We are working towards the development of some useful tools for health care workers to improve their own health and well-being. For now, here are some top tips for reducing and preventing stress.
ONE: Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, and Nicotine.
Try to reduce your consumption of nicotine and/or any drinks containing caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and so will increase your level of stress rather than reduce it. (Very hard not to drink coffee on nights!)
Needless to say that alcohol is a depressant – as someone in health care I’m sure you’re well aware of that fact. Using alcohol as a way to alleviate stress is not ultimately helpful, as much as we all love a good wind down at the pub after work.
Suggestion: Swap caffeinated and alcoholic drinks for water, herbal teas, or diluted natural fruit juices and aim to keep yourself hydrated as this will enable your body to cope better with stress.
You should also aim to avoid or reduce your intake of refined sugars – they are contained in many manufactured foods (even in savoury foods such as salad dressings and bread) and can cause energy crashes which may lead you to feel tired and irritable. In general, try to eat a healthy, well-balanced and nutritious diet. I’m a paediatric nurse and parents of patients are always bringing in Krispy Kreme Donuts! Very kind, but unhelpful to my energy levels 😂. They are so damn expensive too! Is it unethical to suggest drinks instead to them? You decide!
TWO: Indulge in a little physical activity
Stressful situations increase the level of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in your body.
These are the “fight or flight” hormones that evolution has hard-wired into our brains and which are designed to protect us from immediate bodily harm when we are under threat. Physical exercise can be used to help metabolise the excessive stress hormones and restore your body and mind to a calmer, more relaxed state.
When you feel stressed and tense, go for a brisk walk in fresh air. Try to incorporate some physical activity into your daily routine on a regular basis, either before or after work (even if its only a few sit ups in the morning), or at lunchtime. Again, I appreciate how difficult this can be with shift work. However regular physical activity will also improve the quality of your sleep and help you avoid ‘burning out’.
Many people have an attitude to diet and exercise that is kind of like, ‘I’ll start once I lose 20lbs’. T. Harv Eker explains that this is putting the cart before the horse, which will ultimately lead to you going nowhere, or even worse, backwards. Getting a consistent routine will make the world of difference, even if it is only starting with a few sit up EVERY morning.
THREE: Get More Sleep
Okay, I hear you screaming at me right now!
However, lack of sleep is a significant cause of stress. Unfortunately though, stress also interrupts our sleep as thoughts keep whirling through our heads, stopping us from relaxing enough to fall asleep. How many of you struggle to sleep because culturally you have been taught that going home and worrying about work is okay? And this is exactly what you do?
Your aim should be to maximise your relaxation before going to sleep (this really can work well). Make sure that your bedroom is a tranquil oasis with no reminders of the things that cause you stress – living in London this is somewhat difficult to achieve for me! But I try anyway. Avoid caffeine during the evening, as well as excessive alcohol if you know that this leads to disturbed sleep. Stop doing any mentally demanding work several hours before going to bed so that you give your brain time to calm down. Try taking a warm bath or reading a calming, undemanding book for a few minutes to relax your body, tire your eyes and help you forget about the things that worry you. You really can’t impact work once you have left, so why worry about it?
If you can you should also aim to go to bed at roughly the same time each day so that your mind and body get used to a predictable bedtime routine. I have created a schedule for myself. It is not set in stone, but it helps me transition from night shifts to days and vice versa. Since starting to follow this a bit, I have been much more productive on my days off.
FOUR: Try Relaxation Techniques
Each day, try to relax with a stress reduction technique. There are many tried and tested ways to reduce stress so try a few and see what works best for you.
I won’t go too much into this as there is a wealth of techniques on the web. When I started looking into this I quickly became sceptical, but I really believe that was because I needed to find what worked for me. I am very much a believer that you are in control of your own mind – if you find the right technique whether it be mindfulness, meditation or simply self reflection you will find that you will stop stressing about the things that are out of your control.
Don’t worry if you find it difficult to relax at first. Relaxation is a skill that needs to be learned and will improve with practice. Just get into a habit with it. If you like to read, try The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
FIVE: Talk to Someone
Just talking to someone about how you feel can be helpful. A problem shared, might not exactly be a problem halved but it really does put a situation into perspective.
Talking can work by either distracting you from your stressful thoughts or releasing some of the built-up tension by discussing it. Blowing off some steam can work really well for some people.
Stress can cloud your judgement and prevent you from seeing things clearly. Talking things through with a friend, work colleague, or even a trained professional, can help you find solutions to your stress and put your problems into perspective. Most NHS trusts offer some great support but often they are not communicated very well. The most important thing is to ask someone.
Download our FREE posters to highlight the importance of catching stress early to your friends and colleagues.
Find here a list of self help books that I have found very useful in reducing my stress and getting a grip on life despite the everyday challenges of working in the NHS.