Conquering Stress and Choosing to be Happy

March 1, 2003

Conquering Stress and Choosing to be Happy

By Carla Perrotta

It's2 a.m. You're into the 11th hour of your double shift. You missed your dinnerbreak and so you're inhaling a candy bar and a soda while you review thedoctor's orders from the earlier shift. You've just had a run-in with theon-call resident over an allergic reaction to the medications. The family of thepatient across the hall needs some reassurance about his progress. Registrationjust called to inform you that you've got an admission. In the five hours thatyou get between or, before your next shift, you have to get your kids to daycare, walk the dog, get the shopping done, get some shut eye and be back for the3 p.m. shift to do it all over again.

Sound familiar? A typical, stress-filled day in the life of a healthcareworker. No doubt the job is getting more and more stressful every day with thecontinuing consolidations, reorganizations, sicker patients, labor shortages andtighter resources, to name but a few.

So what exactly is stress? The best definition I've come across is thatstress is the "wear and tear" we experience both physically andemotionally as we adjust to our continually changing environment.

Not all stress is bad. Each of us reacts to changing circumstances a littledifferently. What is stressful to one person might be inspirational to another,compelling them to peak performance. Even within ourselves, the same events thatprecipitate stress one day we may take in stride the next, calmly or evenhumorously shrugging them off.

All too often, however, stress manifests itself in a negative manner -resulting in feelings of distrust, paralysis of action, anger and depression.Most illnesses--including headaches, upset stomach, rashes, insomnia, ulcers,high blood pressure, even heart disease and stroke--are related to unrelievedstress.

So how do we eliminate the bad stress or convert it to the good kind?

  • Understand your environment. As previously noted, today's healthcare arena is full of stress factors. The work is hard, and getting harder. It is not always well appreciated and not particularly well paid. This can be aggravating if we let it. But if we fully understand the work environment and its inherent frustrations, then we're better prepared to face the pressure. Can you change your stressors by avoiding or eliminating them completely? Can you reduce their intensity managing them over a period of time instead of on a daily or weekly basis?

  • Understand your work ethic. Certain people are more prone to stress because of the attitude they bring to the job. For instance, self-defeating behaviors are often found in perfectionists that believe in absolute terms--things have to be done in a certain way. In addition, those that blame themselves for difficulties are more vulnerable to stress. Finally, when people believe that they can't live up to expectations, they won't.

  • Recognize the warning signs. When the demands start running ahead of your personal resources, take note of the physical and emotional reaction. For instance, do you become nervous or physically upset? When these warnings go off in the future, take steps to break the cycle. Try to determine what provoked it and learn from that to better channel your reactions in the future.

  • Take a time-out. When stress happens, it's all too easy to lose your bearings and give up, starting a downhill spiral of defeatism. Instead, go back and re-orient yourself. Calmly determine where you were going, what you were trying to accomplish, who you are trying to help and where you were concentrating your efforts. Don't add fuel to the fire by making important decisions when you're under tremendous pressure. Keep perspective and don't blow things out of proportion.

  • Maintain proper focus. Keep your vision, energy and resources focused on what you can control and quit obsessing over what you can't. Do not be consumed by the negative aspects and playing the "what-if" game. Pursue realistic goals that are meaningful to you, rather than goals others have for you that you do not share.

  • Take action. Avoid overanalyzing the situation. In those situations where you can do something to change the outcome, do it. In this case, don't just sit there and worry about it. You have control. Procrastination will only make things worse.

  • Clarify your values. Remember the principles that are most important to you--such as honesty, fairness and compassion--and don't make compromises that you will later regret.

  • Be assertive. If you allow others to walk all over you, you surrender control to them. Better to stand up for what you believe in and express yourself genuinely in ways that don't infringe on the rights of others. Assertive people respect themselves and others. They take responsibility for their actions and choices. In case of failure, they will get disappointed; but their self-confidence remains intact.

  • Renew relationships/mentors. Know that many of these stressors are also happening to others around you. Turn to them for help in coping. Simply by talking things out and confiding in those you trust can help alleviate the pressure.

  • Charge your battery. Much of our reaction to stressful events deteriorates with fatigue and hunger. That's why trite as it sounds eating well, getting enough sleep and regular exercise can help shape our attitude.

  • Reframe the situation. Recognize that there are many ways to interpret the same event. Get rid of thoughts or feelings that can result in stresses by finding the good or the positive in each situation.

Remember, stress is a choice. Every day, you can choose to be happy or sad,stressed or relaxed. The "Serenity Prayer" of theologian RheinholdNiebuhr, adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous, reflects this so well: "... grantme the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change thethings I can; and the wisdom to know the difference-living one day at a time;enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway topeace."

Carla Perrotta has 22 years in the healthcare staffing industry and isresponsible for all business operations related to Kelly Healthcare Resources, abusiness unit of staffing provider Kelly Services Inc., based in Troy, Mich.Kelly Healthcare Resources provides healthcare staffing solutions to hospitals,clinics, businesses, healthcare facilities, insurance companies, HMOs andclinical research organizations.

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