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The Impact of Stress on Senior Care Workers: Building Resilience

While the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on the global population, without question one of the hardest hit sectors is senior care.

With unprecedented strain put on the senior care system, and senior care providers vulnerable to emotional distress caused by close exposure to the virus, shortages of personal protective equipment and long, stress-inducing work hours, it is essential that senior care leaders work to understand what their staff may be experiencing, and then take the necessary steps to help them cope.

Drawing on innovative methods used by the Washington, DC-based Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM), which launched an online social support program for healthcare workers and others afflicted by COVID-19, this article looks at how CMBM techniques can be applied by senior care leaders to support frontline workers of the pandemic.


Encourage mental and physical self-care  

Senior care professionals need to know that their well-being matters. Leaders in senior care should show their staff that their well-being is a top priority by ensuring staff have the skills they need to be as mentally and physically resilient as possible, so that they can provide the best possible resident care.

Incorporating techniques such as meditation, gentle movement, mindful breathing and guided imagery into the workday all contribute to teaching senior care employees self-awareness and self-expression skills.

Daily mindful breathing activities can also quiet the fight-or-flight response to stress, lower blood pressure, improve immunity, decrease anxiety, enhance concentration, and make employees feel more compassionate toward themselves and others.


Promote stress and trauma relief in the workplace

Incorporating scientifically proven mind-body programs such as mindfulness breathing in small group settings can go a long way in supporting senior care staff to combat stress and helping them achieve positive long-term mental health.

Graphic of a senior care worker across from a specialist giving support with open arms

In its ongoing work, the CMBM has found that facilitated small group mindfulness sessions significantly enhance health outcomes, including lowered stress levels, improved mood, sleep, and performance, greater hopefulness and greater compassion. Furthermore, the majority of CMBM program participants said that the techniques they learned offered them the balance they needed to deal with the fears and challenges of the pandemic.

Develop a caring culture

Human Resources and senior care leaders should work together to ensure that they are creating a culture that promotes the well-being of staff. According to the CMBM, organizational principles steeped in values around care and empathy contribute to helping employees avoid burnout and increase retention rates.

Incorporating peer support into daily workdays, without adding to staff workload, would fall into the caring culture category, according to the CMBM. Peer support can include everything from a buddy system to daily staff huddles and lunch and learn series. Less traditional activities, such as non-clinical retreats, crafting sessions, yoga classes, writing workshops, newsletters recognizing staff, and reward programs can also be considered.

Technology to Reduce Stress

Efficient methods of communication between management and staff are crucial in ensuring that staff have access to the policies, procedures and guidelines that they need to perform their jobs effectively, which in turn reduces stress.

Part of effective engagement involves finding healthcare staffing and workforce management tools that make staff feel more informed and valued. Many day-to-day processes—from shift callouts to staff communications and scheduling—currently rely on antiquated technologies and practices that drive inefficiencies and increase expenses, resulting in administrative burdens, poor staff communications and low staff satisfaction.

Technology can help senior care organizations significantly improve the way they manage the workforce. For example, healthcare staffing software allows for more effective and streamlined hiring, retention and engagement practices in senior care facilities that contribute to improving the employee experience and lowering stress and anxiety in the workplace.

The Future is Now

The extent of the physical, mental and emotional price senior care workers will pay because of the pandemic will not be fully known for many years to come. The ability of senior care leaders to address staff stress and anxiety is essential to the long-term viability of their organizations, and the future of resident-centric care.

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