Healthcare workers feel stress from 75-hour work weeks

The more time people spend at work, the less time they have to sleep and take care of their physical and mental health.

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UW-Eau Claire has opened Zorn arena for antigen testing for both community members and students. Courtesy of Dan Reiland.

UW-Eau Claire has opened Zorn arena for antigen testing for both on and off-campus students as well as community members.

Zorn arena is open for testing from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Workers said they feel the impacts from working long hours every day.

Aleah Sauter, a UW-Eau Claire and Barron site lead, said she works 75 hours a week on average. Sauter is there every day the testing site is open.

Sauter said her physical health is impacted by working such long hours and being on her feet all day for 10 to 12 hours.

Sauter said by the end of work she doesn’t have the time or energy to enjoy actives she once did, like strength training. She said any extra energy she has goes toward preparing for the next day of work.

“Nutrition and sleep are my current priorities so any extra energy I have goes to meal prep and relaxing before bed,” Sauter said.

Mickey Crothers, a psychology professor at UW-Eau Claire, said working long hours has various impacts on one’s mental and physical health.

Crothers said immediate effects of working long hours would include attention, concentration, and memory problems which would occur after a day or two.

These long days can also boost one’s anxiety and stress levels because of the increased production of stress hormones like cortisol, Crothers said.

Sauter said being a site lead at Zorn has a great deal of unavoidable stressors and puts a lot on her plate.

But some of the most detrimental mental health impacts come from a lack of sleep, Crothers said.

“The longer people work the less time people have available to sleep,” Crothers said. “It doesn’t take long to start deteriorating the mood, it places people at risk for depression and more work errors, driving errors, and fatigue.”

Sauter said this job would normally impact her mental health more strongly. But because of the state of imbalance the world is in, this job gives her something else to think about. Although this is positive for her, she said she comes home mentally exhausted every day.

Not only are there mental health impacts from working long hours, but one’s physical health is also affected.

According to a study done by Kapo Wong et al. for the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, lack of sleep increases the risk of developing cardiovascular heart disease, coronary heart disease, obesity, hypertension and type two diabetes mellitus.

Crothers said when one has a reduced sleep time their immune function is also reduced. This causes one’s antibodies to also be reduced which makes one more susceptible to catching viruses and lengthens recovery time.

Crothers said since people who work at Zorn arena are in contact with COVID-19 positive patients, it is especially important for them to get proper sleep.

“They’re getting a lot of exposure and yes they have protective equipment, but they’re exposed to a lot of stressed people,” Crothers said. “They themselves must have some worry about exposure to COVID-19.”

Crothers said there’s a couple of things people can do to improve one’s mental and physical health when working such long hours.

Exercise is one way to improve sleep quality and help with fatigue. The exercise can be modest like talking a walk around the block, Crothers said.

While at work, in-between patients, Crothers said it would be a good idea to take a lap around the arena if they are allowed to leave their stations.

Also, doing mentally stimulating activities like playing sudoku or using your brain activity, like journaling, will shift one’s mental attention to one thing from another. This will help decrease one’s stress and keep the brain active, Crothers said.

Sauter said she has been de-stressing by getting enough sleep, she tries to make time for her family and friends and tries to not take work home with her.

Sauter said she feels sympathy for those going through “COVID fatigue” and who want life to return to normal. She said health care workers feel the same and the best way to do so, is by following COVID-19 protocol.

“Push through, wear your mask, get tested and take care of your own mental health,” Sauter said.