Protecting the Heart of Healthcare

Protecting the Heart of Healthcare

Feb 20, 2019

By Karen Wilkinson, RN, NHA, CLNC – CareerSmart® Learning Contributor

American Heart Month was proclaimed by former President Lyndon Johnson in 1963, and first celebrated in February, 1964, because of the high incidence of death from heart disease.  Because cardiovascular disease remains a leading cause of death, many organizations utilize the opportunity to raise awareness and stress heart disease prevention every February.   But despite the focus on awareness and heart-healthy living, cardiovascular disease is still problematic.  Most of us know someone personally who has been affected by heart disease or stroke, and facts and figures may strike close to home.  The American Heart Association reports an average of 1 death every 38 seconds from cardiovascular disease. 

As healthcare professionals, heart disease prevention should be a clear educational focus, and include promotion of a healthy lifestyle, such as heart-healthy eating, exercise, and stress management.   Let’s look at just one of these – stress management.  The choice to embrace stress management requires us to recognize that heart health transcends the physical, and encompasses an emotional component as well.  We live in an unsettled world, and everyone has stress.  We can point the finger of blame at our jobs, home situations, or even social issues; but just getting from home to work and back home again can be a major stressor each day.  And, despite our best efforts at stress reduction, it is unlikely that any of us will ever be able to say we are “stress-free.”  The American Heart Association recommends three methods of managing stress:  shifting self-talk from negative to positive, utilizing emergency stress stoppers, and engaging in stress-busting activities.  An immediate response to these suggestions from a fatigued healthcare worker might be, “Oh, sure.  While I’m passing the hundredth med, I’ll just imagine that I’m walking in a field of flowers on a Sunday afternoon, and forget the laundry piled at home, and my kid’s homework issues.”   Positive self-talk is not about escaping the situation, but about tackling it head-on.  Something as simple as switching a positive thought such as, “I’ve done this before and I can get through this” for the negative thought,  “There’s no way I can do this,” paves the way for future positive responses.   Even though it seems simplistic, we have to at least try to embrace those thoughts which will help us thrive emotionally, both at work and in life.  The second method, using an emergency stress-stopper, is a simple way to respond to stress rather than emotionally react.  Things such as taking a few slow, deep breaths, counting to ten, saying a quick prayer, or walking away for a few minutes can be easily implemented in the workplace.  Taking a break, going for a walk, and sleeping on the problem are other suggested stress-stoppers that can be utilized.  Finally, stress-busting activities are actions that bring you pleasure, such as reading, art, music, hobbies, sports, meeting up with a friend, or taking a relaxing bath.  It is likely you already know what you need to do to help relieve everyday stress.  But, have you given yourself that gift? 

It is important to promote stress reduction to our patients, but also to promote it in ourselves.  Our hearts need to be both physically and emotionally healthy.   We want, and need to be able, to demonstrate the empathy and compassion that our patients deserve, the real heart of healthcare. 

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American Heart Association. (2018). February is American Heart Month.  Retrieved February 08, 2019 from

American Heart Association. (2014).  3 Tips to Manage Stress.  Retrieved February 08, 2019 from

June 17, 2021

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