Occupational stress has been a long-standing concern in the health care industry. Studies indicate that health care workers have higher rates of substance abuse and suicide than other professions and elevated rates of depression and anxiety linked to job stress. In addition to psychological distress, different outcomes of job stress include burnout, absenteeism, employee intent to leave, reduced patient satisfaction, and diagnosis and treatment errors.
Stress sets off an alarm in the brain, which responds by preparing the body for defensive action. The nervous system is aroused, and hormones are released to sharpen the senses, quicken the pulse, deepen respiration, and tense the muscles. This response (sometimes called the fight or flight response) is important because it helps us defend against threatening situations. The response is preprogrammed biologically. Everyone responds in much the same way, regardless of whether the stressful situation is at work or home.
Short-lived or infrequent episodes of stress pose little risk. But when stressful situations go unresolved, the body is kept in a constant state of activation, which increases the rate of wear and tear to biological systems. Ultimately, fatigue or damage results, and the ability of the body to repair and defend itself can become seriously compromised. As a result, the risk of injury or disease escalates.
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All hospital employees, especially emergency department employees, are exposed to many stressors at work that can cause workplace stress and burnout. Many factors such as shift work, long hours, fatigue, and intense emotional situations (e.g., the suffering and death of patients) contribute to the stressors.
Stressors in the healthcare setting include the following:
Many studies suggest psychologically demanding jobs, such as in the healthcare field, that allow employees little control over the work process increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Based on research by NIOSH and many other organizations, many believe job stress increases the risk for the development of back and upper- extremity musculoskeletal disorders.
Several studies suggest that differences in rates of mental health problems in healthcare (such as depression and burnout), are due partly to differences in job stress levels.
Although more research is needed, there is a growing concern that stressful working conditions interfere with safe work practices and set the stage for injuries at work.
Some studies suggest a relationship between stressful working conditions and these health problems. However, more research is needed before firm conclusions can be drawn.
Providing healthcare can lead to stress, anxiety, fear, and other strong emotions. How you cope with these emotions can affect your well-being, the care you give to others while doing your job, and the well-being of the people you care about outside of work. It is critical healthcare workers recognize what stress looks like, take steps to build your resilience and cope with stress, and know where to go if they need help.
Here are some common symptoms of stress at work:
Stressors vary among health care occupations and even within fields, depending on the task being performed. In general, studies of nurses have found the following factors linked with stress:
Among physicians, the following factors are associated with stress:
The quality of patient care provided by a hospital may also affect health care worker stress. Beliefs about whether the institution offers high-quality care may increase job pressures and workload due to the requirement for more significant support and resources.
A Houston, Texas hospital is testing a new concept in its emergency department to help staff decompress during stressful days. It is called "Rejuvenation Station." It looks like a phone booth, but it's a private, peaceful place to decompress. Staff can choose from six soothing nature videos to watch in the soundproof pod. It's available to all emergency room staff, from security and housekeeping to doctors and nurses.
There are many solutions to help prevent stress among hospital staff, including, educate employees and management about job stress and establish programs to address workplace stress, such as:
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