Stress Management Techniques for Health Care Workers

Health care workers are subject to stresses that workers in most other environments do not experience. Examples include the death of a patient, being responsible for the care of several patients in critical condition and being assaulted by a patient. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health lists stress as one of the top workplace hazards experienced by health care workers. If you work in the health care field, it is critical that you learn stress management techniques.

Talk or Write about Your Feelings

Expressing your feelings and frustrations is an excellent way to handle stress. Because of strict privacy laws, you cannot reveal specific information about your patients to your family or friends, but you can still talk in generalities. ("I'm exhausted because I had to manage 12 critical-care patients today." "I'm sad because one of our pediatric patients died.") If you need to discuss your cases in more detail, identify co-workers you feel comfortable talking to. Another option is to write your feelings in a journal.


Nothing combats stress like physical activity, which floods the brain with endorphins and promotes deep, healing breathing. A hard workout may also help you physically release your frustrations and stress. Exercise doesn't have to be a chore. Pick an activity you enjoy such as walking, biking, swimming or playing tennis. You may also want to try a new physical activity. Take a class in yoga, tai chi or karate.

Get a Massage

Let someone else be the healer and treat yourself to a full body massage complete with aromatherapy oils. If you're shy about getting a full body massage, then start with a massage of your back, neck and scalp. Don't be surprised if the body work unleashes deep emotions. You may find yourself crying, shaking or even laughing as the tension flows from your muscles. Don't worry about looking foolish. The massage therapist has seen it all before.

Take Regular Vacation Time

Health care facilities are often short-staffed, making workers reluctant to use their vacation time for fear of imposing hardship on their colleagues. You cannot, however, be at your best 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. You need regular vacations when you get away from the health care field completely. Take several vacation days at a time--it's much more relaxing than taking a single day here and there. Go on a trip, complete a home-improvement project or just hang out with your friends and loved ones.

Seek Counseling

As a health care worker, you're probably well aware of the symptoms of depression, burnout and compassion fatigue. If you think you're headed down a dangerous path, get professional help. Many employers offer an employee assistance program that allows you a few sessions with a counselor at little or no cost. You can also use your insurance to seek private counseling. If you can't afford counseling, ask your local mental health center if it offers a sliding scale for low-income clients.