You are burned out and seriously considering whether you should leave medicine. You feel distracted and worry that your patient care is beginning to suffer. Before you throw the baby out with the bathwater, let’s consider some effective strategies you can adopt to recalibrate your life, relieve burnout, and save the career that you have worked most of your life to attain.
Numerous studies have researched burnout and it is now being acknowledged, slowly, as a very real occupational hazard for physicians. Change in the medical profession and its universities occurs at a turtle’s pace, so for now, addressing the symptoms of burnout and extracting its causes from your life is entirely up to you. You are in the driver’s seat so let’s look at the roadmap that will drive you through burnout to a more positive destination for your life.
Your well-being is in your own hands.
A study published in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation reported that the most successful rehabilitation from burnout occurred when people realized that their well-being was in their own hands. The process included support, awareness, approval and revival of joy in life.
- The most effective recovery started with support from rehabilitation professionals, family or friends.
- Awareness and approval occurred when attitudes toward personal needs and limits changed.
- “The accumulation of support, awareness and approval led to a revival of joy in life and greater perceived control over one’s well-being.”
The First, Simple Steps
The first steps that you can take to recover from burnout are the simplest.
Rest: You need to get more sleep – beginning tonight. Eight hours of sleep, as impossible as that may seem, are optimal for performance and for healing yourself from burnout. As a physician, you know that without sleep cells cannot regenerate; neither can your ability to think and perform well.
Eat: Eat mindfully. For the foreseeable future, you need to eat good food and sit down while doing it. Find a quiet place- a table in the corner, a park bench, even your car; any place where you can actually chew your food and enjoy its taste.
Breathe: You need to breathe. When you get up in the morning, breathe in until you have completely filled your lungs. Breathe out slowly through your nose. Do this ten times. Whenever you feel overwhelmed practice this deep breathing. Step into the supply closet at work if you have to, just remember that deep breathing is now your best friend.
The Mid-Grade Steps to Healing Burnout
Now that you know what you have to do every day, it’s time to consider more involved steps to relieve burnout; ones that may include changing your schedule and habits.
The Harvard Business Review recommends three strategies that are just as relevant to physicians as they are to hard driving business professionals.
1: Manage Your Work
- Draw boundaries. Manage your time and set limits.
- Say NO. Don’t be afraid to decline work if you don’t have the time or energy to fulfill a task at 100%.
- Be realistic about the time, pressure and demands of new projects. Take the time to analyze a project for how much of your time something new will take you, taking into account your current workload.
2: Embrace Renewal
- This doesn’t mean going to a meditation retreat. It means a morning and/or evening routine that allows for breaks and reflection so that you can function more effectively. It means taking the vacation time you are due and filling it with adventure, enjoyment, and rest.
3: Doing the Right Work
- Are your work and life infused with purpose and fulfillment?
Other steps to relieve burnout include:
- Delegate as many things as you can in a responsible manner.
- Take breaks between big projects.
- Control your mobile devices and social media. If you are not on call, set up some quiet time for yourself. Notify your friends and family that you are going off line for an hour.
- Resist the urge to take work home. As Nike says “Just do it.” No excuses; if you don’t have to take work home Do Not Do It. This is one of the most important new boundaries you can establish in your post-burnout life.