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While anyone who works long hours at a high-stress job is vulnerable to burnout, nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals are at an especially high risk of experiencing this phenomenon, which the Mayo Clinic defines as “a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.”
After all, hospital employees often work 12-plus-hour shifts—and residents sometimes put in more than 28 hours straight. And in many cases, they’re treating patients who are in serious pain or whose well-being or lives are in grave jeopardy. Indeed, it’s no wonder that 70% of nurses are experiencing burnout in their current position, while more than half of physicians report at least one symptom of burnout. Even if they don’t experience complete burnout, many hospital employees experience negative emotions such as stress and anxiety on a regular basis, which can affect both their work and personal lives.
However, there are steps that medical professionals can take to reduce feelings of burnout, stress, and anxiety if they work in a high-stress hospital environment. Here are seven different ways facilities around the country are trying to help their employees de-stress, whether they’re on the job or off the clock.
1. Group Activities and Classes
Hospitals frequently host or subsidize group activities that encourage creativity, social time, and stress relief. Popular class ideas include dance, pottery, painting, knitting, and group journaling exercises. Other group activities focus more on fitness and nutrition, such as educational sessions on eating a healthy diet or coordinating group fitness classes like yoga or aerobics. While engaging in these activities on your own can reduce stress and give you a mental break from work, doing them with coworkers creates the additional physical and mental benefits of socialization.
2. Facility or Department Events
Many companies host employee appreciation events to celebrate their workers, and hospitals are no different. Department lunches, holiday parties, and award ceremonies give employees a chance to hang up their stethoscopes and socialize without the pressures of work. If their facilities don’t host such happenings regularly, hospital employees can still coordinate their own low-key events, such as cookouts, potlucks, and game nights. Even if it’s just a couple people getting together for a casual lunch, it’s still a good opportunity to de-stress with coworkers who understand the unique demands of the job.
3. Havens of Relaxation
More and more hospitals are going beyond your average break room to create calming havens for employees to relax in during breaks. Sometimes called “serenity rooms,” these areas incorporate soothing features such as dimmer lights, soft colors, comfortable chairs, relaxing music, pleasing artwork, and beverages or snacks. Such rooms give doctors and nurses a chance to take a break from patients and families to clear their minds and release some of the stress and anxiety they’ve internalized during their shift.
4. “All-Natural” Stress Relief
Hospitals and employees often turn to Mother Nature to help them de-stress while in the middle of a shift. Many of the “serenity rooms” mentioned above use indoor plants to create a welcoming space full of life or incorporate water features to provide pleasant, soothing background noise while employees relax. Other facilities have created small outdoor gardens where staff can step out and get away from the chaos of the hospital for a few minutes. And if the facility is lucky enough to be located near beautiful natural surroundings, whether that’s lush forests or towering mountains, some employees find that just looking out the window is enough to give them a quick mental break and remind them of a world beyond the hospital walls.
5. Massages, Meditation, and More
Many businesses have begun offering free or low-cost massages to employees to help them de-stress, and no one needs it more than hospital employees. Some hospitals offer massages regularly, on a weekly or monthly basis, and even just 15 minutes of massage can help employees relax and return to work refreshed without having to change out of their scrubs. Other hospitals teach classes on meditation, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques that doctors and nurses can draw from in a stressful moment when massages aren’t an option.
6. Expert Advice
Medical professionals may experience trauma while on the job, such as when a patient dies. Staff who work in certain departments, such as the emergency room or neonatal intensive care, are exposed to even more of these profoundly affecting incidents. Hospitals may call in chaplains to talk about the stress and provide emotional support to their employees, and some doctors and nurses also benefit from talking to peers who have experienced similar situations. In certain cases, some medical professionals find it very helpful to talk to a counselor, therapist, or psychologist about mental health issues directly resulting from work, such as PTSD among nurses.
7. Fewer Extended Shifts
Working extended shifts can negatively impact the well-being of doctors and nurses, in turn leading to more employee turnover—and less desirable patient care. For example, nursing shifts commonly last 12 hours and frequently go over that limit due to patient needs and staff fluctuations. Hospitals looking to reduce anxiety, stress, and employee turnover should work to create a culture where employees don’t feel pressured to stay for “voluntary” overtime or to pick up extra shifts. After all, when hospital shifts are shorter, the rates of burnout remain lower as well. Respecting days off and vacation time so medical professionals truly get a break are also critical for helping them rest up and come back to work refreshed.
There’s no denying that doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals experience high levels of anxiety, stress, and burnout, especially if they work in a hospital. Thankfully, facilities around the country are taking more steps every day to help promote the well-being of their employees. If you work at a hospital that hasn’t tried any of these stress-relief initiatives yet, see if you can start one or independently host an event for your coworkers.
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