It's a fact of life: the emergency department of any hospital can be a chaotic, hectic and frustrating environment for overworked doctors and nurses. And the pressure is nonstop: a University of Maryland study found that almost half of all U.S. medical care is given by ER health providers.

Obviously, that level of responsibility can only add to those workers' stress levels, and raise their risk of short- and long-term burnout.

The bright side: there are easy and highly effective steps you can take to help your team defuse their shift tension, make their workloads more manageable, and improve their patient interactions so their stress levels will decrease on both a daily and extended basis — meaning they will provide their best care.

Try these constructive, research-based solutions:

Build rapport before the "golden hour."

The "golden hour," which is the first 60-minute block of time that trauma cases are seen on an ER shift, is the frantically busy time when communication most easily lapses between ER team members, according to research from St. Michael's Hospital.

Preparing for the fact that intensive trauma care can naturally impede fruitful discussion makes a big difference in cutting down on medical mistakes in life-or-death situations, as well as emotional and physical exhaustion for doctors and nurses.

The following pre-shift communication protocol can help reduce stress and increase safety:

  1. Each established resident, doctor and nurse should introduce themselves to any new members of the emergency care team to build an initial working bond.
  2. Doctors and residents should consult with nurses before patient assessment, so that everyone is on the same informational page.
  3. Physicians should explain their orders to the assembled team quickly and ask if there are questions. This will save time and avoid any stressful gaps in continuity of care.
  4. Nurses should always be included in patient reassessment and signover, so all members of the team mutually understand the important details of care prior to the patient leaving the ER for admittance or discharge.

Stress manners to improve patient relations.

A study from Johns Hopkins found that the simple act of being polite helped interns establish better, and less stressful, communication with patients they met for the first time.

Five specific steps can instantly create the proper connection, and can be easily adapted to by ER staff to reduce stressful interactions. They are:

  1. Introduce yourself.
  2. Explain what your role in the patient's care will be.
  3. Sit down to build camaraderie when you speak with the patient regarding symptoms and history.
  4. Ask respectful, open-ended questions so the patient can explain what he/she is most worried about, feels you are truly and patiently listening to his/her concerns.
  5. Touch or shake the patient's hand to express reassurance.

Encourage laughter.

Research from Florida Atlantic University found that a positive attitude and other actions on and off your shift can hugely reduce all levels of burnout.

Joking with your colleagues whenever you can is a highly effective way to accomplish this; other strategies the researchers say are effective include singing along to music during downtime in a stressful shift, and using your break to take quick stock of the work you've already completed and what you need to do next to maintain a sense of control.

Also, daily exercise and planning a vacation can be very helpful in terms of managing stress longer-term.

Make time for rest.

Established Stanford University research from 2006 found that a 40-minute shift nap reduced stress for healthcare workers, improved their memory, increased their alertness and mood, and even provided them with afaster ability to insert an IV.

Telling your staff it's OK to grab some sleep will reset their systems in an invaluable way.

Offer your support whenever you can.

Let your team know your door is open if they feel that their stress levels are overwhelming; listen to their concerns, and offer advice and additional support, such as counseling, if it's needed. Always stress to your team that seeking help for burnout is a sign of strength, and tell them how much you admire their efforts to manage their work lives wisely, so your patients get the very best care.