At some time or another, you have likely experienced stress or even burnout, however, the aged care sector has been uniquely experiencing this at an even higher rate for a number of years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stress and burnout has had a huge impact on the aged care workforce and has even led many workers to consider moving industries, if they haven’t already.
For Women’s Health Week, running from September 5 – 11, it is important to focus on your health and ways to improve on your wellbeing.
Clinical Neuropsychologist and Deputy Director of HER (Health, Education and Research) Centre Australia at Monash University, Associate Professor Caroline Gurvich, said stress can manifest in different ways for women.
She added that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated stress and burnout for women, with extra pressure from work, family, mental load, and life.
“Women are more likely, and particularly following the pandemic we have seen this, to develop mood disorders – depression, anxiety type symptoms – in response to a whole lot of different demands,” explained Associate Professor Gurvich.
“There has been so much media about the impact the pandemic has had on the health care sector and it has created a lot of stress, burnout, all of those sorts of things across health care workers and [experienced by] a lot of women in the aged care sector.”
Stress and burnout are two different things, explained Associate Professor Gurvich, and people can sometimes get the two mixed up.
While stress and burnout can be interconnected, they can impact your health, wellbeing, and ability to work in different ways.
She said that while a little bit of stress can be good for productivity, motivation, and energise you in a good way, if you are experiencing too much stress it can greatly impact your health and wellbeing.
You will also find that persistent stress or too much stress can impact your ability to work and focus on the task at hand.
Stress can appear as:
Associate Professor Gurvich adds that stress can also impact your ability to lead a healthy lifestyle, presenting as issues such as sleeping and eating, which has a “circular effect” and compounds the stress you are already experiencing.
Experiencing burnout can also have a negative effect on the enjoyment of the work you do and impact many different facets of your life.
Burnout can appear as:
Associate Professor Gurvich said burnout within workplaces can result in a very negative environment.
It is really important that workers in aged care are not in a place where they are going to be burnt-out or stressed, said Associate Professor Gurvich, because that is not going to be helpful for their workplace, the people they work with, or the older people they care for.
Associate Professor Gurvich said there are a couple of ways to improve your stress levels or reduce your burnout:
She said the first step is to identify that you are feeling too much stress or are burnout. Once you have come to terms that you are not coping, you can begin searching for the reasons behind your stress or burnout.
It could be because you are doing double shifts, you are worried about your aged care residents or clients, or COVID has made everything overwhelming.
Once you know the reason behind your stress or burnout, you can start taking steps to fix it.
If you are experiencing stress or burnout and it is work-related, approach your aged care employer to outline what you are experiencing and facing.
Your provider needs aged care workers to deliver care to residents and clients – having a burnt-out or stressed workforce does not do anyone in the sector any benefit.
Your aged care facility should be able to find different ways to assist in your stress or burnout, including helping you access mental health support, providing more flexibility or control in your hours, or another solution that meets your needs.
It can also be beneficial to come together with your work colleagues and support each other.
Associate Professor Gurvich said that one of the things that can fall to the wayside when you are not doing well mentally, due to stress or burnout, is your regular health and wellness routines.
It is important to get back into a healthy routine and begin implementing those self-care rituals that reduce stress.
This includes eating well and drinking lots of water, getting enough sleep, engaging in meditation, and upkeeping exercise and social activity.
Additionally, you should reduce your alcohol consumption and reliance on substances.
Any lifestyle or relaxation activities you can do that help minimise your stress is also helpful to your health and wellbeing, said Associate Professor Gurvich.
If you find you are still stressed or burnt out after implementing different strategies and techniques, you should go to a health professional for assistance.
This may mean a doctor for advice or a referral, or a mental health specialist to discuss the stresses in your life.
You may even find you are unable to implement good strategies because you aren’t in a good head space to do so. If that is the case, seeing a psychologist or mental health professional can go a long way to helping you regroup and get back on your feet.
It can also be a good idea to talk to your friends and loved ones when you are feeling stressed or burnt out. Sometimes a good “vent” can make a difference and your family may be able to provide you with assistance by taking on some of your domestic tasks for a period of time.
Professor Gurvich said once you start addressing the issues you are facing and implement healthy lifestyle changes, you can start relearning to love the work you do in aged care.
“People obviously got into the aged care sector because something about it appealed to them,” she said.
“Find that again and find the job satisfaction and enjoyment, so that the residents of aged care don’t suffer as a result of people being burnt out and distressed.”
What are your tips for managing stress or burnout? Tell us in the comments below.