The past few years have had a tremendous amount of stress and challenges. To name a few stressors we’ve endured – the pandemic, political uncertainty, climate change, the opioid epidemic, mass shootings, financial instability, and the list goes on… Today, we see what is happening in Ukraine. The massive amount of stress, uncertainty, and trauma in our world has had an impact on everyone – including providers.
Stress continues to be a major concern for both physical and mental health. According to APA’s Annual Stress in America Study (2021), 80% of Americans reported prolonged stress. Studies have demonstrated that long-term stress has an effect on the immune system (i.e., raises the risk for viral infections) and impact a person’s risk of developing chronic disease – such as heart disease and diabetes (Salleh, 2008). In addition, 84% of people reported feeling emotions associated with stress in the last 2 weeks. The most common emotions included: anxiety – 47%, sadness – 44%, and anger – 39% (American Psychological Association, 2021).
As care provider’s none of this is new information – as you live the reality every day. Many are weary and warn down. With the constant state of change and daily chaos, this massive amount of stress and uncertainty, poses a threat to physical and psychological health of providers. According to Singh, Volner, & Marlowe (2021), burnout is becoming an epidemic and is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a sense of reduced personal accomplishment. Providers are not immune to stress, trauma, and burnout.
When we combine high levels of stress with exposure to secondary trauma providers are also at risk for compassion fatigue (Cocker & Joss, 2016). Compassion fatigue is a common response to long-term/intense exposure to trauma. Common symptoms include feeling anxious, intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, numbness, a feeling of nothing left to give (Clay, 2020) Alternatively, we experience compassion satisfaction, which is when you feel job satisfaction and work-life balance. Compassion satisfaction is a protective factor against compassion fatigue (Thapa et al., 2021).
In most healthcare settings, providers are exposed to regular, prolonged, and intense amounts of stress and secondary trauma. When we look at the factors responsible for provider burnout and compassion fatigue there are several factors that are correlated which include: increased work hours, provider shortages, bureaucratic/administrative work, electronic health records, failure to achieve work-life balance, increased focus on productivity, lack of leadership support, lack of meaningful work, lack of collegiality at work, lack of individual and organizational value alignment, and lack of flexibility/work control (Singh, Volner, & Marlowe, 2021). These factors pose a challenge to the psychological health of those working to help promote mental wellness, all of which are primarily organizational factors.
So how, do we promote healthier work environments. Other organization have found that flexible work hours, career growth opportunities, management support, effective leadership, networking, continuous workplace improvement programs, peer support programs all help to promote healthy and compassionate workplaces (Thapa et al., 2021). Another helpful tool has been to apply Stress First Aid within an organization. Stress First Aid helps to catch early warning signs of severe stress and helps people to get support when needed by creating a common language and communication tool for identifying the impact of stress.
The National Center for PTSD developed the Stress Continuum model as a key component of the Stress First Aid program. This model is used widely among the military, first responders, and healthcare professionals, and aids people in these helping professions to identify and address signs of stress early and continuously. Since stress is continually changing depending on the environment and the experiences we encounter, it has been found to be supportive tool (Watson, P., & Westphal, R.J., 2020).
Download the Stress Continuum Model