Is it normal to feel stressed now and then? I think it is….
But when stress turns into an everyday occurrence, you have a problem on your hands.
Now I don’t need to tell you about the dangers of chronic stress. As a healthcare provider, you have a front-row seat. You witness the effects of stress on people every single day.
And here’s the irony… Knowing what stress does is not enough to prevent it from showing up in your own life!
Of course, not all stress is bad. As humans, we’re designed to experience and deal with stress, and most of us do it rather well.
But there is a tipping point and once reached healthy stress morphs into toxic stress.
Chronic stress plays a key role in both minor and major health problems, including hypertension, headaches, insomnia, skin conditions, diabetes, digestive problems, depression, and anxiety just to name a few. Without a doubt, stress affects mental health just as much.
But chronic stress may also lead to burnout, leaving you feeling tired, overwhelmed, and exhausted. You no longer fully engage in your work and become less effective over time. What once brought you joy is now a source of never-ending frustration.
Healthcare providers face increasing demands and expectations, leading to greater levels of stress and burnout. Numerous studies have been published on the topic and its implications.
And just like everyone else, healthcare providers are affected by stress and burnout in all areas of their life. Affected are relationships, personal and professional life.
But with healthcare professionals, chronic stress and burnout could also affect patient safety.
Once you accept the power stress may have over your life, it’s vital you take steps to mitigate its impact.
Here are five simple strategies you can implement at once. If you put them to use, you’ll experience less stress in your life while enjoying greater levels of health and happiness.
And by the way, there’s nothing fancy here.
Most of it is nothing more than getting back to basics. Most likely it’s what you tell your patients frequently.
So, here it goes…
Even though I don’t need to explain this one to you, let me do so anyway, just for the record.
Regular exercise is known to boost your immunity, improve heart health, blood circulation, and the amount of oxygen circulating through your body.
Exercise elevates your mood as endorphins are released. A workout of low to moderate intensity can increase your vitality, reduce pain, and improve your sleep.
Naturally, exercise helps you relieve some of the tension associated with chronic stress.
Eating well is an integral part of managing stress. Too much fat, red meat, carbohydrates, sugar, and caffeine in the diet put stress on your body. Chronic stress has also been connected to fat storage around the middle.
To help reduce your stress through your diet, eat generous amounts of leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits every day.
Make it a point to consume these foods on a daily basis:
- Lean meat, chicken or fish.
- Whole grains, or legumes (beans and lentils);.
- Nuts and seeds.
And… make a b-line around junk food and fast food.
To make eating healthy a true habit, start packing your lunch and pre-cook your meals. These steps will put you back in control of the foods you eat.
Finally, take a lunch break… I know, this is not always easy for healthcare professionals.
And please no charts or phone calls while eating!
Be mindful of the food in front of you. Slow down while you eat, chew your food well, and enjoy every bite.
Learn how to relax!
If you know how to relax you don’t have to wait until your next massage or sauna, you can do it on the spot!
When you feel stressed, take “five” to relax all your muscles. Start at the top of your head and work your way down to your toes. Clench one muscle group for a few seconds, and then release. Move on to the next muscle group and repeat.
This is a quick way to interrupt the stress response and get a bit of relaxation.
Getting a good night’s sleep allows your body to get the deep rest it needs to heal itself. If you don’t get good quality sleep, stress will only be exacerbated.
To achieve good sleep, avoid caffeine and other stimulants a few hours before going to bed. This will help you sleep through the night without interruptions.
Ideally, you’d turn off all technology one hour before turning off the lights. Also, turn the lights down for a while before you go to sleep. Use your relaxation skills to help you fall into a deeper sleep.
Mindfulness is the art of focusing on the present moment. Instead of worrying about the future or obsessing over the past, focus your mind on the present moment.
One way to help you achieve this is by becoming aware of your different senses. Take time to:
- Listen and enjoy the early morning sounds…
- Feel the touch of your clothes on your skin…
- Enjoy the aroma of food cooking on your stove…
- Appreciate the beauty of color all around you…
- Delight in the taste of every bite of food…
I told you…
Simple strategies, because that’s all you need.
If you pay attention to and implement these simple steps, you will experience less stress in your life.
And you know that they work because it’s what you tell your patients, right?
So, every day…
- Exercise, even if only a few minutes.
- Eat healthier, even if just one meal.
- Relax more, even if only a few minutes here and there.
- Turn off the electronics to get better sleep, even if only once a week.
- Practice mindfulness, even if you have to work on it.
To a life of more joy and less stress!
What do you think? Any other ideas on how to deal with stress and burnout? Let us know…
By Johanna Hofmann, MBA, regular contributor to the NPBusiness blog.