Burnout Syndrome: 6 Steps to Managing It

In Career Advice
December 17, 2015

Burnout Syndrome: 6 Steps to Managing It

Healthcare workers find themselves having to be beacons of hope for other people day-after-day, hour-after-hour, and many forget about their own wellness, which can quickly lead to burnout syndrome.

A Gallup Poll shows that more than half of all medical professionals are thriving in 0-to-1 of the 5 elements of wellbeing (Purpose, Social, Financial, Community, Physical).  This means that while they are constantly trying to improve the lives of others, they forget to make their own lives healthy and are costing themselves happiness and prosperity.

So, if most employees are not engaged, or are actively disengaged, in their jobs, what can we do?

Unfortunately, burnout syndrome is a complex monster with many heads. If you are burnt-out, it doesn’t only mean you are too stressed or work too many hours; you could have a relatively good schedule and light work-load and still find yourself depressed or in need of change. Because burnout is a Hydra, there is no cure-all for it.  In the following, I will show you a list of tips I compiled to help you avoid burnout:

6 Steps to Managing Burnout Syndrome:

1. What is Burnout Syndrome?

According to research, there are newly defined sub-sets of burnout. Burnout syndrome is caused by detrimental coping strategies that we’ve used to try and overcome our feelings of fatigue, cynicism, and professional inefficacy. Many healthcare workers get these feelings because they have to hide how they really feel most of the time. You can’t feel bad when you are trying to take care of a patient that feels bad. Unfortunately, since you are always being the caretaker of others, you rarely get to return the favor to yourself.

Which do you have:

Overload– This type of burnout syndrome comes when you work toward success until exhaustion, or you just work until exhaustion, whether you are striving for success or not. This is most closely related to emotional venting; you try to cope with your stress by complaining about the hierarchy at work and feel that it imposes limits on you and your ambitions–you never talk about your frustrations head-on. Thinking that others are limiting you or are gunning for you is a sure way to build animosity among you, your co-workers, and your bosses and lead you to quitting–or getting fired.

Lack of Development– If you find yourself trying to avoid work or distancing yourself from work (avoidance mechanism), then you probably have the burnout that stems from boredom and lack of personal development.  When you distance yourself from your co-workers and your work, you start to feel depersonalized and cynical. This is because you are out of the loop and you don’t feel valued anymore. What you don’t realize is, it’s through your own doing, not your co-workers or bosses.

Exhaustion– You can’t go on. You run from your problems when they get heavy and you feel burdened. It’s a coping strategy loosely based on our Fight or Flight mechanisms; except, instead of fleeing from perceived danger, we flee from perceived discomfort, stress, or unhappiness. Even though you want to achieve something great, the fear and lack of motivation you have, drives you to give up instead.

2. Saying No

Quit taking on tasks you don’t want to–in your work or home life. If you continuously take on more than you can handle or more than you want to do, you will get burned out with everything. Spreading yourself too thin drains your creative juices and takes away from necessary tasks you must do in order to meet the standard of living you created.

Saying yes, instead of no, leads to you wanting to stay in bed all day and do nothing– mostly because you face a daunting task-list as soon as you get out from underneath the sheets. The best thing you can do is politely tell people no. If your boss is inflexible with your wishes, sit down with them and explain your circumstances (without emotion) and come to some resolution.

Don’t want to go to your significant other’s Christmas party? Don’t. If they truly love you, they will understand. If you are to a point in your life where you need to reel back into yourself and get some stability, try being a no-man instead of a yes-man.

3. Taking Real Breaks

Turn off your phone, shut your laptop, throw your remote through your TV– not really, but turn it off, too– and release your mind. Most times when we are taking a break, we aren’t really taking a break. We are so engrossed in what’s going on around the world and in other people’s lives that we never sit back and have quiet time.  It seems as soon as we have a moment to ourselves, we bury our faces in our phone and look at status updates of people we don’t even care about. You need to stop.

There is so much stress related to the healthcare profession that you don’t need to add to it with more bad news about what’s going on around you. You can go on a low-information diet, so that you can focus back in on what matters to you and keep yourself from getting burnt out with all the junk we face in our lives.

Get up and go walk, run, hit something (not a person), or do something really crazy like use some of your time off and take a vacation. It’s crazy, but Americans don’t use their vacation days or they work when they are on vacation. If you never step away and truly give yourself time off, you will burnout entirely and need a vacation from your vacations. End the cycle, take real breaks and make them count.

4. Introspection

Write down every hate-filled thought, dream, fear, and desire to see what you really want and what makes you happy. We all have a little voice inside of us that we neglect, but that voice will steer us in the right path if we let it. A good way to get started is to write everything down and look for clues to when you started feeling burnt out or unhappy. Determine what caused it and take actions to improve or change your situations.

You need to cure the disease, not it’s symptoms. If you can start defining what’s at the root of your burnout syndrome and what would make you happy, you can start implementing an improvement plan. The best way to solve our problems is to listen what we are trying to say to ourselves. You need to decide if it’s really the job that is burning you out, or if it’s other factors that lead to you hating what you do.

It’s not an easy thing to do, especially in the medical field, since you have to constantly help people and you feel some type of moral obligation to be what others need you to be. But if you are going crazy or are burnt out, you have to cure your ailments before you can help others fix theirs.

5. Realize You’re Not Perfect

Stop trying to be. It is the fight for perfection that keeps us unhappy and fried. Nothing in this world is perfect, including you, so reaching perfection is never going to happen. The sooner you understand this, the sooner you can start to heal your burnout and get back to enjoying life.

As healthcare professionals, you want to be perfect, you feel you must be perfect; you have lots of people depending on you and, sometimes, your mistakes can cost lives or leave people worse off than before. It’s terrible when bad things happen, but they always will. If you blame yourself for everything wrong that happens and forget when things go right, you will suffer.

Remember to do your best and let everything else go. You can only do what you can do.

6. One Bite at a Time

QUESTION: How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time. Break your tasks down into manageable pieces so big tasks don’t seem so daunting. It’s better to not look at the full picture sometimes, as it can be discouraging. Define the things you need to get done in a day (a manageable list) and do those things. Once you have completed them, move on and live your life; don’t take on more patients, don’t go check on more people– because you probably won’t give them the attention they need anyway.

Ask for help when you need it and don’t be afraid to leave things you can’t do for someone else; just talk to them about it, so you’re not throwing something on their lap they can’t handle either.

Advance your career. Change your life. - HospitalCareers