Beyond Survival: Four Creative Tips to Help Women in Healthcare De-Stress

The time stamp on the email in my Inbox was 4:12 AM. Susan, a vice-president at my hospital, had started her day early. She’d been awake since 2 AM, worried …for the second night in a row. Susan’s been on the job less than a year and, in the eyes of the CEO, she’s a superstar.  But she’s gained 30 pounds, has lost touch with her family and is exhausted to the point of collapse. So, early that morning, as she hammered away at her computer, her jaw tightened just thinking about her to-do list. Later that day, after she realized she missed an important deadline for next year’s budget, she knew it was time to take a different look at her world – or risk jeopardizing her health, her marriage and her job.

The scene that played out in Susan’s home early that morning is not uncommon. Nor is it limited to the ranks of management and front line staff.

You may be all too familiar with this as well. Over 80% of healthcare workers are women. Women are nurses and pharmacists. Women are IT professionals, doctors, social workers and vice-presidents. The specific job doesn’t matter – healthcare work is not easy.

Let’s face it. Stress is a part of everyone’s life.  A certain level of stress can be beneficial.  It can motivate us to get things done.  But if you’re in health care, you know that stress overload can lead to depression, chronic illness and burnout.

The good news is that you can turn it around. Here are 4 no-stress ways to get started.

1. Put Yourself Back on Your To-Do List

Are YOU anywhere on your to-do list?

The “busyness” of life is no excuse for poor self-care. Self-care can mean a lot of things.  It can be as simple as keeping regular doctor or dentist appointments, or as luxurious as a trip to a spa.  Money doesn’t have to be a barrier; there are free things to do everywhere.  Take a walk, soak in the tub, meditate for 15 minutes a day.  All of those things are free…and they don’t have to take a lot of time.

The key to success with doing these activities is to schedule them.  Whether it’s something you want to do weekly, monthly or yearly, plan the activity in advance.

2. Be Thankful

Writing in a gratitude journal has been shown to decrease feelings of depression, lift moods, help manage stress, and improve self-esteem. Starting a gratitude journal is an easy and quick thing to do and you can start today. The steps are simple and the time commitment is small.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Get a journal and keep it by your bed.
  • At the end of the day, write down 5 things you are grateful for in your life. Bedtime is a great time to do this because it gives you a chance to reflect on your whole day.  However, if morning is the best time for you to write and reflect, that’s fine too.

Try it daily for 3 weeks and you’ll find you’re well on your way to having a greater appreciation for all the abundance in your life.

3. Say No

Do you say “yes” to everything? Would you rather juggle a million jobs than refuse to help, even if you are left with no time for yourself? Learning to say no can earn you respect from yourself as well those around you.  It can also lower your stress level.

Tips for Saying No

  • Keep your response simple. If you want to say no, be firm, direct and don’t over-explain.
  • Buy yourself some time. Interrupt the ‘yes’ cycle by using phrases like “I’ll get back to you.” Having time to think a through a request without pressure will give you the ability to say no with greater confidence.
  • Consider a compromise. Only do this if you WANT to agree with the request, but have limited time or ability to do so. Don’t compromise if you really want or need to say no.
  • Separate refusal from rejection. Remember you’re turning down a request, not a person.
  • Live by Cheryl Richardson’s mantra “If it’s not an absolute yes, it’s a no.”
  • Practice… any other skill, it gets easier the more you do it.

4. Connect With Others Who Share Your Challenges

The National Association of Women in Health Care ( is an organization that was created specifically to address the needs of ALL women who work in healthcare.  Our mission is to promote the importance of self-care in health care.  As women in health care, our job roles in our organizations differ, but many of our challenges are the same. NAWHC offers education, support and a virtual community of women across all disciplines and areas of responsibility.

Anna Garrett is President and Founder of the National Association of Women in Health Care (NAWHC).   Practicing in health care since 1991, Anna is currently a pharmacy leadership team member at Mission Hospital in Asheville, NC.  She is a published author and national speaker. In addition to her expertise in health care, Anna is a trained Intrinsic Coach®.  She was inspired to create NAWHC when she began to recognize the importance of self-care in her own life and in the lives of her coaching clients. Anna is a gourmet chef- in- the- making, world traveler, aspiring photographer and loves experiencing all the wonders of the North Carolina mountains.  She lives in Asheville, NC with her husband, Dan and best-dog-ever, Max.