10 Steps to Containing The Health Care Stress Epidemic
or How to Get off the Stress Treadmill
by Diane Cate

The recent changes in health care have brought with them increased stress levels for all people involved in the medical field. Predictions indicate that this rapid pace of change will continue for the foreseeable future. There is, unfortunately, a resulting epidemic level of fear and stress among health care providers and their support staff. The following tips are designed to be helpful to physicians, nurses, medical practice staff, as well as any hospital or treatment staff exposed to this toxic disease.

Tips for Managing Stress

1· Provide positive reinforcement for those around you
When co-workers (in your practice, in the hospital, professional peers etc.) do a good job, or appear to be having a difficult day, compliment them on their work or on how well they handled a situation recently. You will feel less stressed and more confident when you give and/or receive a compliment. Not giving or getting positive reinforcement can cause "hardening of the attitudes."

2· Be willing to ask for and take a "time out"
We all need brief stress reduction breaks during hectic days. Productivity and overall effectiveness increases when you take a moment to clear your head and collect your thoughts. Everything and everybody are likely to be right there waiting for you after you take your quick "time out." Remember heroes are like hemorrhoids--they are both a pain in the butt.

3· Shift discussion and concentration from the problem to all the possible solutions.
Stress is diminished when you concentrate on the positive vs. focusing on the negative. While you may not be able to control changes that come your way, you do have control over how you act or react to change. Encourage those around you to discuss solutions and concentrate on your own ability to come up with creative methods to cope with changes. When using a solution orientation in approaching serious problems you are likely to feel less stress and more resiliency.

4· Reach out to others and ask for help
You are not the only one in the medical field experiencing extreme stress at this time. No one person can possibly have all the answers. Ask fellow professionals and experts for ideas and assistance. Given the independent nature of most physicians (and their staff) this may be foreign and therefore take some real effort. Synergy, team work and continuing education are effective medicine for stress.

5· Develop positive affirmations, verbalizations and visions of change
Since you can't escape it, you must learn to envision change itself differently. Use post-it notes and repeat phrases in your mind that allow you to transform the stress (or threat) you feel from change into a vision of change as an opportunity and a challenge to grow, learn and evolve WITH your chosen field. Change can be an antidote for high stress levels. Use positive statements to strengthen your resolve to succeed.

6· Get out of the office at lunch time (or sometime mid-work period)
Even if you end up at a meeting, get air, get perspective and remind yourself that there is something beyond the pressure of telephones, patient demands and managed care craziness.

7· Today's problems may not be solved with yesterday's outdated solutions
Each day new books, continuing education workshops, newsletters, templated forms, magazines (i.e.. Medical Economics) etc. come across your desk. While these items may include news you don't really want to hear, they also contain practical, ready to use tips and tools that can help reduce stress and improve time management. Use ALL resources that are available to you--particularly those you have already paid for or those that may be free to you. Make "let's try a new way" your motto for new and old challenges.

8· Use a regular exercise program to reduce stress
Research has proven that when you exercise you experience an increased sense of well being and a reduction in stress. If it doesn't get written into your appointment book you are probably not prioritizing it high enough. You can't blame anyone but yourself for your not exercising. Besides, blame is the name of the no win game.

9· Set realistic goals and limits in your work and write them down
The way you set goals and your self-confidence will greatly effect the level of stress you experience. Maximized work output is critical in health care now (--always has been as far as most of us are concerned!) however allowing yourself to think you can "do it all" or that you are indispensable will set you up for added stress and ultimately for serious disappointment. Be realistic as you MAKE A LIST of your short and medium term goals. Goals should be challenging yet attainable, written and measurable, clear and unambiguous.

10· Avoid the contagious nature of the stress epidemic
Never forget that, in most interactions, what you give out dynamically effects what you get back. If your tone communicates stress, resistance, displeasure or impatience you can expect to experience those same reactions right back from the person with which we are communicating. The result is generally an increase in intensity and a stressful experience for both parties. When you have the ability to meet stress exhibited by others with calm and understanding you prevent stress from being contagious. Don't be infected by stress and don't be responsible for infecting others with stress.

Author Diane Cate is a medical practice management consultant with Professional Management and Marketing in Santa Rosa CA, a member of the American Academy of Family Physician's Network of Consultants, the American Medical Association's Doctors Advisory Network, and the American College of Physicians Managed Care Resource Center Network of Consultants.

Phone 1-707-546-4433 for consulting and appraisal information.

Permission is granted to reprint or quote any portion of this article provided that the author, firm, phone and city are named and two copies of the quoting journal are immediately mailed to the author at 3468 Piner Road, Santa Rosa CA 95401.