Best Ways for Physical Therapists to Deal With Stress

We’ve all been there.  No matter what our chosen career path is, dealing with occasional stress is inevitable.  Stress often accompanies a career in healthcare, and no care discipline is immune.  So how do Physical Therapists deal with stress when it creeps into their practice?

Unfortunately, there are no magic solutions for dealing with stress whether you are a PT, an OT, or a nurse.  In fact, the ways to deal with periods of stress are pretty standard across the board.  So the next time you are overwhelmed by work and feelings of stress are impacting your sleep, or you just feel anxious or irritable, try these methods to make sure that the stress is a short-term problem.

  1. Reach out to others – The single worst thing you can do with stress is to deal with it alone or keep it locked up inside.  Like that bottle of soda that gets shaken up on the way home from the grocery store, if you don’t handle it carefully it explodes and leaves behind a mess.  The same goes for stress.  Talking to someone about it helps you let out a little bit of the steam, like slowly loosening the cap on that soda bottle.  You don’t have to ask anyone to fix anything for you, just the act of talking it through can work wonders.  Plus, if you are a member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), there are ways to connect with others in the PT community who may have experienced similar circumstances.
  2. Maintain your health – One of the first things to slide when we are feeling overwhelmed by stress is taking care of our bodies.  When stressed, we feel fatigued, and that trip to the gym after work is harder to maintain.  Or, instead of cooking a healthy meal, we resort to fast food or comfort foods.  PT’s are no different, and one of the best ways to get ahead of stress is through regular exercise and healthy food choices.  If you are feeling stressed during the workday, step away for a brisk walk around the building. The fresh air and activity helps reset your balance to get through the rest of the day.  After your shift, fuel up by eating a healthy meal.
  3. Make time for sleep – We all have periods in our life where we are too busy to get a full night’s sleep.  Mid-terms and finals week in college immediately come to mind, but we were younger then.  Now when stress is getting the best of us, we might turn to alcohol, or stay up late binge-watching a show to take our mind off things.  Skimping on sleep is a sure way to compound your problems and drinking too much alcohol never helps you get a restful sleep.  Plan for a full eight hours of sleep and work on avoiding electronics up to one hour before bedtime.  The screens suppress your body’s natural production of melatonin and leads to disrupted sleep.  Instead, listen to soft music or relax by reading a book and you will set yourself up for restful, rejuvenating sleep.
  4. Balance your schedule – Sometimes when you are focused so hard on providing care to your physical therapy patients, you lose sight of how overscheduling and over committing contributes to unnecessary stress.  Recognizing this is the first step.  You can’t be a superhero every day, and sometimes you have to take a step back and regain control of your schedule.  The surest way to burn out in your job is to lose your balance between work and home.  Try forcing a few breaks into your schedule, so you can take a walk or have a casual chat with a friend.  When you constantly end up with too much on your plate or back to back to back schedules, you have lost sight of the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Cut back or eliminate the shoulds, so there is something left in the tank for you and your family.  They are your biggest must!

Short term stress is something we all face at times.  Dealing with it in a positive and healthy way will get you through most of the difficulty.  If you are finding that your stress is becoming more than that, then it is time to speak with your physician.  It’s never wrong to ask for help, especially as a healthcare professional, you know better than most that everyone needs help once in a while.  If not, you wouldn’t have any patients!

Tell us how you deal with stress at work.  Share your tips in the comment section below, or visit us on our Facebook page.