Anxiety and depression can happen for a variety of reasons. It may be something you struggled with long before entering the healthcare field, OR, it may have taken root as a result of your work in the healthcare field. Either way, experiencing mental health challenges while working in a fast-paced, high-stress healthcare environment is a difficult reality. As a refresher, here are some common symptoms of anxiety and depression:
Anxiety – increased perfectionism, racing thoughts, fear of failure, difficulty concentrating, irritability, trouble sleeping, muscle / headaches, feeling keyed up / on edge
Read more about anxiety symptoms here.
Depression – decreased energy / motivation, feelings of worthlessness, frequent or intense sadness and/or anger, significant weight change
Read more about depression symptoms here.
Your anxiety or depression could also be intertwined with compassion fatigue. The empathy you have for your patients is important but often means you’re taking on parts of their trauma or pain as your own. Doing this over and over again for a prolonged period of time can translate to a lower frustration tolerance, anger outbursts, depression, self-destructive behaviors, loss of hope and/or lower functioning outside of work as well (per a review from the National Library of Medicine).
How do these mental health challenges play themselves out in a healthcare setting?
- Dreading going into a patient’s room or talking with their family
- Obsessively replaying a patient scenario in your head
- Developing unhealthy eating/sleeping habits as you seek to self-soothe
- Not connecting well with your patients
- Increased irritability or shortness with your family or coworkers
- Losing sleep over bureaucratic issues that impact you, but you cannot control
- Feeling physically / mentally exhausted before your shift begins, or feeling like you’ve run a marathon just a few hours into the day
- A sense of failure with your abilities, your patients, your life in general
Anxious feelings are normal. Experiencing high levels of stress as a healthcare professional is normal. Doubting yourself, struggling with difficult patients, getting frustrated with the hospital, and having negative thoughts about your work every now and then? All normal. You will have good days and bad days. What matters is how you handle these thoughts / feelings and how extensively they impact your daily functioning.
If the symptoms or scenarios above are a daily battle for you, rather than an “occasional occurrence,” it’s time to make some changes. It’s also time for change if you find yourself abusing drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. Battling anxiety or depression can lead to this as well.
Battling Mental Health Challenges as a Healthcare Worker
- Seek out the root cause of your symptoms by answering these questions:
- How long have I felt this way?
- Is there a specific season in life where I noticed these symptoms starting to form (when you started this job, during medical school, when you became a parent, when COVID started, as a young child, etc)?
- What is the number one negative feeling / emotion that troubles you the most? What scenarios often result in you experiencing that emotion?
- Create margin in your life. Learn to say the right “yes’s” and the right “no’s”. If you’re a people pleaser with a jam-packed schedule, those “no’s” may be hard for you – but you need to say them. You may need to cut back on some responsibilities, temporarily or permanently, in order to invest more time in self-care. Oppositely, if you feel lethargic after work and spend every night at home, the right “yes” may be just what you need to get out of the house and re-energize your mind. Think about what gives you energy (hint: it’s not caffeine or binge-watching Netflix), and make those things a daily priority.
- Ask for help. In order to handle the demands of healthcare, you have an innate strength about you. You can celebrate that strength. Realize that your strength is what helps you perform your job. BUT – being strong doesn’t mean you have to be self-reliant all the time. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for help. Tell your team when you’re feeling off or when you need support with a difficult patient. Ask your family for grace when you’ve had a particularly draining shift. Seek out prayer from a church community who can encourage you. Don’t view this as a weakness!
Counseling for Healthcare Professionals
If you’re struggling to find the root of your anxiety, depression, or compassion fatigue, let an experienced mental health provider come alongside you. Maybe you’ve been able to identify the source, but you don’t know what next steps to take. A counselor can help you with that, too. It’s never too early to learn some coping skills that will help you not only as a healthcare professional, but also as a husband/wife, a friend, and a parent.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment in our Greenville, SC office. As a former critical care nurse of more than 20 years, I (Robin) have experienced some of these mental health challenges first hand. I have been in your shoes and know how the healthcare profession can really take a toll on your mental functioning. I would be happy to walk alongside you in your journey to be the best version of you!