When you work as a rehab therapist, no two days are the same. And while that can be exciting (who enjoys monotony?), it can also create a lot of stress. Add in the fact that you’re working with patients who may be frustrated, in pain, or just generally grumpy, and you’ve got a whole lot to handle day-in and day-out. This holds especially true if you’re feeling overworked and under-supported, which can often happen in a busy healthcare setting. The good news: There are things you can do to reduce your stress levels at the office—and I’m not talking about quitting your job (although that, of course, is an option if you feel you’d be happier elsewhere). With that in mind, here are six strategies for stress management for healthcare workers:
1. Ensure your basic, physiological needs are met.
It’s significantly harder to deal with daily tasks and challenges when your basic, physiological needs aren’t met—that is, when you’re not well-nourished, well-hydrated, well-exercised, and well-rested. So, make these things a priority, and you’ll at least have a solid foundation from which to work. Otherwise, even the smallest stressor could push your already-taxed body into overdrive, thus creating more stress for you to deal with (on top of the potential long-term consequences of not taking care of your physical needs).
Stay nourished and hydrated.
Try to choose healthy, nutrient-dense, well-balanced meals that won’t spike your blood sugar and then leave you feeling more depleted than before. It might take a little meal planning, but the pay-off is totally worth it. Also, be sure to sip on (preferably filtered) water throughout your day to keep yourself hydrated. Yes, you may have to excuse yourself to use the restroom more frequently—which I know can be challenging in a healthcare setting—but keeping your body hydrated is imperative to your own health.
Get adequate exercise and rest.
Also, establish an exercise routine that you’re willing to stick with. Exercise can not only reduce anxiety, but also improve mood. And finally, make it a point to get a good night’s sleep by:
- establishing a consistent bedtime;
- shutting off your electronic devices well before bed (or even keeping them out of the bedroom); and
- creating an evening ritual to shut down.
2. Pay attention to your breathing.
This is a strategy you can implement in real time—the exact moment you feel yourself getting stressed. Instead of responding to the stressor, take a moment—even if it’s only a few seconds—and check your breath. If you notice yourself breathing quickly and shallowly—as most of us do when we’re stressed—take a couple of long, deep breaths to slow it down. This will also bring down your heart rate, which can speed up when the body’s fight-or-flight response is triggered. Alternatively, you can try one of these three breath-based relaxation techniques from Harvard.
Bringing awareness to your breath can help trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, which creates a sense of calm. And a calm, clear head is always better than a stressed-out one when you’re making a decision—even if you’re dealing with an actual emergency.
3. Take breaks and schedule time off.
Our culture prizes productivity, so it can sometimes be challenging for us to take rest breaks. But, we need rest in order to be our best selves. Otherwise, we burn out—and that can be especially problematic in the healthcare field, because your patients are relying on you to be fully present and attentive to them throughout their care. Compared to their bright-eyed and bushy-tailed peers, burned-out providers are significantly more likely to make mistakes. So, if possible, schedule a few minutes between patients to go for a quick walk, have a sip of water, and take a bathroom break. Furthermore, be sure to use your paid time off—and when you do, leave work at work so you can truly disconnect.
4. Zoom out to the big picture (i.e., your purpose).
With healthcare regulations evolving constantly, it can be challenging not to get caught up in the minutia (i.e., documentation, billing, administrative tasks, and insurance regulations). But, don’t lose sight of why you chose this profession in the first place. It probably had something to do with helping people. And keeping that top of mind may help you slog through some of the less-enjoyable parts of your job, because you are, after all, making such a big impact in the lives of your patients. On that note, take the time to celebrate your wins—big and small. It’s a great way to keep your attention on the good stuff, and to help make everything else feel a little more manageable.
5. Talk to a therapist or coach.
Venting to friends and family will only get you so far before it’s time to consider reaching out to an objective third party who can help you establish personalized coping strategies for thriving in your professional life. Many offer complimentary introductory calls or meetings to establish fit. So, be sure to take potential facilitators up on those, and keep interviewing until you find someone who jibes with you. While some people may still be uncomfortable asking for help, there’s no shame in it. In fact, working one-on-one with an expert may be exactly what you need.
6. Adopt a relaxation technique—or several.
Meditate, take a yoga class, sketch, journal, draw yourself a bath—you get the idea. Choose an activity (or several) that relaxes you and brings you joy, and then make it part of your routine. According to this Penn State resource, developing the “relaxation response” through “relaxation techniques, including meditation and progressive muscle relaxation” can “counter the ill effects of the fight-or-flight response and, over time, allows the development of a greater state of alertness.” When the body “is in a deep state of relaxation,” you can experience “decreased blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and rate of breathing, as well as feelings of being calm and in control.” Doesn’t sound that nice?
Now, if you’ve implemented all the stress reduction strategies you can, and your work demands are still simply too much to handle, then it’s time to have an honest conversation with your boss about redistributing some of your workload (or, if you are the boss, it’s time to hire some help). After all, that’s not good for your wellbeing or the wellbeing of your patients. For these types of conversations, it’s usually best to come to the table with a solution, so give some thought to potential options or arrangements that might work for you and your team.