As coverage gaps open and locums take over for the winter season, it wouldn’t hurt to have some stress management techniques in your back pocket for your next holiday locum tenens assignment.
We’re coming up on that time of year again; “locum season”, when permanent providers put in their time off for winter vacation, and locums take over for the holidays. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but some traveling medical providers love snatching up holiday locum jobs while the rest of the world hibernates.
Since the high demand for holiday locum coverage is met with only a handful of providers willing to work through the season’s festivities, facilities generally offer much higher hourly rates to those who sign on. In addition to earning elevated rates for their services around the holidays, locum tenens healthcare providers who elect to work on the actual days of celebration usually enjoy the additional benefit of earning overtime pay on their already-elevated hourly rates.
Even so, there’s no denying that working the holidays has its downsides. The holiday season is already an overall stressful time for everyone, but it can be especially draining for working locums who may be thinking about the celebrations of friends and family in their absence. The mentally taxing feelings that can arise for holiday shift locums might also pile onto a rather unforgiving workload, since facilities usually see influxes in patient volume around popular celebration times.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, feeling stressed on occasion is a very normal coping mechanism. However, chronic stress affects the mind and body long term, and if left unchecked, can lead to more serious health issues. This is why it is especially important for holiday locums who are managing additional stressful situations to not only learn to manage avoidable stress, but also to find ways to cope with stress and anxiety while on the job.
Luckily, a 2020 publication from the National Library of Medicine called Mindfulness Moments for Clinicians (MMFC) outlines several effective stress relief practices that can be used by medical providers at any time and anywhere. These stress relievers go far beyond just telling clinicians to eat a healthy diet and increase their physical activity, and the techniques actually function to calm your fight or flight response, while releasing feel good chemicals in your brain.
We outlined 3 top proven stress management techniques from MMFC, and broke down when to use them, how to use them, and why they work.
Affectionate breathing is a deep breathing technique that works best in situations when you may be feeling distressed, anxious, angry, or sad. It is probably the easiest practice to employ, as all you have to do is simply bring awareness to something you’re already doing without effort.
As you breathe in, mindfully feel the nourishment of the air entering your body, and as you breathe out, notice how your body relaxes. With every outbreath, observe how bodily tension is released little by little, and allow yourself to feel the movement of your breathing until you are in tune with its rhythm.
This stress management technique works because bringing focus to the mind and body activates your parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest and digest” part of the nervous system that helps you to relax. When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, your blood pressure and heart rate are lowered, reducing tension and anxiety in the process.
Compassionate Body Scan
The compassionate body scan is a helpful stress management tool to have ready for when you may experience any physical or emotional discomfort. This technique helps one to bring their attention to all of the feelings, both physical and emotional, present in their body.
While you can do a compassionate scan anywhere, it may be helpful to take a short break in a quiet place to allow yourself the room to really focus on the exercise. With your eyes open or closed (however you feel you can be most mindful), beginning by bringing your attention to your toes and observing any sensations you may be feeling in that part of your body.
Once you have acknowledged these sensations, give them and your toes a moment of inner recognition and appreciation, before gently shifting your focus up the body onto the next body part. Repeat this process with the same attitude of self-kindness and curiosity as you slowly move your attention throughout the entire body, while maintaining compassion, respect, and appreciation of the body.
Body scans are not only an effective stress reliever, but also widely recommended as a management practice for those suffering from chronic pain. This is because when one bottles up the things they are feeling, whether physically, emotionally, or mentally, muscular tension and tightness are heightened, which leads to higher cortisol levels, and consequently, increases stress and leads to other physical and mental issues.
Body scans work to relieve this tension because instead of holding everything in, you are actively observing, and learning how to manage every sensation you may be experiencing. As you become more self-aware about what is actually going on throughout your body, you may also begin to connect the dots to why you’re experiencing other behavioral symptoms, like pacing, having trouble speaking, or feeling restless and agitated.
Compassion with Equanimity
As a form of self-compassion, compassion with equanimity is aimed specifically at the practice of offering compassion toward yourself in trying situations, with mental calmness and composure. For locum medical providers, this technique is best utilized when you feel empathetic distress and fatigue while caring for a patient.
This skill involves acknowledgment of your feelings, and the recitement and/or repetition of a self-compassionate mantra. Start by thinking of the person you are caring for, and imagine the both of you in your mind whilst feeling the tension and struggle in your body.
After you acknowledge how you’re feeling, the MMFC recommends repeating either the following mantra, or one that is similar: “I am not the cause of this person’s suffering, nor is it entirely within my power to make it go away. Moments like this are hard to bear, yet I may still try to help if I can”.
Lastly, take a full, deep breath in, envisioning that compassion is being drawn into your body with your breath, and as you exhale, send some of your compassion to share with the patient. Continue breathing compassion in for yourself and out for the other person for as long as needed before closing out this technique.
Practicing self-compassion works to enhance inner strength, courage, and resilience when facing tough situations. Research shows that people who show compassion toward themselves are not only better equipped to cope with difficulties, but also tend to engage in more physical and mental health-boosting behaviors and activities. Overall, the more you build up the compassion you show to yourself, the more long term benefits for your health and well-being you will get, including reduced stress.
While locum work in itself certainly does its part in reducing stress levels and burnout by offering medical providers the flexibility to take the downtime they need to recuperate, there are still plenty of stress factors that simply come with the territory of being a medical professional — especially around the holidays. With these proven stress management techniques for healthcare workers in your arsenal, you’ll be cool, calm, and collected on your holiday locum assignment for this season, and those yet come.
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