Front- and back office healthcare professionals know just how stressful their workplace can be on a normal, pre-pandemic day. But 18 months and counting of COVID-19 affecting nearly every aspect of life, it’s been a difficult road for medical clinic staff especially. Nerves are frayed, people are on edge, and everyone’s base level of everyday stress has leveled up.
But there are ways to deal with day-to-day workplace stress as well as the cumulative buildup of stress —chronic stress — that can lead to burnout. With healthcare professionals leaving the profession at an alarming rate, managing stress in healthcare has become even more important.
Since February of 2020, 18% or nearly 1 in 5 of healthcare workers have quit or retired from the entire profession, according to Beckers’ Hospital Review. And a May 2021 CNBC study found that as high as 30% of healthcare workers are considering leaving the profession.
Yet the healthcare profession is projected to add more jobs than any other occupational group, according to a September 2021 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Clinic-ology knows how important it is for medical practices to be fully staffed and operating with efficiency — to maintain a healthy revenue cycle and for patient satisfaction. So medical practices and clinics may want to consider offering ways to keep stress levels down in the workplace.
Janna handles billing for a six-physician practice specializing in pediatrics. She’s found that her tasks have multiplied as co-workers resign or are required to isolate from a COVID-19 exposure or the virus itself, or as new hires are still being trained.
At the same time, the numerous changes in healthcare coverage among existing patients means submittals are denied more than usual as systems update with new patient information. And new billing codes related to COVID-19 care, testing and vaccinations means quality control of billing codes before submissions are extra important.
Meanwhile, Mary leads the front office and sees her staff handling the increased stress of patients, many who fear exposure on top of the health concerns that brought them to the clinic. For many, keeping a welcoming, calm and professional manner when faced with emotional or angry clients is a big strain.
Luckily for Janna and Mary, their clinic offers an informal weekly yoga class at lunchtime and has compiled an online resource bank for health and wellness, including mental health. But they also benefit, as all healthcare workers can, from taking their own individual steps to de-stress daily and remain fulfilled by the important work they do.
Top Signs of Stress Buildup
According to the American Psychological Association, the pandemic is a “significant source of stress” for 78% of adults. And roughly 2 in 3 adults say the pandemic has raised their stress levels. Here are signs that stress is accumulating in your body and you may be experiencing or at risk for chronic stress:
Memory and concentration problems
Fortunately, Clinic-ology has collected proven methods for a daily de-stressing to lower stress levels to keep you happier in your work, and your life.
Top 10 Ways for Healthcare Professionals to De-stress
Breathe deeply. Deep breathing increases the oxygen flow throughout your body and lowers your heart rate. Breathe in through your nose, filling your abdomen first, then slowly exhale through your mouth. Doing this 5 to 10 times slows down your heart rate and lowers stress.
Try meditating. Even a three-minute meditation slows down your thoughts and calms your mind. There are apps that help with the practice, or just sit down in a quiet place with low lighting. Then close your eyes and focus on counting each inhale and exhale.
Get a massage. Mental stress can affect you physically and build up in your muscles. A quick shoulder and neck massage will tell you how tight your muscles are and help alleviate it. An even better choice is to schedule a massage with a licensed massage therapist. And stretching is another great way to reduce stress.
Avoid unhealthy foods. Skip the chips and cookies with lunch and eat an apple instead. You’ll be surprised how small switches of nutrient-packed food for empty calories with your meals will raise your energy level and overall contentment. And yes, there’s an app for that.
Spend time outside. Even if winter is approaching, bundle up for a short walk, even if it’s just around the block. Or throw on a warm coat and gloves on a cold sunny day and take 10 minutes to sit outside and soak up that Vitamin D. Both give a boost to concentration and help you stay healthy.
Play music. Music affects the endocrine and psychological stress response, the National Institutes of Health reports and can help you more quickly recover from a stressful day.
Listen to an audiobook or read. Books are a great way to draw your focus away from your stress. As you lose yourself in a story, whether fiction or nonfiction, your stress will float away.
Adopt or foster a pet. When you pet or interact with a pet, your body releases “happy” chemicals in your brain (oxytocin and serotonin) that help promote relaxation and lower stress and anxiety levels. If you don’t have the time to take care of a dog or cat, smaller pets that take less care offer similar benefits. Birds, hamster, gerbils, rabbits and even turtles and snakes are all options.
Take a break. Putting aside time for yourself is critical for your mental health. While some people recharge through alone time, extroverts usually find socializing is the best way to relax and gain energy. And if your stress levels don’t seem to be decreasing despite your efforts, plan a vacation day for a long weekend.
Remember gratitude. Positive psychology research finds that gratitude nearly always brings greater happiness and feel more positive emotions. When negative emotions threaten your well-being, list five things in your mind that you are grateful for. They can be as simple as being grateful to wake up today.
Small, positive changes in your everyday lifestyle can have big impacts on your well-being and help you manage your stress to face another workday. And you may find that a lower stress level brings a more positive attitude that your patients and colleagues will respond to in kind.