Posts tagged ‘Stress’
A growing number of ambulance service staff are going off sick due to stress, BBC Wales has learned.
Their sickness rate of 7.53% is the highest in the Welsh NHS and almost double that of the police which is 4%.
Since May the service has only once hit the 65% target for reaching life-threatening calls in eight minutes.
Bosses admit that ambulance queues outside A&E could get worse with hospital reorganisation unless more staff are hired.
Sickness level figures – calculated as the number of hours lost – were obtained following a Freedom of Information request by the BBC.
In 2011-12 there were 9,667 hours lost because of stress, but in 2012-13 that figure had risen to 11,255 hours.
The figures also show there were almost three times as many staff being signed off for stress as for a common cold or flu.
A paramedic from the ambulance service’s central and west region, using the name Tina to protect her identity, said: “I think it was constant pressure of trying to hit targets and be somewhere else when you’re already dealing with one patient.
“You’re not getting time to clear your head between one patient and another, you just haven’t got the time to think, you’re just constantly barraged from one job to the next.
“I was getting home and being useless to man nor beast – I could not function as a human being, I was just a shell.”
Tina also said that waiting outside hospitals to deliver patients was a “frustration”.
She added: “You know you can be out there doing something helping people, and all you’re doing is basically babysitting patients for the hospital.
“They don’t want the patients through their doors because it counts on their figures. Yet we can’t leave them.
“We watch patients deteriorating in the back of our ambulances and we still can’t get them in.”
Unions say the problem is so bad that staff are now putting in personal injury claims for compensation.
“We’ve had a number of cases over the last 12 months,” said Darron Dupre from Unison.
“There’s certainly an increase in paramedics and technicians coming to us to ask what legal recourse they can have for the way they feel.”
The Welsh NHS is planning to reduce the number of hospitals and centralise services are because of concerns that services are spread too thinly. However, it could mean ambulances face more time on the roads.
With changes ahead, managers accept they will need more resources.
Judith Hardisty from the Welsh Ambulance Service said: “We will need to provide more training and upskill some of our staff so that they can provide the care to patients that they are moving over longer periods of time.
“We have identified that if those services are moving we will need more staff to support those changes.”
Workplace stress is a serious subject. According to a survey from the American Psychological Association, more than one third of American workers experience chronic work stress — and this is costing American businesses billions of dollars a year in lost work hours and medical bills. More importantly, all this worrying at work can have serious consequences for our quality of life — not only at the office, but everywhere else as well. So how do we regain our sanity and take back our lives?
After 17 years in the working world and another two as a business owner, I’ve learned a thing or two about workplace stress and burnout — and about the importance of managing stress so it doesn’t take over our lives. In honor of Stress Awareness Month, which runs throughout April this year, I want to share with you the formulas I’ve discovered for managing workplace stress.
LETTING GO OF THE “INVINCIBILITY” MYTH
As we begin to address workplace stress, I believe we need to start by reminding ourselves that we are not invincible.
Remember when we were teenagers and thought we were invincible? We did stupid things like drive too fast, drink too much, and play with fire (either literally or figuratively). Many of us were lucky to make it out of our teens alive, what with our cavalier attitude toward mortality.
At some point (usually in our late 20s or early 30s), many of us start to realize we aren’t actually invincible. People we know die. We stop doing the blatantly stupid stuff and start doing more of the “adult” stuff, such as working long hours, stressing over how great the front yard looks, or lying awake worrying about missing a deadline at work.
But it turns out the “adult” stuff can be just as dangerous as driving too fast. We work 60-plus hours a week as if there are no consequences. We run around creating the perfect household, trying to be the perfect partner, the perfect parent, or the perfect community pillar. We get stretched thin with obligations, deadlines, and trying to prove our worth. In other words, we are still acting as if we’re invincible.
The truth of the matter is that we are not invincible. We burn out. We get sick. We are vulnerable. In fact, stress is responsible for 75-90 percent of all doctor’s office visits. Stress contributes to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and autoimmune diseases  .
In other words, stress shouldn’t be ignored. The good news is, coping with stress is actually pretty simple.
THREE-STEP PLAN FOR MANAGING WORKPLACE STRESS
To effectively manage stress, we need to address it in at least three areas of our lives: our physical health, our mental health, and our sense of purpose. Below, I’ve detailed stress-relieving tips for each of these areas.
One: Start By De-Stressing Your Body
In modern life, we spend far more time engaging our bodie’s stress responses than we do engaging our relaxation responses. This has serious consequences for our physical health, as too much stress can accelerate the aging process, suppress our immune systems, and leave us feeling fatigued and depressed  .
Since stress is a physical and hormonal chain reaction, the first place to start is using your body to interrupt the response. Indeed, the foundation for living a stress-free, physically energized life lies in what we eat, how (and how often) we move, and how much we sleep. The following are some of my favorite tips for eradicating stress on a physical level.
Stress-Relieving Tips for the Body
1. Eat whole foods. Processed food can cause us to feel anxious and can evencontribute to ADD. We can prevent these symptoms by eating whole foods, eating more fruits and vegetables (especially green ones), and getting a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids from salmon or seeds such as hemp, chia and flax. Nourishing your body will make you better prepared to take on whatever challenges you’ll face at work.
2. Exercise regularly. Physical activity releases feel-good, stress-relieving chemicals. Every time you find your stress level on the rise, get up and move. You can stretch, run in place, dance, or walk around the office or building. Doing so gets your blood and endorphins flowing, makes you happy, and turns off your flight or fight stress response. Boost the physical benefits of moving by taking several deep, cleansing breathes that trigger your relaxation stressor.
3. Get enough sleep. Work stressors are magnified when we’re sleep-deprived and foggy-brained. Aim for eight hours of sleep each night. Sleeping well can help you solve problems with a clearer mind and even boost your intelligence.
Two: Remember To De-Stress Your Mind
When I ask audiences the question, “What is stress?”, I typically receive answers such as “deadlines,” “traffic,” “over-commitment,” “not enough time,” and even “having to deal with “stupid” people.” These answers suggest that many of us believe stress is something that happens to us. In reality, stress is merely our responseto all those external factors.
The stress response is a function of our autonomic nervous system’s flight-or-fight response. Specifically, stress is triggered by a thought or belief that we are in danger — and our body then goes into overdrive producing cortisol and adrenaline to help us get out of danger as fast as possible.
Let’s repeat that for emphasis: Stress begins in our minds via a thought or belief. Thus, an important key to neutralizing stress is to fuel our minds with more positive, happy, gratitude-filled thoughts in order to trigger our stress responses less often.
Stress-Relieving Tips for the Mind
1. Cultivate gratitude. Things will go wrong throughout our workday, or at least not according to plan. This is inevitable. We can take the sting out of these negative events by focusing on what’s great in our life. Each evening, write down three things you are grateful for. They can be as simple as seeing a gorgeous sunrise or being complimented on your new pair of shoes.
2. Meditate regularly. A consistent meditation practice — even if it’s only five minutes a day — may help lower blood pressure, and can help us control the thoughts that can trigger stress. The next time you get stressed because your boss just added another task to your already overflowing to-do list, stop and take a breath. Shake out your body, sit back down and meditate for five minutes.
3. Learn to say “no”. Being overbooked, overworked, and overcommitted will lead to stress. We often feel obligated to say “yes” to everything for fear we won’t be liked. But the greatest act of stress relief is exercising your right to say no. You can be polite but firm: Explain to others that you are overcommitted and that you must say no. And yes, you can even tell your boss “no”; just explain that one more project will mean the quality of your work will drop. Negotiate priorities.
Three: Don’t Lose Sight of Your Purpose
Each of us is more than the work we do. We are creative, in relationships, spiritual, and passionate. Connecting with our whole selves by fueling our sense of purpose is the keystone for less stress and more happiness, both in the office and outside of it.
“What’s that?”, you say? What is purpose and what does it have to do with stress? AsI’ve written before, purpose can be thought of as a person’s calling in the world — but it’s really broader than that. It encompasses everything from meaningful work, to relationships, to the hobbies that brings us joy and meaning. Purpose is the expression of our own unique spirit.
When we starve our purpose — by not engaging with our work, suppressing our creativity, or ignoring our relationships (including the one with ourselves) — we trigger our stress response. When our life is full of nothing but work and obligations, we begin to feel bitter, resentful, depressed, and even angry. The antidote to these feelings is to focus on fueling all facets of our life. Bonus: Doing so will give us even more for which we can be grateful.
Stress-Relieving Tips for Your Purpose
1. Schedule quality social time. When we’re working crazy hours, we can find ourselves detached from our relationships. Each week, schedule some time with a loved to just be together, hang out, and laugh. No work talk allowed, and no checking the smartphone. Disengage from work and reengage with those that matter.
2. Get creative. Remember how much fun you had as a kid doing crafts. You might have stopped because your last creation wasn’t perfect, or because you didn’t have the time. But it’s important to carve out some time to be creativeand tap into your inner kid. Creativity can include anything from cooking dinner, handwriting a card to a friend, or creating a vision board. Get out the scissors and glue stick and just play.
3. Get spiritual. Regardless of what “spirituality” means to you, one thing is certain: When we are overworked and chronically stressed, we can forget about our place in the bigger picture. Connecting with your spiritual roots through prayer, meditation, chanting or other rituals is an excellent way to get perspective on what’s stressing you and relieve that pressure. Another simple tip? Pull out a world map and reflect on how big the earth is, and where you fit in.
MANAGING WORKPLACE STRESS: THE TAKEAWAY
We cannot eliminate or escape stress at the workplace. It is a fact of modern life. Yet we can neutralize stress in all areas of our lives by fueling our lives with meaningful actions, thoughts, and beliefs. We all deserve to live a happy, contented life. It’s never too late to start making yours.
Managing stress is easier said than done, but in the fast-paced life we live, it is important to master this skill, writes Meera Murugesan
MANAGE stress and you’ll be healthier and happier. Haven’t we heard this once too often? And isn’t it easier said than done given the “pressure cooker” lives we lead today?
Demanding bosses, back-stabbing co-workers, problematic children and unruly neighbours — the list of “stress triggers” is endless in today’s urban environment. But can we still find ways to manage stress and achieve balance in our lives in the midst of all this chaos?
Humans are social creatures. We thrive in our inter-personal relationships, whether at home or at work but these same relationships can either be a source of support or stress, says Dr Daniel Zainal Abdul Rahman, consultant psychiatrist at Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur.
Managing stress he explains, doesn’t mean eliminating it from our lives because that would be impossible. Furthermore, we need stress to some extent because it motivates us to perform. But, if we are in perpetual stress mode 24 hours a day we are heading for danger.
THE DANGERS OF RUNNING ON FIFTH GEAR
Dr Daniel says everyone is “running on fifth gear” these days, so the body’s stress response, which is actually intended to help us face an external threat to our safety or survival, is being constantly triggered.
The heart beats fast, breathing becomes shallow and rapid, blood pressure, pulse rate and sugar levels rise. Adrenalin floods the body and muscles tighten. All these come into place to help us either fight or run away in the face of danger and these stress parameters go back to normal once the threat is over. However, in today’s environment, this stress response is being triggered all the time, even over small things and the end result is damage to the body and mind.
“It’s like starting a car, and keeping the left foot flooring the brake and the right foot flooring the gas. What do you think happens to the engine? How long can it last? It will break down,” he says.
Dr Daniel says while stress drives us to perform, each individual has an optimal stress level and when this level has been reached, their performance drops and they suffer a “burn-out”. For this reason, we must learn to respect our optimal stress level.
The key to managing stress in daily life is to put in as many “buffers” as possible between us and stress.
Exercise is one such buffer because when we work out, the body releases endorphins or “happy hormones” and all our stress parameters come down. Exercising three to four times a week or more for at least 30-40 minutes doing either brisk walking, cycling, jogging, swimming or aerobics can be beneficial in stress management.
Our diet offers another solution to stress. We need to include as much anti-oxidant rich foods as possible into our meals and much of this can be found very easily in local markets. Red onions, garlic, broccoli, nuts, pomegranates and other brightly coloured fruit and vegetables should be included in our diet together with an adequate intake of water.
“We must keep in mind that if we put rubbish into our bodies, we get rubbish in return,” says Dr Daniel.
AWARENESS OF OURSELVES
Dr Daniel says keeping a “stress diary” can also be beneficial as it helps us understand how things affect us and how to improve. Put everything down on paper such as what causes the stress, how it affects you and what you can do to make things better. For example, you can write down all statements you either tell yourself or other people that include the words “should”, “should have” or “should not have”, statements generally related to anxiety or stress provocation and decide how many of these you can actually do without. You’ll realise there are many you can disregard.
“It’s like putting everything on the table and examining it from the outside in an objective manner.”
People with certain personalities do tend to be more stressed because our personalities determine how we think, feel and behave but there are two sides to every personality, says Dr Daniel.
For example, those who are obsessive are also very meticulous and organised, and shine at work. In relationships however, they fare poorly because of the “my way or highway” approach. A very easy-going person on the other hand may be too laidback and perform poorly. Gender also plays a role in how we deal with stress. Women are more emotionally resilient and introspective compared with men. They are also more expressive, and more likely to come forward and seek help for problems.
Practising deep abdominal breathing is another buffer against stress. Dr Daniel says the body’s stress response is to initiate shallow, rapid breathing so the opposite works to relax and calm, and if a person can convert as many of his breaths into deep, abdominal breathing, he will generally be a more relaxed individual.
Meditation should also be an important component in our daily lives as it helps the mind push away anxiety provoking thoughts and promotes relaxation. It even helps us cope better with stressful situations.
“Ancient Eastern philosophies have shown us how to deal with stress but the problem is we’re not using them often enough. What’s worse is that we always react to a problem when we’re supposed to act,” he says.
Building and nurturing a supportive network of family and friends at different levels, and cultivating hobbies and interests that help us relax are also crucial in stress management. Even giving ourselves some “down time” and “me time” is important.
But all these coping mechanisms should be made part and parcel of daily life in order for them to be effective, says Dr Daniel.
“There are many things you can do but you need to do them consistently, turn them into the philosophy of your life.”
• Acknowledge that you cannot have complete control over your life.
• Set specific but realistic and achievable goals.
• Accept that you cannot change certain things.
• Be flexible and adaptable.
• Aim for moderation in life.
• Break down problems into small components before dealing with them.
• Learn to forgive and let go. Don’t hold grudges.
Sgt Steve Johnson and Staff Sergeant Karen Johnson, with Karen’s son
When he returned from his tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2007, Sgt Steve Johnson did not tell his wife Karen that he had already worked out how he was going to kill himself.
But she knew instinctively that he was not the same. Steve, a Royal Military Police sergeant, loved his job but something had changed.
“I’d be sitting watching TV, but be in another place thinking about things that happened to me, things that I had witnessed.
“I started reliving them after my operational tour in Afghanistan, but there were also memories of previous tours in Rwanda, Iraq, Kosovo, and Northern Ireland,” he remembers.
The 38-year-old had been part of a “mop-up team” in Iraq, which involved clearing charred and disfigured bodies. He also witnessed the results of genocide in Africa and experienced lengthy firefights in Afghanistan.
“I would have a flashback, where I’d get the taste, the smell, the feelings and start sweating. I was constantly on edge, lying awake at night, reliving events, and I’d get only 40 minutes sleep at night, maximum,” he admits.
“It was affecting my life massively. I didn’t think I had post-traumatic stress disorder. I just thought I had a problem.”
His wife Karen – a staff sergeant in the Royal Army Medical Corps – finally persuaded her husband to go to the military medical centre.
He was reluctant, as the career soldier did not believe in “going sick”. Staff there quickly realised he was in urgent need of help, referring him to the Priory clinic in Woking.
“They said they’d take me somewhere where I was safe, after I told them I had rehearsed how I was going to kill myself.”
For several weeks, he was given everything from trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy to art therapy.
But as the only soldier there, the sergeant did not feel able to share what had happened to him with the rest of the group or even share the pictures he had painted of his experiences. He worried that they might upset the other patients.
“But I still needed to tell someone. So I bottled everything up again for weeks, until someone said to me ‘we’d like you to do EMDR’. I’d never heard of it before.”
The therapist described what would happen during the EMDR therapy, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, and was approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in 2005.
The effects of war are a hard thing to get over. You have to be a strong person to admit that to yourself and sort it out, rather than bottling it up”
Sgt Steve Johnson
It works on the theory that traumatic memories have not been properly processed by the brain, but can be reprocessed correctly via therapy involving eye movement, and using sounds or taps to the skin while going through the past traumas.
“The therapist told me that I would relive the events, but that like a computer, the therapy would ‘defrag’ the memories and put them into some sort of order so that I could deal with them.”
During that first session, Steve went back to some of his worst memories, once again experiencing the taste of petrol, and the smell of helicopter fumes and burning.
After a matter of weeks, EMDR began to have an effect, and he was able to share the traumas he had kept locked away for years and return home to Karen and his work.
But a posting to Northern Ireland saw him suffer a setback. So the Army paid for him to continue the EMDR therapy at a nearby private clinic.
“It was fantastic, and after I’d dealt with the events I needed to, I found I could return to work full-time, with the full support of my boss.”
Not all soldiers will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – military rates of 4% or so are roughly the same as those of civilians subjected to trauma.
But recent studies show that repeated exposure to combat may raise that rate to 6.9%, according to Dr Susanne McGowan, a consultant clinical psychologist with the MoD who uses EMDR therapy.
Some are still sceptical about the treatment, although studies have shown that it works as well as, if not better than, many other therapies available for dealing with trauma. EMDR therapists now work in every defence community mental health centre.
Dr McGowan says the military’s traditional culture of “getting on with the job” means that sometimes servicemen and women hesitate to ask for help or worry that doing so may impede their careers.
“It’s a big issue for us to try to get people to recognise that these horrible debilitating symptoms can be helped, and can be resolved,” she says.
“Service-people do have this likelihood that they may have had many traumas, but the positive thing is that the population at large is recognising military personnel and the sacrifices they are making and that’s an important part of treating them.”
For Steve’s wife Karen, it was tough dealing with a husband who could not talk about what was wrong.
“It had a big impact on me. I’d never dealt with PTSD before and when he came back from Afghanistan he wasn’t sleeping, yet he was blaming something else. Deep down I knew and kept pressuring him to go to see someone,” she says.
That intervention may have saved her husband’s life.
“A couple of months into his stay at the Priory, it was difficult because he’d call me up and say he didn’t want to see me. But eventually he started opening up to me,” Karen recalls.
Steve is looking forward to his six-month deployment to Helmand later this year, but Karen admits she’s worried.
“He’s come a long way, but I’m concerned he’s going to relapse and go back to the way he was and I don’t think I could go through that again.
“He used to sit inside and just shake. At least I am aware now and I know the signs, so if it happened again I’d be able to help him as much as I can – and just be there for him.”
Steve and Karen are willing to speak out on an issue many would rather not talk about because they believe others in the military should not suffer in silence.
He has given lectures to his comrades and others on PTSD and the help available in order to raise awareness.
“Guys have come up and spoken to me since then and said ‘thanks – I’m now seeing someone’. I think with the exposure in the military to some traumatic things there are going to be problems and it’s not a weakness.
“The effects of war are a hard thing to get over. You have to be a strong person to admit that to yourself and sort it out, rather than bottling it up.”
Are women affected by the news more than men?
Bad news stories, such as those about murder, seem to alter the way women respond to stressful situations, according to a small study.
Women produced more stress hormones in tests if they had read negative newspaper stories.
The study on 60 people, published in the journal PLoS One, showed there was no equivalent effect in men.
Experts said the findings showed “fascinating” differences between the sexes.
Researchers in Canada compiled newspaper clippings of negative stories, including accidents and murders, as well as neutral stories such as film premieres.
Men and women read either negative or neutral stories and then did a scientific stress test. Levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, were measured throughout the study.
One of the researchers, Marie-France Marin, from the University of Montreal, said: “Although the news stories alone did not increase stress levels, they did make the women more reactive, affecting their physiological responses to later stressful situations.”
Men’s cortisol levels were not affected.
She added: “It’s difficult to avoid the news, considering the multitude of news sources out there.
“And what if all that news was bad for us? It certainly looks like that could be the case.”
The scientists suggested that women may be naturally better at identifying threats to their children, which affects the way they respond to stress.
Professor Terrie Moffitt, from the institute of psychiatry at King’s College London, said: “According to self-report studies, women say they are more ‘stress reactive’ on average than men.
“This study adds fascinating new evidence of change in a stress hormone after an experimental… challenge.
“Stress researchers confront a real gender puzzle: As a group, women seem more reactive to stressors, but then they go on to outlive men by quite a few years.
“How do women manage to neutralise the effects of stress on their cardiovascular systems? An answer to that question would improve health for all of us.”
Other experts warned that the study was small so the reported effect would need further testing.