Impact of Stress in Healthcare

Stress is a common psychological event that affects most all people regardless of their age, race, social status, and ethnicity. It is common biological response to external events that all people worldwide experience and which can be either acute or chronic. A common form of stress is occupational stress which is an emotional psychological event experienced by several workforces across various fields and professions in the United States. However, there are significant variances of stress within these workforce groups. Occupational stress appears most prevalent among healthcare workers than in any other profession and has been a long-standing concern within the healthcare industry.

This is because healthcare workers are directly engaged in all aspects of the journey of human life – experiencing the moments a newborn takes it’s first breath and the overwhelming emotions that surround a patient’s last. Stress among health care providers is an important aspect within the healthcare environment that could influence the physical health and psychological wellbeing of all clinical staff.

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In addition, the stress that healthcare providers experience could have significant impact on the quality of care they provide to patients. Because of the significant implications stress has on healthcare professionals, it demands appropriate attention and the need to engage professional help. Stress is defined as an assemblage of events that starts with a stressor that then is perceived by the brain as stress that then instigates the body’s fight or flight response, known as a biological stress response (Dhabhar, 2012). However, stress shouldn’t always be looked at as a negative phenomenon among individuals.

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Stress can provide beneficial and protective effects to individuals and is called eustress while the negative stress most commonly thought of is called distress.

Eustress is the positive form of stress, which is manageable and quite healthy for an individual. It usually feels exciting, is short-term, and maintains within a person’s coping abilities, and tends to motivate an individual to improve and ultimately can enhances output and performance. (Mackenzie et al., 2007). Some examples of events that may cause positive stress situations are buying a new home, getting a promotion at work; having a child and going on a vacation among others. On the other hand, distress refers to the negative kind of stress, which appears unpleasant and unbearable to most individuals because it comes with a good deal of concern or feelings of anxiety. Distress may either be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic), and comes with unpleasant feelings, hinders an individual’s performance and, in many occasions, breeds mental health issues and physical problems to individuals.

Some examples of events that may cause distress in an individual include the loss of a loved one, hospitalization due to an illness, loss of a job, and divorce among others. In short, eustress is generally good and provides health benefits for individuals, promotes performance and productivity while distress has negative health consequences, increases mental health problems and decreases an individual’s performance and productivity (Marine et al., 2006). The overarching impact of distress in a healthcare provider beyond individual health complications and reduction in productivity or performance, is the delivery of poor health care to patients as well as reduced profitability for the healthcare organization. Consequently, there is a great need to implement appropriate stress management measures to handle and contain the occupational stress within the healthcare environment before it escalates to unmanageable and destructive magnitudes.

Present Healthcare Environment and its Impact

The occupational environment and conditions in each workplace usually contribute towards eustress or distress among workers (Bell & Breslin, 2008). Currently, there are several challenges within the workplace environment especially in the healthcare sector, which tend to contribute to encouraging distress. There are many workload variables that healthcare staffs are required to manage daily. The expectations that many healthcare providers are, in many occasions, required to manage turn overwhelming since the ratio of healthcare providers to patients is a constant struggle and in some cases are unrealistic to provide effective care in many healthcare organizations. Some of the factors that have contributed to the occupational stress within the healthcare environment are nursing and physician shortages due reduction those applying to medical school; decreasing mortality rates along with an increase of chronic disease; accelerated rate of nurses retiring and health care reform.

This has undoubtedly overburdened the healthcare systems world-wide, causing increasing amounts occupational distress uniquely experienced by clinical healthcare workers. This creates situations where healthcare providers are unable to meet the emotional demands of patients as required since an increasing amount of healthcare providers are required work for longer hours to meet the healthcare needs of patients and demands of the organization as well (Whitehead et al., 2015). These challenges faced by healthcare providers are among the highest causes of job dissatisfaction, high turnover rates and inefficiencies among healthcare providers in various healthcare facilities (Mackenzie, 2007). Coupled with that, healthcare providers sometimes must operate under poor working conditions, which are overcrowded and noisy, and must navigate situations with abusive patients as a result of a growing mental health population.

Additionally, there are various healthcare related complications that bring numerous challenges to healthcare providers, which sometimes prove to be quite difficult to handle given the high number of patients that they are required manage. Furthermore, the high number of volatile situations, traumatized patients, as well as deaths they handle almost daily tends to heighten the prevalence rates of distress among healthcare professionals. The high prevalence rates of distress among health care providers usually demotivates and results in job dissatisfaction (Austin et al., 2005). Job dissatisfaction among affected healthcare providers may cause higher turnover rates. In addition to job dissatisfaction, chronic distress experienced among clinical teams affects general output or service delivery in healthcare facilities, which may lead to increase in poor patient outcomes, mortality rates, medical errors, malpractice lawsuits and reduced revenues and profitability for these healthcare organizations. These organizations may equally suffer injury to reputation with a reduction in patient satisfaction scores also contributing to a long-term impact on volume and revenue metrics.

Why Stress in Healthcare is Disproportionate to other Industries

Stress is a psychologic and biologic phenomenon that affects all people across all ages in the workplace irrespective of gender and race (Koinis, et al., 2015). Stress in the healthcare sector is more prevalent than other industries due to the high level of involvement healthcare providers have in the health of patients. The relationship between distress in healthcare and quality of care is bidirectional. Providers are expected to consistently perform at a high level to provide patients with a high quality of care, which creates extreme stress and burnout. It is then when healthcare providers, due to the heavy requirements of providing care to patients, succumb to the impacts of chronic occupational stress and quality of care is impacted. It is the significant responsibility to care for life, that stress among health care providers is more prevalent than in other workplace environments. The level of stress and burnout experienced by health care providers varies considerably among hierarchical ranks, with the lower ranks experiencing additional pressure from those higher in the organizational hierarchy.

Other factors, such as race and ethnicity also tend to affect the distress levels among various people. For instance, the minority ethnic communities or races such as Black Americans tend to suffer more distress compared to the rest because of enhanced levels of prejudice (Borkowski, 2015). While gender is also another factor that contributes to some individuals experiencing higher degrees of distress, it is not consistently a predictor of occupational stress in health care providers. Cross-sectional studies of physicians have found independent relationships between burnout and physician sex, age, relationship status, age of children, and spousal/partner occupation (Dyrbye, et al., 2017). However, there are not any studies available that support a theory that ethnic or racial differences contributes to the prevalence of distress or burnout among health care providers. Overall, studies suggest that the nature of the healthcare environment and expectations of healthcare organizations on health care providers are the key factors in providers experiencing a higher level of burnout as compared to employees of similar rank in other occupational industries.

Stress Management in Healthcare Systems

Employees’ distress is a problem that bears significant influence on service delivery and therefore calls for immediate redress from the concerned. Actually, Lazarus and Folkman model or theory helps a great deal in coping with distress. Hospital administrators should put in place appropriate measures, which ensure that what may cause employee distress is as minimal as possible. For example, ensuring that employee assignments workload is manageable, working environments change for the better, and remain conducive, as well as encouraging diversity and inclusivity may help considerably reduce the amount of distress (Borkowski, 2015). Individuals who appear more prone to stress such as females and the minority ethnic communities like Latinos in America require help so that they may cope with such challenges in the workplace.

On the other hand, employees may also institute appropriate measures that may help in reduction of individual level of distress in the workplace. By having, a healthy nutrition as well as adequate physical exercise may help an individual successfully manage, bear, or keep off stress (Harris, 2000). Proper diet and exercise nourish mind and relaxes the nerves and the entire body. This may give an individual resilience and peace necessary to perform in the workplace as required. Moreover, relaxation and remaining optimistic even iwn when facing severe challenges in the place of work is worthwhile. Having problem solving skills may also help an employee experience less distress since this would reduce the amount of conflicts in the organization and enhances good interrelations.

Generally, organizations as well as an employee both have a major role to play in line with reduction distress at work. Therefore, reactive, anticipatory, and preventive measures should be in place to help adequately handle negative stress in the workplace (Hamrick et al., 2012). Going by the theory put forth by Lazarus and Folkman may help organizations and employees handle and mange stress in a better manner for the benefit of the employees, patients and the organization as well.


Stress is an inevitable phenomenon, which all individuals of all races, ethnicity, and ages go through daily. Usually, it comes in two forms broadly categorized as eustress and distress. Eustress promotes health and wellbeing whereas distress interferes with both physical as well as mental health of victims if not handled or managed properly. If allowed to breed especially in a healthcare organization, distress may cause conflicts, demotivation, dissatisfaction, reduced efficiency and efficacy concerning service provision, and reduced productivity and profitability. Consequently, appropriate intervention measures are necessary to help with its handling and management for the benefit of patients, staff, and the organization.

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Impact of Stress in Healthcare. (2022, Jun 06). Retrieved from

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