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Who’s Taking Care of You?

Posted by David Couper on September 17, 2015 9:37 AM

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In 2014, CareerBuilder asked over 3,200 professionals to report on their stress levels, and health care workers shouted the loudest, with over 69% reporting they felt “stressed” and another 17% saying they were “very stressed”.

Jason Lovelace, president of CareerBuilder Healthcare, observed, “Stress is part of the environment in many health care settings, but high levels sustained over a long-period of time can be a major detriment to employee health and ultimately stand in their way of providing quality care to patients.”

The health care industry is highly complex, with numerous pressures on its workers, and it would be fruitless for me to try to solve in this article the structural factors that cause workers so much stress. But one thing is clear: if you work in this industry, you better have a personal strategy for moderating your stress and anxiety levels.

For example, I know of one sports medicine surgeon who manages an incredible workload and is routinely responsible for repairing the bodies of injured athletes. He is an athlete himself, and one thing people notice about him is that he only has two speeds: full-speed ahead or very slow. In an emergency or skiing down an expert slope, he moves quickly. But at most other times, he moves slowly. He thinks before he speaks, pauses to make sure he is taking the right action, and listens carefully to be certain he heard what you told him.

This deliberate reaction to stress - to slow down when all around you speeds up - is counter-intuitive, but it works. Stress degrades performance. It leads to mistakes, which can have deadly consequences in health care settings.

If you know you are in a high stress setting, you must devote more time and effort to balancing that stress, so that the work you do is sustainable.

This might mean exercising more, or meditating, or both. It might mean consciously deciding to always be the calming influence in any room. There are many tactics, but what matters most is that you choose a tactic that is effective for you.

A recent research report, Preventing occupational stress in healthcare workers, surveyed 58 studies that included a total of 7,188 participants. It observed:

In 17 studies there was low- to moderate-quality evidence that both mental and physical relaxation led to a reduction of 23% in stress levels compared to no intervention.

From my own experience, I’d interpret this to mean that half-hearted efforts aren’t enough to balance the stress that many health care workers experience. A little bit of exercise or a meditation session every now and then won’t counterbalance near-constant stress. But if you devote real energy and determination to such areas, you can see real benefits.

Here’s the truth: if you love your work, then having a solid plan for staying healthy, relaxed and focused is the only way to keep performing at high levels. You are only human, and all humans need to slow down and recharge on a regular basis.

If you work in healthcare and are looking to slow down and recharge, David Couper Consulting is offering a free 21 day meditation program tailored for you, starting September 28th. Find out more and register. 

Image: opensourceway/Flickr

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