Occupational Stress: Human Services Professionals

nurse stress

Human services professionals include teachers, social workers, nurses, doctors and personal care workers. As part of their daily work in caring for others, these professionals typically put their own needs last. In addition to their knowledge and skills, they give everything they have: empathy, caring and kindness, staying calm and focused, being patient and organized. Over time, if all they do is respond to others’ needs without taking care of their own needs, they will feel stressed and burned out.

These professionals have developed their skills to assist their clients, students or patients: observing, assessing, and responding to their needs. But by the end of the day, week or month, they may have very little energy left to discern and meet their own needs. Poor eating habits, poor sleeping habits, digestive problems and irritability can all lead to poor work performance, poor family life and poor relationships.

teacher stress

Mental fatigue can also create a decreased capacity to move and participate in activities that once held interest, e.g. sports, music or gardening. Left untreated, diminished interest in relationships and activities can lead to a dangerous cycle of mental, emotional and physical erosion, and contribute to depression or illness.

In each human services profession there are cycles of demands that put additional stress on the individual. For example, mental health workers, see a spike in crisis calls and demand for services in the months of November, December and January. Similarly, child protection workers experience rising demand over long weekends, Christmas and summer holidays. For teachers, May and June are the most stressful months of the academic year. For shelter workers and crisis response workers, natural disasters and sudden changes in temperatures can make work life especially stressful

occupational stress

Human services professionals have learned to recognize periods of peak demand and (to some extent) prepare for them. However, these workers also need to recognize how their professional responses affect them personally, and how they can balance the demands of others without compromising their own needs.

Yoga provides a safe and calm way to explore and recognize how we hold on to stress, and to discover how we can release stress and restore our minds and bodies through breathing and physical poses. By teaching proper relaxation and mindfulness, yoga also empowers individuals to take care of themselves so they can maintain their health and care for others more sustainably.