Good morning and welcome to episode nine, Combating Stress, Anxiety, and Decreased Motivation in Your Job. One of the best things about being the podcast host is I get to change the topics around when I feel a need to and I’ve had people ask me quite a bit this week. “Mattie, how do you handle the stress and anxiety with your job?” And when I was at the hospital this week, I noticed that I just was not as motivated. So I’ve moved some of the topics around a little bit and I’ve shifted this one forward because I really want to talk about how to manage stress, anxiety, and decrease motivation in our job as SLPs.
It’s a tricky, tricky thing. It’s tricky because on the outside, it looks like we’re coasting through COVID-19 and we’re gonna do what we need to do to get through it. And the big things are expected to take a toll on us and we’re prepared for those. But it’s these smaller little things that are harder to deal with. Like so many of you my hours have changed.
When I first stepped into being a professor, I had left a career of 27 years in the hospital setting. Because being a professor is a nine month commitment. I decided to stay on casual at the hospital because I love what I do. Things were going great. Things are going great. I’ve loved being a professor. And I loved working one day a week at the hospital. It kept feeding my passion for what I do. Then COVID-19 hit and my semester ended in teaching. And I found myself like many, with a change in hours. I went back to the hospital setting to pick up the busier days and they would stack the patients for me. I found that I was lacking in motivation and I had a lot more stress and anxiety.
So that’s what I want to talk about are real in-the-trenches ways to handle stress, anxiety and decrease motivation for speech pathologists, especially those in the medical setting. So today is going to be a frank and authentic talk on how I handle these difficulties or changes. Some of the professor questions I get from my students are, “Hey, Professor, how do I handle my stress and anxiety? How do I stay motivated? How do I find the help if I need it? And how do I know if I even need help?”
So that’s what we’re going to talk about today: stress, anxiety and decreased motivation are all symptoms of a challenged mental health system; red flags that say that your inner psyche is under attack. Some stress and anxiety are normal. And obviously decreased motivation is normal at times. So let’s start this very real conversation. Oftentimes, people confuse and lump stress and anxiety together. The difference between stress and anxiety is that stress is a response to a threat in a situation. And anxiety is a reaction to that stress. So in short, stress is your body’s reaction to a trigger, and is generally a short term experience. Stress is a response to any threat in that situation. But anxiety, on the other hand, can develop into a sustained mental health disorder that is triggered by stress.
So in other words, you don’t have anxiety without stress, but you can have stress without anxiety. That is why self cares are so important, because everybody has stress. If you don’t address the stress, it can then turn into anxiety. So let’s talk a little bit about stress. Stress is the normal response that our bodies have to change and the changes can be positive or negative and they’re along a continuum. Depending on the amount of control we feel we have, we have this fight or flight response. If we feel that we can handle the situation, we fight, if we feel we can’t handle the situation, then we fly. That’s the fight or flight. But when our body is under extreme stress or continuous chronic stress, it releases something called cortisol. And cortisol is very harmful to the body. So how do you know if you’re under stress?
Some signs of stress are you fly off the handle easily. You’re tired all the time, General aches and pains. You can’t sit still. nerves are on an edge. Some of the symptoms are you can’t sleep, you have a lack of appetite or you can’t stop eating. You have chocolate craving, an upset stomach, mild chest pain. The effects of stress are you become more confused just like a brain fog, you cry unnecessarily maybe in your car :-), you have sudden anger that is unusual, erratic decisions, nothing seems to be going right in a sense of loneliness. These are some stress reactions.
So, here are some stress ways to combat stress. First, be prepared to be flexible and let go of some of the control, especially during COVID-19. There are things we cannot control, like our case loads, how heavy our case loads are, how lighter our case loads are, and be prepared to not have answers. I know when scheduling at the hospital, it’s all up in the air on who’s coming back when and who’s going to do what. So be prepared for your day at the hospital for things to maybe not go so well. Maybe you don’t have all of the peopIe readily accessible. Maybe you aren’t able to do a video swallow study as you normally would do in pre-COVID days, maybe you’re not able to talk to the caregiver. Be prepared for things to not go well, and set up a contingency plan. In fact, set up two or three contingency plans. So Plan A is this that doesn’t go well go to plan B, then Plan C.
Another strategy is to simplify, simplify, simplify. We are simply operating under different times. And we have to adjust to those so to expect our days go the way they used to and our demands to be as they were primo COVID simply is not realistic at this point in time. So let go of some of that control. And by letting go of some of that control, you will let go of some of that stress. There is a very dedicated podcast called SLP Stress Management by Jessie Andricks, who’s a speech pathologist. And she really does a very good job of addressing some of the ways that SLPs can do to decrease stress. So I would encourage you to go search her out as a resource. So remember at the beginning, I identified the difference between stress and anxiety. So anxiety is a reaction to the stress. So we just talked about ways to decrease stress. And these are ways now to decrease your anxiety. First, identify your triggers, there are triggers that are going to increase your anxiety, try not to trigger those. Once you’ve identified those triggers, use some strategies to de-escalate your anxiety such as taking a break, walking away from a situation, reframing a situation or venting to a colleague or another appropriate person. And my favorite:
take a walk or start some physical activity, because once you get just blood and energy flowing through your body, it tends to decrease those cortisol levels.
Another way to combat anxiety is to meditate. And a final way is, if you really do feel you have a problem with anxiety or you notice that it is infringing on the rest of your life or your workplace, then go find additional help as needed. Reach out to your doctor, reach out to somebody. It’s very important in the long run to manage your stress and anxiety for yourself, for your family, for your career.
So the authentic part of this conversation is I have had times in my life where I’ve been super stressed, and I just shove things down, I shove feelings down, and pretty soon they go away right? Or so I thought, when you shove feelings down and when you bury them, they don’t go away. They just sit and fester, or need to be addressed another day. Person-to-person, speech pathologists to speech pathologist: address these issues because they don’t go away. If you need to help doing COVID-19 go find go find the help.
I’m so grateful to somebody who asked me this question via an email. And this is why I’ve brought it up to the front of the podcast. I really want to have these authentic conversations and encourage you guys to find ways to decrease your stress, identify your anxiety triggers, and de-escalate yourself. Because when you handle all of the inner turmoil that’s going on, you just have a healthier, better, happier life, and a happier, healthier career as well.
So I mentioned before that when I went back to the hospital, that I was surprised that I wasn’t as motivated as I usually am. Normally, on a hospital day, I wake up in the morning by 5:30. I’m out the door by six o’clock, and I arrive at my hospital just like a box of birds ready to go. I love, seriously love, what I do. As I started my day, this last week, and I noticed I just was not motivated. I had larger gaps in my schedule. I found myself having a harder time working my way through a report from the very beginning to the very end. I found I had to take breaks. I leaned over to a colleague and I said, “Are you having trouble being motivated as well? What’s going on?” It started a whole department discussion about how everybody is feeling not very motivated.
I think first we need to recognize this as a very real fall out emotion from going through COVID. Regardless, we want to be motivated at work so here are some ways to increase your motivation.
First, try to ask yourself some positive questions. Put things in a positive frame of mind.
The second thing, do something to get yourself rolling. If you have just finished a big evaluation, you just have got to jump in with both feet and started. Third, work on a timer. I LOVE LOVE, LOVE my timers because they are what get me rolling, and they are what keeps me on task. I always set my timers for 30 minutes – always, always, always –
because tasks can be completed in 30 minutes. Or you set it for another 30 minutes. It’s just a little thing that works for me. I set my timer for 30 minutes.
The fourth way to increase your motivation, provide yourself with breaks and little treats. I know for me, I have eaten more during COVID-19. I thought, “Oh, this is great. I can be on that diet that I’ve always wanted to be on.” But I find myself stress eating. So I have purposefully gone to the store and found little very healthy snacks and I put them in little snack baggies. So when I need a treat to reward myself with a treat, I go grab a snack sized bag of wasabi peas or a bag of the skinny pop popcorn or something. I’m a muncher and I know that if I munch that takes away some of my stress and anxiety which we just talked about.
Number five, use peer pressure to your advantage. If you’re working with a group of people, communicate with them and say, “Hey, Kate, I’m almost done with this evaluation, I’ve got a little more to go, will you make sure that I sit here until it’s done?” Help one another through.
Number six, no matter what, just keep on rolling. Keep on pushing and you can make it through one teletherapy session at a time. You can make it through one evaluation at a time. It’s hard.
These times have changed our stress, anxiety and motivation. It’s very true. But what also is very true is that each and every one of us have within ourselves the ability to find the resources and to implement strategies that will help us manage the things that we’re having difficulty with. The very fact that you’re listening to this podcast means that you’re out there looking and for that I’m grateful. I’m grateful that I’m not in this alone. I’m grateful we are all in this together.
So here’s the Challenge of the Week: Stress does make you more sick. It destroys your peace, your hopes, your dreams. So address your stresses, address your anxiety and your challenge is to not bury them, but deal with them head on. You’re brave, you can do this!
Quote of the Week: “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” So if you have a negative thought, if you have something that’s triggered, learn ways to create those positive neuroplasticity pathways and change your thoughts.
Tips for Success: It doesn’t matter whether you’re a graduate student or a seasoned clinician. Your tip for success is be strong and find help when you need it. There is no shame. Talk to your medical provider. Find a counselor and help yourself. This is all about you. If you have significant stress, anxiety, motivation problems, your tip for success is to meet those problems head on.
I hope today’s conversation has created some aha moments for you and motivated you to become a better SLP, continuing to connect some of those missing links between what you know and how to use that knowledge.
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Copyright ⓒ 2020 Fresh SLP. All rights reserved. | Mattie Murrey, MA, CCC/SLP | freshSLP.com Not a substitute for a formal SLP education or medical advice for patients/caregivers knowledge