April is Stress Awareness Month and it’s possibly never come at a more important time.
While stress is a daily presence for most of the world, a global pandemic has introduced us to new stressors in the form of interrupted routines, loss of income, new childcare challenges, the weight of navigating sickness personally or through a loved one, and the task of balancing staying informed without over-consuming and feeding anxieties.
This Stress Awareness Month, CareMessage invites you to set aside some time to reflect on and evaluate what stress looks like today for both your FQHC community, and the providers and staff that are so important to your organization.
Understanding the Impact of Stress
Launched in 1992, Stress Awareness Month has been an ongoing opportunity for healthcare professionals and organizations to increase public awareness around the causes, impact of, and solutions to what has been called the “Health Epidemic of the 21st Century.” It’s almost ironic that, as we face an epidemic of another kind, we are all left facing the fact that one compounds the other.
According to a 2018 study by Gallup, Americans lead the world in stress levels. It found that over 60% of Americans are stressed about money, work, violence, politics, and crime. And the impact is tangible. This type of stress can manifest as mental health issues such as chronic anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Physically, when stressed, the body experiences chemical changes that put it in fight-or-flight mode, triggering an increase in cortisol levels that can change an individual’s metabolism. If this continues over the long term, it can result in chronic health issues such as diabetes and hypertension.
Stress and the Underserved
Among underserved populations, stress becomes an even more complex issue.
For example, low income populations with limited health literacy are most likely to be diagnosed with diabetes — incidence is almost twice as high for people who have less than a high-school education. A similar pattern is found with high blood pressure. People who receive care at clinics and primary care practices in low-income areas have been found to be half as likely to control their high blood pressure according to the Journal of the American Heart Association.
The American Psychological Association notes that stress in general has a strong correlation with poor health and quality of life outcomes among underserved communities. In response, it has compiled a list of recommended resources. Here are some of the highlights.
A report developed by an APA working group on stress and health disparities, including an overview of research on stress as a driver of those disparities
A conference of experts that addresses stress-related issues and recommendations on how psychologists and other health providers can help reduce stress among vulnerable populations
An APA video and discussion that outlines issues associated with race-related stress
Proactive engagement with your underserved patients helps create autonomy and gives them control over their own health outcomes, while allowing your organization to track and identify patients that might need additional support.
Stress and COVID-19
As we work to support our patients and providers in successfully navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and the stressors that come with it, we will need to consider specialized resources that directly address the new challenges this public health challenge brings.
Patients and Community
We’ve put together a public library of COVID-19 messaging that is available for anyone to use. You will likely find the entire list useful in some way, but stress management messages begin on row 46.
The CDC has also provided materials on stress and coping for patients, parents, responders, healthcare providers, and other groups impacted by the outbreak.
Your providers need support from their management and administration in navigating new stressors that they might not have been prepared for in their professional training. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has put together a page, Managing Healthcare Workers’ Stress Associated with the COVID-19 Virus Outbreak which is also available in Spanish.
Most importantly, we want to express our deepest appreciation to the safety net provider organizations that continue to give so much in battling this epidemic and continuing their life-saving work even in the face of mounting difficulties. Because of you, we know that, even with all the challenges of COVID-19, there is a way forward. CareMessage will be here, as always, supporting your work with underserved patients, and helping you do the work you do in the most efficient and effective way possible. To learn more about our efforts, we invite you to start here or contact us below.