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Stress in the work of health professionals and the Humanisation of Medicine

11 May 2024

Stress the universal companion of the modern world

In this age of constant progress and accelerated pace of life, stress has become an integral part of most people's daily lives. This ubiquitous companion of our days manifests itself in a variety of situations - from work pressures to private life challenges. Its universality stems from the fact that stress mechanisms are deeply rooted in our biology as a response to environmental challenges. Once crucial for survival, these days they often become the cause of health problems, both physical and mental.

Stress is the body's response to a perceived threat, triggering a series of physiological changes to prepare for action - fight or flight. In the short term, stress can have a mobilising effect, helping us to meet specific challenges. The problem arises when stress is chronic - the constant tension, rather than being a driver for action, begins to undermine our health, leading to exhaustion, sleep problems, eating disorders and even more serious conditions such as depression or heart disease.

The causes of stress are varied and depend on a number of factors, including personal predisposition, professional and personal environment. At work, constant deadlines, excessive responsibility, interpersonal conflicts or fear of losing employment are just some of the potential sources of stress. In private life, relationship problems, financial issues or parenting challenges can also contribute to its levels.

Specificity of Stress in the Medical Environment

Working in healthcare brings unique challenges that place workers in this sector in a particularly difficult position in terms of occupational stress. It differs significantly from the stress experienced in other industries due to the direct impact on human health and life. Time pressures, emotional strain and the need to make difficult decisions are a daily reality for doctors, nurses, paramedics and other healthcare workers.

Time pressure is one of the most pressing sources of stress in medicine. In an environment where 'time is life', every second is at a premium. Healthcare professionals often operate in an environment where speed of response can determine a patient's life, generating enormous pressure and stress. This constant battle against time can lead to exhaustion, a sense of dissatisfaction with one's work and fears of the possibility of error, which only adds to the stress.

Emotional burden results from constant contact with suffering, illness and death. Empathy and commitment to the patient's plight are crucial in medical work, but can also be a source of emotional burnout. Prolonged exposure to the suffering of others, without adequate support mechanisms, can lead to desensitisation or, conversely, emotional over-involvement, both extremes being detrimental to the mental health of staff.

The need to make difficult decisions is another aspect that significantly affects stress levels. Decisions regarding diagnosis, the choice of treatment method or discussions with the patient's family about the patient's condition often have to be made quickly, with limited information and under pressure of responsibility for human life and health. The burden of these decisions, the fear of their consequences, and the possibility of confronting ethical dilemmas are a significant source of stress.

In the face of these challenges, the healthcare working environment requires a specific approach to stress management. It is important to emphasise that stress among healthcare professionals is not only an individual problem, but also has a direct impact on the quality of patient care, the effectiveness of teamwork and the overall atmosphere in a healthcare facility

Effects of stress on health professionals

Chronic stress in the medical environment is like a silent alarm that constantly rumbles in the background, affecting every aspect of healthcare professionals' professional and private lives. Its presence is a subtle but powerful factor that shapes both the internal emotional landscape of staff and the external quality of patient care. When considering the impact of stress, we need to delve deeper into its complex consequences in order to fully understand how it intertwines with the professional and personal lives of healthcare professionals and the long-term effects it carries.

At the level of personal, chronic stress draws deep ditches of exhaustion and anxiety on the mental landscape of healthcare professionals. It is like a burden that inevitably weighs down their thoughts and body, leading to fatigue that crosses physical boundaries and penetrates the emotional realm. In this inner world, where struggling with daily medical challenges becomes a source of constant worry, stress can create a feeling of being trapped in an endless loop from which it is difficult to find a way out.

At the level of professional, the impact of chronic stress on health professionals manifests itself through a reduction in their ability to perform their duties with the utmost care and empathy. Fatigue and frustration can lead to mechanical execution of procedures, where the essence of care - the deep human connection - is lost. This inevitable impact of stress on the quality of work not only threatens patient safety, but also undermines the trust and relationships that are the foundation of effective healthcare.

In addition, working environment in healthcare, saturated with time pressures and emotional challenges, becomes an area where chronic stress spreads like a shadow. This shadow affects team dynamics, communication and the general atmosphere, exacerbating feelings of isolation and misunderstanding among staff. In such a climate, where stress is a constant companion, it is difficult to build the supportive, positive relationships that are so necessary for effective care.

Humanising Medicine as a Stress Reduction Strategy

The humanisation of medicine is becoming the answer to the chronic stress of healthcare workers, offering an approach focused on empathy, respect and individual treatment. By promoting deep, empathetic relationships, staff experience less emotional strain and greater job satisfaction, which directly affects the quality of patient care.

Empathy and respect in the working environment help build meaningful connections, increasing resilience to stress and reducing the risk of burnout. Individualised attention to staff needs, such as flexible working hours or psychological support, reinforces a sense of control and well-being.

These changes require commitment at different levels of the organisation and lead to a work culture in which every team member feels valued and understood. Such a transformation can significantly reduce stress levels and make healthcare more humanistic and effective.