Stress is a fact of life for sonography students and professionals. Attending one of the CAAHEP accredited programs in Diagnostic Medical Sonography is the equivalent of holding a full-time job. The intensive programs require students to master courses in difficult subjects like anatomy and physiology and to complete clinical training in fast-paced medical centers.
Once employed, sonographers are working with patients who may have serious health problems, are often asked to complete a dozen or more scans in a single day, may work long hours, and are physically challenged. The stress of balancing educational requirements, work demands and personal lives can be overwhelming, and sonographers need to recognize that managing stress through nutrition is critical to maintaining good health.
Developing Good Nutritional Habits
There are many ways to manage sonographer stress, including taking time to unwind with friends and family, exercising and learning ways to better manage time. Equally important is nutrition. Busy people feeling the pressure to get a lot done in a short amount of time are more likely to have poor nutritional habits. Sonography students and Diagnostic Medical Sonographers need to be aware of their diets and balance their nutrition with foods that help the body manage stress.
Stress is damaging at the cellular level. It can elevate blood pressure, disrupt sleep, produce fatigue, lead to rapid breathing, raise the heart rate, inflame the circulatory system and cause chest pain. Stress also causes muscles to tense.
Muscle tensing is meant to pass when the cause of the stress passes. However, people under a constant state of stress do not reach that point. The muscles may remain tensed, increasing the chances of injury or chronic pain. Sonographers are already more likely to experience musculoskeletal disorders because of the type of work they do. Add stress to the equation, and sonographers are twice as likely to experience muscle and tendon injuries.
The Right Foods
There are certain foods that contain nutrients that help the body fight the impacts of stress. Developing a lifestyle that includes regular exercise for ultrasound technicians, getting at least seven hours of sleep each night and eating a balanced diet may sound obvious, but unfortunately one or more of these stress fighting strategies are often absent in people’s lives. Following are some foods that should be in the sonographer’s diet:
- Foods high in folate and magnesium, like spinach, broccoli, lentils, cauliflower and asparagus
- Dark colored berries like raspberries, strawberries and blueberries which are rich in antioxidants like vitamin C
- Fruits with high amounts of Vitamin C, like oranges, tangelos, kiwifruit and cantaloupe
- High fiber foods, like oatmeal, containing complex carbohydrates that promote serotonin production in the brain; serotonin has antioxidant properties
- Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, walnuts, sardines, tofu, soybeans and lean (grass-fed) beef
- Seeds and nuts that contain high amounts of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B12, like pistachios, almonds, cashews, walnuts and sesame seeds
The foods mentioned should not be surprising because people know they are nutrient rich. There are also foods that should be avoided because they can increase stress levels by promoting the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. On this list are foods and drinks that are loaded with sugar, fat, caffeine and sodium. That eliminates most processed food.
Choosing the right foods is just one step. Sonography students and professionals should also ensure they eat breakfast. Skipping breakfast equates to starting the day with low-blood sugar, and that can increase stress. Throughout the day it is also important to maintain blood-sugar levels and to keep the body supplied with the nutrients it needs for energy. Sonographers have demanding jobs that require standing most of the workday. Avoiding sudden drops in blood sugar is important for managing ultrasound technician stress levels.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers know they are choosing a high stress career but should also recognize that stress can be managed. Whether completing an ultrasound training program, starting a new ultrasound job or managing a high-powered career, the sonographer needs to ensure a stress management program is included in their lifestyle. An important component of that program is nutrition.