It doesn’t matter what shift you work, what type of facility you work in, or your modality, stress can be found in every work environment. It is only a matter of time before stress finds a way to creep into your life and throw you off your game. Like taxes, stress is an inescapable part of life. The good news, is that there is a way to deal with stress to minimize the impacts that it can have on both your personal and professional life. There are many ways to deal with stress when you are outside of work, but those options are limited when you are inside of work. It would nice to be able to leave work for 30 minutes when you are stressed and head to a Rage Room to burn off a little steam, but that just isn’t possible.
Instead, we are forced to find ways to deal with our stress that are effective and have positive outcomes. I have consistently had positive outcomes when I have utilized the tactics that I will describe below. They help me to relieve the feelings of stress that I am faced with in the moment, and guide me to the best possible solution for dealing with them. Sure, giving someone a piece of your mind will make you feel better, but it makes for an awkward situation the next time you have to see them, or work with them.
For me, the most important part of dealing with stress is to realize when I am beginning to feel stressed, before it turns into a full-blown panic attack. Being able to identify stress and cut it off at the early stages helps to avoid some of the physical symptoms that present themselves when I deal with a long-term stressful situation. When I face prolonged stress, I get headaches that are only relieved once I deal with what is bothering me. The biggest indicator that I am stressed, whether it is at work or at home, is when my thoughts race uncontrollably through my head. I am unable to focus on any one subject for more than a minute or two before my mind races off to the next thing. The constant jumping around from one thing to the next makes me feel anxious and often overwhelmed.
When I notice this feeling of anxiousness or am overwhelmed, there are a couple of steps that I take. First and foremost, I take a deep breath. As corny and cliché as it sounds to “stop and take a breath”, I find that it truly does help. My process is to take a deep breath in through my nose and slowly breathe all of the air out through my mouth, until there is nothing left. I will repeat this 3-4 times and if possible, do it with my eyes closed. Closing your eyes is not necessary, but I find that it complements the calming effects of the breathing. It only takes 30 seconds, but the deep breaths allow me to clear my head and slow down my thought process. I become more centered and am prepared to deal with what is bothering me.
The next step is to triage all of the things that are running through my head, so I know exactly what there is to do. I do this by making a list, ideally writing it down whenever that is possible, but a mental list will work as well. I like to include a little context about why this thing is bothering me so I can get the stressful part of the task on paper. A list might look a little something like this:
Call Joe- Joe left me a voicemail a week ago and I need to call him
Email John- I have been putting this email off all day and for no good reason
Follow up with Jane- Jane asked me for something yesterday and I told her I would have her answer today
Speak with Manager- I need to see if the request for new equipment has been approved
When making a list of the things that are stressing you out, I think it is extremely important to identify the things that are within your locus of control and the things that are not. Locus of control is another way of saying “these are the things that I am in control of, and these are the things that I am not”. I am in control of putting in the request for new equipment and following up, but I do not have direct control over whether or not it will get approved. Understanding this from the outset will help to frame my level of stress around both putting in the request and the potential that it may not get approved.
Every ER has a one or two physicians who are well known within Imaging. They aren’t well known for the tremendous patient care they provide or how friendly they are, but because you know when they are working you will be very busy. As the technologist, the ER physician working during your shift is outside of your locus of control, but you can control your reaction to the situation. Acknowledge that this sucks, because pretending like it’s a great thing doesn’t help either! But once you acknowledge it for what it is, move on. You are only one technologist and can only take care of one patient at a time, and you can control the flow and attitude of the control room to make the best of the situation. Go with the flow, control the chaos, and embrace it. Good days or bad, we play a direct role in patient care and every action or inaction we take or don’t take will have a direct impact on patient care.
These are very limited examples of the type of stress that we face when we are at work. There are external pressures from management, many of us have worked in situations where the department was understaffed, we have all had to deal with bad coworkers, and this is all on top of whatever else is going on in our lives. There is no one answer or one way to deal with stress. But being able identify when you are becoming stressed, and writing down exactly what it is that is bothering you is a great first step. Knowing what is in your locus of control helps with determining the best response for you to that specific stressful situation that will not only relive the stress, but do it in a positive manner. If you are anything like me, there is something about sitting in traffic that turns a normally calm and reserved person into a WWE wrestler about to enter the ring. I can feel my blood begin to boil and all of sudden I am ready to jump off the top rope for the knockout blow. But, believe it or not that traffic jam wasn’t created specifically to make me late or make me mad. And actually, everyone else around me is dealing with it too. I have no control over how long I will be sitting in traffic, or if there will even be traffic on any given day. But I can control my emotions while I am sitting in traffic, or even leave for work a little bit earlier so that if there is traffic I will be just fine. Identifying what is in your locus of control can help you to not only figure out solutions to remove the stress that is in your life, but can help you to prevent it in the first place.