This past week, I worked about 50 hours. That is a light week for a resident physician. Working these type of hours while taking care of sick patients and interacting with many different personalities can be very draining. Burnout is a very real concern for people who work high-stress jobs that require long hours and emotional investment. People attracted to these type of careers are also less likely to want to admit weakness. I think it is very important to talk about the reality of burn out and share ways I try to beat burnout.
Recently, a story went viral about a woman who disclosed to her boss and co-workers that she was taking a mental health day. Her boss’ wholehearted support of her need for a mental health day and her transparency caught many by surprise and caused quite a buzz. Most people feel afraid to disclose to their employers that they need time off for mental health reasons. Some employers may think that their employee is being lazy and desires extra vacation time. Others may think the employee has mental health issues that weaken their ability to do their job well. Whatever the reason, there is definitely a stigma against declaring that you need time off for mental health. Most resort to making up a more acceptable excuse for taking time off rather than being transparent about their real needs.
I personally have never felt comfortable taking a “mental health” day. As a resident physician, my schedule is closely linked with my co-residents and if I don’t show up, someone else has to work in my place. Usually, this person doesn’t know my patients as well as I do and there is concern that important details could be missed. For a medical resident, taking respite translates to adding to colleagues’ work burden and abandoning patients that depend on you.
But is a resident or employee who is burned out and emotionally fatigued just as good as someone who is mentally refreshed and feels well balanced? I think not.
Studies show that people who are burned out have lower productivity and decreased cognitive ability. In other words, they can’t perform to their best ability. Burnout can lead to depression which is associated with lack of motivation and ambivalence.
Do you think you are burned out? Here are some tell-tale signs of burnout:
1. Poor performance
You usually are the best at what you do. You have always excelled and people look up to you because of your prowess. But lately, you notice that you’re not performing as well at tasks that are usually easy for you. You feel decreased job satisfaction because you no longer get the positive feedback for doing an exemplary job.
2. Social isolation
You avoid social gatherings and prefer to stay at home binge watching television or just sleeping. When friends invite you out, you make excuses for why you can’t attend even if you have no other plans. You dread going to work events that involve social exchanges. Your friends complain that they never hang out with you anymore.
3. Decreased energy
You struggle to get out of the bed in the morning though you had a full night’s sleep. You feel sluggish through out the day and everyday tasks feel strenuous. When you do have time off from work, you still feel tired and lack of energy to participate in activities that you enjoy.
If you can identify with any of the above, you may have some degree of burnout. It is very common to feel burn-out at some point in your career. Once you identify that you have symptoms of burnout, you should consider finding a way to set aside time for self, away from work and personal responsibilities. I know that in some jobs, taking a “mental health” day is not possible. I suggest trying to at least use a scheduled day off to focus on mental renewal and rejuvenation. Also, if you have the option to take vacation time, use it! Those who don’t utilize their allotted vacation time are at a higher risk of burnout.
How to Beat Burnout:
1Get a hobby: People who find something they are passionate about or that provides satisfaction have an outlet to reduce stress. For me personally, blogging has been a great creative outlet to not only share my ideas but to interact with people with similar interests outside of my career. I started this blog when I could feel burn-out creeping up on me and I wanted a way to share how I strive to improve my work-life balance. As a result, my work-life balance is a bigger priority because I want something to blog about.
2Healthy body, healthy mind: Exercise and a healthy diet aren’t only meant to keep you looking fit but also helps to brighten your mood. Exercise releases endorphins which give you a sense of euphoria. Additionally, taking care of yourself makes you feel accomplished and more on top things. I find that when I eat fast-food or fried foods, I tend to just feel more sluggish and less energetic. I’m not trying to make you feel guilty about eating certain foods but diet has a huge effect on your well being. (Side note: Have you seen “What the Health” on Netflix? Life changing…)
3Treat yourself: I wrote about this in a previous post but it is worth repeating. Treating yourself and celebrating accomplishments and milestones is a great way to improve your well-being. It can be as small as ordering your favorite dessert after completing a project at work or getting yourself a pair of shoes you drooled over after victoriously making it through a challenging week at work. The incentive of a prize at the end of a task increases motivation to see it through to completion.
4Declutter: I know cleaning is not the most enjoyable activity but a clean home improves your mood and productivity immensely. The best way to keep a clutter free space is to try to not let things pile up. If you are like me, you rather not use your limited free time cleaning your house. If I do need to dedicate a considerable time cleaning up, I try to make it fun by filling the house with music while I clean and have a cleaning/dance party.
5Be social: I am an introvert so my first inclination is to avoid social events. This is not helpful if you are burned-out. The popular belief is that social interactions drain introverts, but I think spending time with the right people, those who are very supportive, can be very enriching and energizing. I am always appreciative of the rejuvenation I feel after visiting home and seeing family members who are super supportive and cheer me on.
6Go somewhere new: Do you wonder why I blog about travel so much? I love to travel and see new places but it is also a major way I stay sane. Traveling gives you an escape from everyday responsibilities and separates you from reminders of your everyday stressors. Also, many places abroad have limited Wifi allowing you to disconnect from work emails.
If all else fails, don’t be afraid to get help. Talk to a therapist. Confide in someone you trust. Disclose to your employer that you need time off. Your health is the most important.
I hope this was helpful in empowering you to beat this beast better known as burnout. Feel free to share if you found this informative and I would love to feedback in the comments.