness traumatic events, extreme pain and suffering, or death it is normal to want to cry. In these situations, many healthcare professionals selflessly hold it together for the grieving friends and family, or their own colleagues. While it is okay to be strong in the moment, it is important to find space to connect with sadness and cry. After a highly emotional day it can be pleasant to switch off. In the back of your mind, you might be thinking about how you could have done things better or worrying about a patient. While some reflection is fine, dwelling on distressing events for extended periods of time can be damaging to your mental health so it is important to find ways of switching off.  Relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and meditation can be helpful to settle the mind after an exhausting day (Purdue University). Doing exercise, spending time in the great outdoors, or hanging out with people who make you happy are all healthy ways of giving yourself timeout. This is especially important because if you take care of yourself then you can give your best in caring for others. Remember, if you are having a tough time you can inform your supervisor so that they can give you the care and support you need to be at your best.   At the end of the day, reading one article online is not going to make your stress vanish, but we hope that this article has helped you to understand that managing your time is important to your own health. Getting advice, whether from friends, family, colleagues, or specialists can help you to let off some steam. There are plenty of resources available online too. If you have any questions the EMTG team is always open to give advice. 

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Healthcare Personnel and First Responders: How to Cope with Stress and Build Resilience During the Covid-19 Pandemic, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/mental-health-healthcare.html 

Harvard Health Publishing, Focus more to ease stress, https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/focus-more-to-ease-stress 

Lauren A. Greene and Korin Miller, How to Deal With Stress: 14 Ways to Cope, From Experts, https://www.health.com/condition/stress/best-and-worst-ways-to-cope-with-stress 

Purdue University global, Stress Management for Health Care Workers: Real Tips on How to Destress, https://www.purdueglobal.edu/blog/nursing/stress-management-health-care-workers/