Gratitude Can Help Reduce Stress and Improve Health Worker Well-Being
Nurse Sandra Linsday, Director of Nursing for Critical Care at Northwell Health's Long Island Jewish Medical Center, was sure she had COVID one night in the early stages of the pandemic. During Johnson & Johnson’s “Stories from the Heart of Health” event on the sidelines of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly, she recalled how weak she felt after months of tireless work. “I woke up in the morning,” she said, “I didn’t have COVID. It was exhaustion and dehydration.”
According to studies cited by the CDC in 2020, 93% of health workers have reported being stressed out and stretched too thin and 82% of health workers have shared being emotionally and physically exhausted. In 2021, 69% of physicians reported experiencing depression. And in the US, even before the pandemic suicide rates for nurses were higher than the national average.
While health workers need more than our thanks, the role of gratitude in reducing stress and improving overall well-being should not be overlooked.
Gratitude practices can make significant positive impacts on health worker well-being and reduce their feelings of emotional exhaustion.
Gratitude, or the positive emotional response to giving or receiving something beneficial from someone, has been linked to coping better with stress, improved brain health and emotional awareness, and increased professional commitment. For people being thanked, gratitude increases their likelihood to help people in the future and to engage in other prosocial behavior.
Multiple studies have shown that gratitude practices–ranging from journaling to writing letters of thanks to declaring what you are grateful for via in-person gatherings called gratitude huddles - can make significant positive impacts on health worker well-being and reduce their feelings of emotional exhaustion.
The world witnessed an unprecedented wave of gratitude towards health workers in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the work of health care never stops. As we work towards building the thriving health workforce we need to tackle today’s health care needs and to meet future health challenges, let’s be sure gratitude has a place in our overall strategy to support and strengthen the frontline health workforce.
At the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation, one of the ways we have encouraged communities to proactively be involved in expressing gratitude to health workers is through the MICRO Museum of Care. This modular museum designed to be installed in public spaces to spark learning and engagement about healthcare and health workers also provides an online platform for collecting letters and audio recordings of gratitude towards health workers.
Other innovative tools such as Wambi - a digital platform used by hospital systems throughout the U.S. where patients and their families can thank health workers - are also making it easier to integrate gratitude practices into health workplaces.
Let’s be sure gratitude has a place in our overall strategy to support and strengthen the frontline health workforce.
Whether you work in a health care setting or are a person receiving care, let’s all be advocates for gratitude by sharing such tools in our workplaces or stopping to simply say thank you to a health worker. You may be making more of a difference than you know.
At the end of her talk, Sandra Linsday told us what she thought would help health workers who have been at the forefront of the pandemic. “What health care workers need right now to feel valued and supported–and to continue to do what we love and give the care that the community needs–is social and global support.” Gratitude is one way of showing our support, along with advocating for other ways to support and protect health workers.