Simple ideas for managing stress as a healthcare worker or care provider

We all feel stressed from time to time. And in a post-COVID world, we’re all very familiar with the stress experienced by those in healthcare professions. Stress management techniques and strategies are key for anyone undertaking a career that requires caring for the basic and everyday needs of others – be that professionally or as the carer of a loved one.

Why manage stress? Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can suppress your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speed up the ageing process. It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems. So managing your stress is paramount if you are providing care to others – you cannot care for another if you are unwell yourself.

We’ve pulled together some simple but effective strategies to help you manage the day-to-day stress of a career in the care industry. Staying on top of your stress – as opposed to dealing with the repercussions of pushing your limits too far – is a far better and healthier approach over the long term.

Rest and reset

Rest is essential to avoiding burnout. We are humans, not robots, and we require downtime to recuperate and operate at our best. Having a rest will help you think clearly and make sound decisions in both your home and work life, while helping you balance all of the challenges you are faced with on a daily basis. You cannot function well without enough quality sleep, and making time to rest and do the things that recharge and energise you is key to providing the best possible care for others.

Stay connected

Keeping in touch with your family and friends is essential for stress relief and overall happiness. Isolation is one of the leading causes of depression, so staying connected to the people you care about is key to helping you manage stress and worry. Isolation will make stress worse.

On the flip side, if you go home from a busy and stressful job, to a busy household every day, you might need to enlist some help from your family or friends to take some of the load. Relying on your network, especially when you have more challenges than usual, is a great way to reduce stress. And it’s true that people love helping others – so give your loved ones the opportunity to help you out from time to time.

Prioritise good nutrition

A healthy diet coupled with exercise is the basis for handling stress well. When we’re busy, tired or pressed for time (or inspiration), it’s easy to grab food on the run. And that’s fine every now and then – but it’s not a good (or healthy) habit to get into. Plan meals ahead if that will help you eat well; ask for family and friends to help when you need it; try taking healthy snacks to work to nibble on when you feel hungry; or use an online shopping or meal delivery service to ensure you have the ingredients on hand to make a healthy meal. Good food and nutrition is key to managing stress – and it’s also a great source of joy in life.

Get physical

When you’re on your feet all day as a carer, it can be hard to find the energy – let alone the time – to be physical outside work hours. But regular exercise – and it doesn’t have to be overly strenuous – provides so many benefits for your health. It helps your immune system defend against disease and can aid in mental capacity and reduce fatigue related to stress. If you have trouble sleeping, exercising will help you relax and get a good night’s rest. So try and pound the pavement or do some laps at the local pool a few times a week. It may seem counterintuitive, but being active will actually give you more energy in the long run.

Do what works for you

Everyone is different. What relieves stress for someone else may not work for you. Yoga might be a great stress relief for some, whereas others prefer to read a book or walk the dog. Trust your instincts and take some time to discover what your best stress relievers are for you, and use them frequently. Try to stick with health-promoting choices and avoid things like excessive alcohol consumption. Try everything in moderation – except moderation itself.