Stress in the NHS is a serious issue that affects a lot of staff.
Stress tends to come hand-in-hand with high pressured jobs, and the NHS is no exception. Long hours, varying shift patterns, constant pressure to perform at your best – it can really take its toll.
An NHS staff survey in 2014 found that 1/3 of staff had suffered from workplace stress in the last 12 months. Another study of NHS staff showed that 26.8% suffered from workplace stress, compared to 17.8% of the general population.
We thought that we’d dive deeper into this issue to understand the stresses that NHS staff encounter.
What is work-related stress?
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) define stress as: “The adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them at work.”
Many people experience work-related stress at some point in their lives. It isn’t classed as an illness, but if you don’t address the issue and leave it to boil inside, then it can affect you both physically and mentally.
Anxiousness, low self-esteem, irritability, over-thinking – these are just a few signs of stress. Have you ever had a feeling of dread about going into work and you can’t think of anything worse? It can be very hard and sometimes you don’t know where to turn. It can also affect your sleep, which in turn will affect your performance at work and general well-being.
A certain level of stress and pressure can be good for you and can sometimes get the best out of you professionally. However, when the balance starts to shift, it can be difficult to claw your way back.
Ways to Manage Stress
Leaving your stress at work and switching off has to be top of the list, but this may be easier said than done. Everyone is different and you need to figure out your own ways to manage stress.
It’s very easy to fall into unhealthy habits when you’re stressed, so making sure that you’re eating properly is very important. It can be difficult to find time to eat enough on your shift but making sure that your body’s fueled properly is vital.
Many people turn to exercise as a stress release. Working up a sweat in the gym or going for a run after work can help to clear your head and get rid of any negativity or pent up anger.
Talking to your partner, friend or some at work can relieve some pressure. It’s good to talk and get things out in the open.
You have to find the right balance of work and life. Make sure that you find quality time to spend with your family and friends.
Developing a positive mental attitude can help to keep you in a good frame of mind.
A Nurse’s Experience
We interviewed a nurse, who wished to remain anonymous, about her experiences of stress in the NHS.
Q: Is stress an issue among NHS workers?
A: Yes, stress among NHS workers is a real issue. Everyone deals with it in a different way. You’re thrown into the deep end from day one with little support and you just have to do your best. Some people struggle, some can deal with it better than others.
Q: What are the main stress factors in the NHS?
A: Tiredness, lack of staff and lack of communication are three main factors. Everyone knows there’s a staff shortage and that’s just the way it is. But you’re just expected to deal with it
and take on extra shifts. You end up working long, unsocial hours, without breaks. Sometimes, after three night shifts in a row you’re expected to work a day shift the following day. It’s difficult readjusting your sleeping patterns after working night shifts and it’s incredible that you can be expected to do your job to the best of your ability if you’re over-tired. Patient safety then becomes a serious problem.
Tiredness also creates personal issues at home. Having to juggle family life and look after your kids becomes difficult when you’re exhausted.
A lack of support from colleagues and management can also affect your well-being at work. Bullying in the workplace shouldn’t happen, especially in an environment where you’re caring for others, but it does. Sometimes you can feel very alone at work and under-appreciated. It’s very rare to get a thank you or a well done in the NHS.
Q: Do you feel that you could be supported better?
A: I definitely think there is more support needed from management. Setting up a buddy system could help people. Having someone to talk to confidentially would give them an opportunity to discuss any issues like bullying and get it off their chest. An occupational health service could be put in place so people could go to them for advice as well. More praise from management would be great just to give you a little boost now and then. An acknowledgement of hard work, a little encouragement goes a long way.
It’s not all down to management though. There are plenty of things that we can all do that could help to relieve some stress at work. Staff coming together to support others and working as a team, like it should be would help. Communicating better with management and highlighting issues could prevent things from happening. If you don’t speak up, it won’t improve.
What are your views on stress in the NHS? Have you personally struggled or know someone who has been affected? Do you have any stress management tips that you could share to help others in a similar situation? We would love to hear your stories in the comments below.