Anxiety in Healthcare Workers: Therapists Reveal 5 Helpful Tips for Controlling Stress
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused increased stress for many, but added anxiety in healthcare workers during this time can be even more dangerous. Our jobs revolve around offering support to others in their time of need, but can we do this effectively if we’re struggling with our own mental health concerns?
Anxiety in healthcare workers is becoming increasingly prevalent due to the pandemic and can significantly impact those working in this field. Additional stress can lead to mood changes and sleep disturbances, which have the potential to influence the decisions we make on the job.
Here are 5 helpful tips to help manage your anxiety during difficult times.
1. Acknowledge your Anxieties
Anxiety is a normal emotion, but when that emotion becomes overwhelming, it’s important to take steps to control it. As healthcare workers, we know anxiety all too well. Not only do we experience it, but we observe it in our patients every day. For many of us, we have fine-tuned our responses to these emotions and have learned some valuable coping mechanisms over the years.
While we may have learned how to handle stressful situations with grace, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it harder to cope with these feelings. Longer hours, stressful work environments, and frequent protocol changes have made our work more demanding than ever.
Annie Miller, LCSW-C, LICSW at DC Metro Sleep & Psychotherapy offers healthcare workers guidance for acknowledging their fears during the pandemic.
“I suggest that clients practice consistently making a specific time during the day to worry and plan. Acknowledge anything you are worried about and make plans for addressing these issues. Choose a time that is far enough away from your bedtime so that your brain has time to settle before you go to bed.”
Annie went on to discuss how this technique can improve your wellbeing over time.
“It helps minimize worry and stress by scheduling time into your day. After your worry time is over, put the stressful things aside, and remind yourself that it’s not time to worry right now and move onto other things. Your brain will eventually get used to this new routine and it will start to be able to let worries go more easily. Scheduling worry time in this way trains your brain to have a contained time during the day to think about difficult things.”
2. Stay Mindful
Mindfulness is the practice of staying aware and in the moment. It’s a useful skill for managing stress. Several studies have been done on the positive effects of mindfulness in promoting the wellbeing of nurses and other healthcare professionals.
According to Lara Effland, LICSW, Regional Clinical Director at Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center, focusing on mindful moments is an important technique for reducing anxiety and can be greatly beneficial to healthcare workers who are struggling.
“Eating a piece of chocolate slowly and focusing just on the five senses, taking your breaks when you are scheduled to, laughing with co-workers, texting a friend, wearing a favorite color, doing something nice for someone, wearing something comfortable to and from work, and scheduling something relaxing after work to help you transition and decompress” are all ways to stay mindful and present.
3. Practice Self-Care
We’ve all heard the word self-care more than once, but are we putting in the work to incorporate this practice into our lives?
Self-care is a simple idea, but it’s not always as simple as it sounds. Working long hours with high levels of stress often leaves us feeling “burnt-out”. Taking time to yourself is probably not at the top of your pandemic to-do list — but it should be.
Scheduling self-care into your daily routine can be a simple and effective way to combat stress. It doesn’t have to be hard. Take a moment to think about the things that make you happy and leave you feeling recharged. For some, it may be creating a morning routine, taking 30 minutes to read a favorite book, going for a walk, or connecting with a friend.
4. Focus on Getting Quality Sleep
Sleep is a necessary human function that allows our bodies to process and operate more effectively. Lack of sleep is known to increase stress levels, just as increased stress is known to cause insomnia and other sleep disturbances.
It’s important to focus on creating healthy sleeping habits. Simple ways to promote adequate sleep include:
- Set a regular bedtime and wake time
- Avoid taking naps
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco products, especially later in the day
- Promote a healthy sleeping environment – Quiet, dark, and cool spaces are best
- Avoid using electronics before bed
- Stay physically active
Incorporating these simple tips into your lifestyle can have a positive impact on your body and leave you feeling happier and healthier.
5. Seek the Help of a Therapist
Just as the general population deals with anxiety, clinicians are no different. Juggling work schedules with personal affairs increases the mental strain on many. Emotional distress in life is both normal and expected. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and unable to control your emotions, It’s important to seek the assistance of a mental health professional.
Finding a therapist may feel like a daunting task at first. Effland recommends narrowing down the topic you would like to focus on during therapy and then searching for a therapist who specializes in that area. Professional stress, relationship conflict, anxiety, and depression are all examples of potential topics to target.
“Therapists specialize in particular events, issues, or rights of passage in one’s life. Use this to identify a therapist that has a lot of experience in this area. He or she can then identify how they will help you work through this issue.”