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Stress Busters for Travel Therapists

Stress levels are running high throughout the healthcare system, as hospitals are overflowing with extremely ill patients and struggling to maintain adequate staffing and personal protective equipment. Allied health clinician burnout is real. 

“When you are in contact directly with people who are in pain and they are looking with their eyes at you in fear, it gets to you,” said Mark Goulston, MD, in West Los Angeles, co-author of Why Cope When You Can Heal? How Healthcare Heroes of COVID-19 Can Recover from PTSD. He added that these heroes include allied health professionals who directly provide services. 



“Occupational therapists carry their own level of stress,” said Varleisha D. Gibbs, PhD, OTD, OTR/L, vice president of practice engagement and capacity building at the American Occupational Therapy Association. “It can be a challenge for OT practitioners. They are overlooked. That could be a challenge with supports in places and access to personal protective equipment.”

OTs are at COVID-19 patients’ bedsides, positioning them to make breathing easier, Gibbs said. 

Speech-language pathologists also are working closely with COVID-19 patients who are experiencing difficulty swallowing or communicating, said Diane Paul, PhD, CCC-SLP, director of clinical issues in speech-language pathology for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. They also are being asked to help out in hospital settings, performing tasks beyond their normal scope of practice, with adequate training. 

“SLPs around the country are stepping up and moving beyond their personal stresses to provide services that are so needed to help those most vulnerable,” Paul said. 

Additionally, Paul reported clinicians being shunned in grocery stores and becoming frustrated with people not taking the pandemic seriously and not masking or social distancing. 

“Additionally, there is a small but vocal segment of society bucking the system and diminishing the import of this pandemic, dismissing it as a hoax, and fighting to keep their creature comforts in place,” said Kyle C. Mahan, MSM, RRT, assistant professor and the clinical coordinator at Jefferson Community and Technical College in Louisville, Kentucky. “Having to hear these criticisms may also add to our frontline workers’ stress.”

Additionally, respiratory therapists are on the front line, managing ventilators and giving other respiratory treatments.   

“For many that are seeing large volumes of COVID-19 patients, the volume of patients that are coming in and need advanced care, and dying, can be a source of stress,” Mahan said. 

Physical therapists also are experiencing burnout, according to an article by Troy Elliott, program director of strategic messaging at the American Physical Therapy Association. 

Chronic workplace stress can lead to allied health clinician burnout and with it less efficacy on the job, negativity and cynicism, and mentally distancing from the job, according to the World Health Organization. It can also adversely affect patient care. 


Holiday stressors, including the pressure of it “being a happy time of year,” also can lead to clinician holiday burnout, particularly for travelers who are away from family and friends. This year, fewer people can get together and follow long-held traditions. Loved ones are trying to connect and get together virtually. The lack of face-to-face interaction, though necessary, can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation.

However, there are some things that therapists and other healthcare travelers can do to mitigate the effects of stress that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.


The experts recommend the following stress busters for travel therapists:

  • Acknowledge the burnout one is experiencing.
  • Determine what is most valuable and focus on those things.
  • Go to bed early and at the same time to allow for plenty of rest. 
  • Start the day with positive affirmations. 
  • Debrief with colleagues. 
  • Practice meditation and mindfulness. Or try yoga. 
  • Use 4-8-4 breathing. Take air in through the nose to the count of four, out through the mouth to a count of eight and hold for four beats. 
  • Take a walk and soak in Mother Nature’s calmness. 
  • Eat healthy and stay hydrated. Try eating lunch on the patio to take in the fresh air. 
  • Exercise. Stretch. 
  • Cut the intensity with humor. Laugh at life. 
  • Partake of fun activities. 
  • Talk with colleagues about how you feel.
  • Recognize the mind-body connection and take care of both. 
  • Take stress breaks.
  • Turn off the news channels and focus on more positive thoughts. 
  • Let go of worries about what might happen in the future. 
  • Stay in touch with family and friends. Consider Zoom or Facetime.
  • Carry an item with you that can center you, such as a photo of a pet or a special necklace.
  • Cry as a form of release. 
  • Schedule a break between assignments. 
  • Reach out for professional help if need, such as through an employee assistance program.  


As hard as the past months have been, vaccines are here and an end is in sight. Follow the stress buster tips and stay as safe as possible. 


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