3 tips for managing team stress in the practice
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a crucial reminder that mental health and overall health go hand in hand.
Historic inflation levels, government and political divisiveness, and widespread violence have elevated Americans’ stress levels to new highs. And that stress is taking its toll. The 2022 American Psychological Association Stress in America report found that about three-quarters of U.S. adults experienced various health or behavioral impacts from stress, including:
- 38% experienced headaches
- 33% felt overwhelmed
- 35% felt fatigued
- 32% experienced changes in sleep habits
- 15% used alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to relax
Although stress is a very normal response to such challenges and experiences, when it begins to negatively affect daily routines in a significant way, it’s time to take action. Learning to cope with stress in a healthy way can make you—and your practice—more resilient, especially in uncertain times.
How good mental health improves your practice
As primary eye health care providers, doctors of optometry and paraoptometric staff are not immune to the daily stressors and anxieties Americans are experiencing. Optometric professionals face their own set of circumstances and experiences that exacerbate daily stress.
Beverly Roberts, CPOT, director of clinics for four Mississippi-based optometric practices, notes that stress and anxiety often derive from uncertainty. Consequently, Roberts identifies three areas for helping mitigate stress in the office:
To counter the anxiety of uncertainty, Roberts emphasizes the importance of clear communication among the care team. Open, honest conversations can help resolve small problems quickly and easily before they blossom into a much larger problem. Roberts doesn’t hesitate to approach “the biggest, baddest and ugliest” of conversations, but always keeps a measured tone of voice and a willingness to address the issue immediately.
“Confusion often comes about because we haven’t had a discussion,” she says. “Let’s have a conversation and find a solution, because if it has you concerned then it concerns me, too.”
Likewise, to counter anxiety from uncertainty, Roberts points to the benefits of maintaining a consistent work environment. Maintaining consistency in the workplace helps set employee expectations and removes ambiguity, two points that have been particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We can say all day long how we as a practice need to follow the CDC guidelines, but the team really needs to be comforted that the administrators in the office are addressing that,” Roberts says. “We put our own, clear guidelines in place and kept it simple. It’s already chaotic outside the office, so we kept it simple to eliminate those ‘what ifs.’”
Following consistent protocols and routines keeps the entire care team on the same page. Likewise, it helps reinforce everyone’s individual responsibilities, so when an inevitable short-staffing situation develops, the care team doesn’t miss a beat.
Lastly, Roberts reiterates the benefits of creating a safe, positive work environment. In her practices, the morning meeting each day serves as an opportunity not only to infuse positivity but also care for staff undergoing trying times.
“We have had sadness in our office during COVID—don’t get me wrong,” she says. “But as an administrator, I feel like my job has really been to be a comfort zone and bring that comfort.”
In addition to stress and anxiety, AOA Trustee Jacquie Bowen, O.D., points out that optometry is a profession that operates, out of necessity, in dimly lit exam lanes. She suggests acknowledging the need for routine self-care and considering:
- Trying supplements, including vitamins C and D.
- Taking a break outside or at least being near a window/daylight.
- Stretching and deep breathing. Dr. Bowen suggests taking a deep, full breath for 5 seconds, holding it in for 5 seconds and exhaling across 8 seconds, or rolling your shoulders and neck for a count of 20.
- Drinking more water. “Consider what you think is enough and then double it,” Dr. Bowen adds.
For more information about coping with stress, access the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for good mental health and coping techniques.
Learn more at AOA EyeLearn
Paraoptometrics can access Beverly Roberts’ lecture on “Stress and Relaxation in the Workplace,” available at the AOA EyeLearn Professional Development Hub, and receive 1 hour of CPC-approved credit upon successful completion.
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