Mental Health Prevention: Decreasing Stress in Healthcare

Mental Health Prevention: Decreasing Stress in Healthcare

Mental health prevention in healthcare professionals starts with three important stress management techniques.

Healthcare professionals are society’s healers, and are vital to a thriving community. But sadly, while healthcare professionals promote physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing in their patients, their own health and wellness often goes neglected. The truth is that working in the healthcare industry is one of the most stressful occupations due to the typical job demands and inherent crises faced daily. And on top of the work environment, the actual work schedule is also difficult. Healthcare professionals work around the clock without the benefit of having snow days or enjoying holidays with friends and family. The CDC reports that working long hours and caring for ill persons are among the most common causes of poor mental health. Therefore, mental health prevention in healthcare professionals is critical.

The COVID-19 Impact on Mental Health in Healthcare Workers

COVID-19 has only expounded the issues of poor mental health as a study reported in The Lancet validates. A survey conducted by Mental Health America during the pandemic revealed that 76% respondents felt “exhaustion and burnout.” Beyond that, 93% of healthcare workers reported feeling stressed, and 86% reported anxiety.

Mental Health Prevention in Healthcare Workers

What can medical professionals do to promote good mental health and decrease stress despite the workload and busy routines? Try these three research-proven stress management techniques:

1. Eat Right.

Food is associated with mood. There are foods that bring about happy and relaxed feelings, as well as foods that can induce sadness and depression. For example, research has demonstrated that eating fruits, vegetables, and nuts contain healthy, feel-good nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium that bring about calm feelings as well as stabilize blood sugar levels.

On the contrary, eating sugar-laden snacks and processed carbohydrates can contribute to feelings of anxiety and fatigue. Sure, you might be in a great mood when you take the first few bites of that sweet treat, but this is due to the initial rush of feel-good brain chemicals (dopamine and serotonin) created by an insulin surge. But once the insulin has done its job, your blood sugar levels will decrease again. This means you've just experienced a sugar rush, and then a drastic drop, leaving you feeling drained. Not to mention the long-term health effects that can result from eating junk foods and sweets such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and more.

So, the number one strategy to fight stress and maintain good mental health is to eat a healthful diet of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins daily, and avoid the sweet treats and processed foods.

2. Exercise Regularly.

Research has related fitness training to improvements on psychological variables among selected clinical populations. Exercising regularly (15-30 minutes per day, 3-4 days per week) has been found to improve mood, self-concept, work behavior, and cognitive functioning. So, get out and get moving!

3. Know when to ask for help.

If you’re a healthcare professional and feel distressed, there is hope. And, it is okay to ask for help! Instead of bottling up anxiety and sadness, talk to someone. It may sound simple, but it really is one of the best things you can do to fight stress. Whether it be a friend, spouse, or counselor, don’t entrap your emotions to the point that you develop a chronic physical or mental illness.

Furthermore, be sure to provide the necessary support and reassurance to your colleagues during their tough times. You never know what battle a person is fighting, so respect an individual for who he or she is. During stressful situations at work, remember to be kind and pause to take a deep breath.

For additional stress management techniques, click here.

Mental Health Resources:

Continuing Education Courses on Mental Health: If you are a therapist and want to learn more about mental health treatment for your patients, consider taking one of the following continuing education courses: References:
  1. Shauna SL, Bishop JA, Cordova SR. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Health Care Professionals: Results From a Randomized International Journal of Stress Management. 2005: 12 (2); 164-176.
  2. Folkins CH, Sime Physical fitness and mental health. American Psychologies. 1981: 36 (4); 373-389.
  3. Sartorius Iatrogenic stigma of mental illness. BMJ: 2002; 324:1470.
Originally published in July 2018; updated in March 2021.
This article was written by Bijal Shah, Clinical Educator

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