8 Ways Healthcare Workers Can Reduce Stress

Dr. Reena Kotecha and Dr. Chris Willard offer a collection of quick tips to help other healthcare professionals rediscover moments of calm and self-care, even during a grueling work day.

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This year has been uniquely intense and challenging for all of us, but perhaps none more so than healthcare professionals, who are serving to safeguard the health and well-being of the population during the coronavirus pandemic. Many have been stretched to capacity—and it’s not as if all the pre-COVID pressures have magically disappeared. How might healthcare professionals look after themselves and their colleagues during this time? 

If this speaks to you right now, please know that we understand the enormous challenges you’re facing:

I (Reena) am a medical doctor and organizational well-being consultant, based in London, UK. I’m the founder of Mindful Medics: Healthcare starts with Self Care, a mindfulness and compassion-based emotional intelligence training program. Due to the pandemic, I deliver the program online these days, which means it can be accessed by healthcare providers across the globe.

During the pandemic, many healthcare workers have been stretched to capacity—and it’s not as if all the pre-COVID pressures have magically disappeared.

And I (Chris) have been teaching at Harvard Medical School for the past few years, as well as consulting with healthcare groups before and during the pandemic on building and maintaining resilience in the face of trauma and tragedy. Most recently, I began the research for a new book about post-traumatic growth.

Here are some short yet effective practices that medical professionals and healthcare workers can integrate into their day—for example, on the ward round, by the patient bedside, or at handover.

8 Mindful Tips for Healthcare Workers to Let Go of Stress

  1. Breathe. Seriously, we know you’re breathing already—but checking in not only with your patients, but also with your breath, hits the reset switch on your brain and body, helping you head off the stress response. Try the 4-7-8 breath: Breathe in for a count of 4, pause for 7, then breathe out for 8.
  1. HALT. Don’t let yourself get too Hungry, Angry/Anxious, Lonely, or Tired. See if you can remember to check in with this quick acronym every so often, to keep your physical and mental functioning at peak capacity.
  1. Focus on the good. We know it’s hard out there. Even when it’s heartbreaking, though, don’t forget to also reflect on the day’s successes at the end of your shift—whether it’s your hospital shift or your home shift with the family.
  1. Transition. Too often, we mentally and emotionally take work home with us. To help you release this lingering stress, create a transition ritual at the end of your shift before stepping into your home space. This may be a short internal dialogue to signal to yourself that you are transitioning from work mode to home mode, or it may be grounding yourself while standing outside your front door by taking a moment to feel your feet on the step.
  1. Laugh whenever you can. Think about the things that reliably make laughter bubble up inside you. Comedy podcasts on the drive home? Your kids’ corny jokes at the dinner table? Your favorite shows on the couch? Whatever it is, let yourself savor it. Laughing keeps our brain creative and resets our nervous system.
  1. Reach in. Lean into your faith, whatever it is you have faith in. Maybe that’s the spiritual, the scientific, or a combination of both. But so many people just like you, including your ancestors, went through hard times—maybe even harder times than this—and came out stronger than ever. What resources have they leaned on to get through?
  1. Reach out. This applies when you are tired or down, but reach out when you’re up, too. You never know whose spirits you’re lifting, especially among colleagues. And even though it might feel like a thankless job, you can thank all your coworkers at the end of your shift, and thank your family and friends for their support. And if you ever forget, we all thank you.
  1. Remember, this too shall pass. It really will end: the shift, the week, the pandemic. And what will you do then? Talk with friends about the epic vacations you’ll take, or the staycations you’ll make if you don’t have the funds or energy. Research finds even planning a vacation lifts our mood and shifts our perspective.

A final tip: We know you may need to just do whatever you can to get through this time. We share this list to offer just a few ways to “disrupt” your brain and body from rewiring your nervous system for ongoing PTSD and trauma. You can always offer yourself gratitude for taking any step, no matter how small, to recenter your body and mind in the present moment. 

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A Compassion Practice for Healthcare Workers 

In this guided loving-kindness meditation, Dr. Mark Bertin offers an opportunity to bring awareness to patterns of thinking, settle the mind, and dedicate a few minutes to self-care. Read More 

  • Mark Bertin
  • June 5, 2020
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