By Sandy Baker
Work is stressful for many people.
When there’s a lot on the line, and you feel compelled to do your very best job every time, that stress can build to unhealthy levels. Those who work in professions such as healthcare and law enforcement have an increased chance of having high levels of stress. Stress combined with easier access to substances in these professions can lead to a high risk of alcohol or drug addiction.
Consider a doctor. The doctor’s skills and competency impact his or her ability to provide the right level of care for a patient. Mistakes can lead to catastrophic loss. Large caseloads and long hours only add to the stress level. The statistics on drug use among doctors, nurses, and emergency room workers is varied, but some reports indicate as many as 15 percent of these professionals may struggle with substance abuse.
Consider a law enforcement officer. These officers often work irregular hours and are exposed to high-risk situations. Mistakes can have legal ramifications, and officers are exposed to the suffering and problems of a community more than the average person. As many as 30% of law enforcement officers may struggle with substance use disorder.
Because law enforcement police officers and medical providers face so much stress on a day-to-day basis, it is harder for them to manage it. Some develop post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of ongoing trauma to their mental health. Others use alcohol or drugs as a way to escape.
What makes it even worse is that these professionals often have easier access to highly addictive drugs, such as Oxycontin and fentanyl. The temptation to take drugs to relieve stress puts these professionals at high risk for addiction.
What Can Be Done: Reducing Stress on the Job
There are plenty of resources for reducing stress at work, but for professionals in these industries, the task is harder. Instead of a simple office environment, there are countless environments where stress can become a real factor. If you work in one of these professions, consider a few tips for de-stressing.
Use time off
Many health care providers and law enforcement officers don’t use the paid time off they need to keep themselves healthy. There will always be people to help, but you can’t be your best for others if you don’t take care of yourself. Instead of saving it all for one chunk, consider spreading out vacation time and sick days over the course of the year. Giving yourself a break every few months helps your body and mind decompress.
Put the phone down
It’s hard to put down the phone when patients or coworkers have urgent needs. Yet giving yourself a break from the phone–even for 15 minutes–is critical to managing your own stress. When you leave work, turn off the phone for whatever amount of time you can handle. If possible, establish an emergency contact system so that people can reach you if needed in ways other than calling or texting you.
Remember that you’re better after a break
No matter how many people are clamoring for your attention, you need a break. Taking a break or two during the work day is not just good for your body but also for your brain. During break times, don’t talk or think about work. Try to do something that helps you relax, even if it is for just 5-10 minutes.
Work with a therapist
You know the value of helping people. Now, help yourself. Work closely with a therapist who can help you to work through what you’ve seen and experienced. In high-trauma atmospheres, such as the emergency room or in the line of duty, it becomes critical to talk about these experiences to avoid burn out. If you want to be there long-term, helping people and doing your best, you need to take care of your mental health. A therapy appointment is one way to do so.
The best way to destress is to laugh. Spending time with your family or close friends on your days off helps to add value to your life. On days off, find ways to do something really fun:
- Go to an amusement park with the kids.
- Take in a comedy show or concert.
- Spend time with a significant other one-on-one.
- Play a team sport, or engage in some type of physical activity, preferable outside.
Are the Signs of Addiction Present?
You do the hard work every day. But if you’re not de-stressing effectively, you could be at a higher risk of developing an addiction. If you think you or your loved one is showing symptoms of addiction, take action immediately. It’s not possible to stop on your own. At The Ranch at Dove Tree in Lubbock, TX, we work with clients of all professions to help them learn how to manage stress in healthy ways and embark on a sustainable recovery.