Stressed? That’s okay!

Do you ever have a sudden realisation that scares you and stresses you out? For example, the other day I realised that the OSFAs are eight months away, EIGHT months (sorry third years, they are approaching fast). The STP is an intense programme and although a lot of things are stressful and tiring we need to understand where to draw the line to not overdo it.  It was Stress Awareness Week when I started writing and as a fellow overthinker, I thought I could share my tips of trying to overcome stress and when/how to ask for help. Workload and time constraints have reduced my free time and motivation to sit down and write though so I do apologise for the recent lack of posts.

Here are some stress statistics as stated by the Mental Health Foundation:

  • In 2015/16, stress accounted for 37% of all work-related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health.
  • Stress is more prevalent in public service industries, such as education; health and social care; and public administration and defence.
  • By occupation, jobs that are common across public service industries (such as healthcare workers; teaching professionals; business, media and public service professionals) show higher levels of stress as compared to other jobs.
  • The main work factors cited by respondents as causing work-related stress, depression or anxiety were workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and a lack of managerial support.

So although the STP is a training programme, you are supposed to be supernumerary and just get trained within the three years, it is hard to not become essential to service. I know a lot of STPs that are involved in routine tasks of their departments which adds on to the competency load, MSc projects, assignments and deadlines. On the other hand, being part of routine pathways and processes is a great learning opportunity for every trainee, and hopefully, by the end of the training programme, you are a fully-fledged clinical scientist ready to aid patient diagnosis pending your HCPC registration.

So what can specifically cause stress and anxiety in the STP? Our training programme is so varied, with different specialisms, different departments and different ideas of training so pinpointing everything that can add up to your stress load is clearly not feasible. However, whatever happens during your training, please remember that’s there are a lot of ways to get help. If you are worried about your training, talk to your manager, training officer or a trusted colleague. If for any reason you don’t feel comfortable discussing it with your training officer, you can talk to your region training lead instead. There should be a life sciences, a medical physics and a physiological sciences lead in every region and their main role is to overlook all training and make sure it is up to standard. If you want to get a perspective of your training, use your regional trainee network, they are usually a good bunch and they can provide you with advice or guide you to the best person. If none of those options seem appropriate for you, you can always contact the school directly, they would be happy to help. This is a training programme to train the future scientists of the NHS, once you are on it, it is in everyone’s best interest for you to finish, so much money and time has been invested in you so it would be a waste if something affects the quality of your training, wouldn’t it?

How can you de-stress you ask? I believe that is something very specific to each person, but here are little things I do.

  • Speak to your colleagues: some of the feedback I got for my first MSF was how I seem to deal with stressful situations well. What people can’t see is me confiding to my fellow trainees, telling them that my life is over and that I can’t do anything and I’m about to fail. Then we proceed to calm each other out with words of wisdom and motivation. Having a support network at work can come really handy, and I feel blessed to be working with some wonderful STPs that have got me through some rough patches.
  • Speak to your cohort: being in the STP means that you are part of a group of trainees that train towards the same goal, same specialism just in a different hospital. Talk to them. If you are worried about a competency, they might have done it. If you are worried about an assessment, they might be too. Use your fellow trainees and together work towards solving your issues. Again, I feel lucky for mine. Especially Jes, without her and agreeing to my craziness, this blog wouldn’t even exist.
  • Manage your time: if your work-related stress is due to always running out of time or having to rush things, maybe taking some appropriate time management steps might help ease the workload. Try and plan your work, agree on tasks with your training officer and stick to your schedule. Have a read on some more tips and tricks here.
  • Learn to say no: I think this is really important. If you keep saying yes to everything you will end up overworking yourself. So unless you are absolutely certain you can juggle every little task that comes your way, sometimes it is ok to say no and take a step back. Time management is key here, make sure you have enough time for your competencies, enough time to write up your project and enough time to reflect on your training and ensure you are on track.
  • Take time off: being a trainee is should not be all you do. Please take your annual leave, go home, have a spa day, do something fun or just stay home for a week and binge the entirety of Netflix. Sometimes we just need a breather, to forget about science for a few days and concentrate on ourselves.
  • Join your work social group: I am sure this exists in every workplace. At our department, there some people that always seem to be keen for a good time. We do biweekly bowling outings and post payday pub trips. Just go and have fun with your colleagues, they might be as stressed as you are, so you can destress together and improve your work environment that way.
  • Eat some chocolate: We have a little chocolate drawer in the trainee area. It consists off a variety of chocolate bars and snacks that come in very handy at stressful times. My current favourite is Tony’s chocolate, the purple one, bits of pretzel in milk chocolate seems to do the trick.
  • Take on a new hobby: if you don’t already have one. Find out what de-stresses you. We recently started bouldering with some people from work and I absolutely love it. There’s something about having to use your brain to think how you can achieve a specific route but they actually making it up there feels quite good.

All of these things might seem obvious and common sense and they are definitely not a complete list of solutions but if reading this helps some people then I am glad to be of service. Just remember, stress is normal, you want to succeed and any obstacle or small hindrance can add to your stress levels. Take it easy, ask for help if you need to and keep going. If you are on the STP it means that you have been selected for your potential to be a healthcare scientist so YOU CAN DO IT! Remind yourself of all your strengths, adopt a positive attitude and turn all the bad stress into “good stress”.

Let us know if you have any other tips and tricks in the comments otherwise, till next time!

Author: Adriana

I am a trainee Clinical Bioinformatician based at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge. I am all for increasing genomics awareness in and out of healthcare and interested in bioinformatics and cancer genomics.

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