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Burnout Prevention and Recovery

By Jim Horst, National Medical Director and Chief Clinical Officer, Behavioral Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to prioritize mental well-being. Throughout the month, we fight the stigma of mental illness, provide resources for those in crisis and share education on this vital topic. It is also a time to discuss issues that many healthcare workers face – compassion fatigue and burnout.

Burnout is real and widespread. Forbes Magazine has reported that a significant percent of the working population suffers from it worldwide.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is not technically a clinical term, but one that is used to describe a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that renders a person overwhelmed or even disabled. They feel like they have become unglued, spent and unable to function. Their energy level is at its lowest, there is little or no motivation, and there is a strong sense of hopelessness, depressed mood, and anxiety.

One can become angry, easily irritated, and even depressed. Sometimes, friends and family who are trying to help are unable to talk to them and point out what appears obvious to everyone. Not being mindful of the need to take better care of yourself, you begin to breakdown and burn out.

What is Burnout Prevention and Recovery?

Keep in mind that getting burned out is a process. It takes time to feel burned out and the sooner you recognize that you are on the road to becoming a victim of burnout, the quicker you will be able to either prevent it or recover from it.

If you are suffering from burnout, treat it very seriously. Your health and well-being are truly at stake here. Burnout is the equivalent to chronic stress in the extreme and paying immediate attention to it can be critical.

Burnout Recovery Strategies

  • STOP: Whatever you are doing that is tied into your feeling burned out needs to stop. This does not mean forever or that you need to take a long vacation (which may be true), but at least for the time being, you need to shut it down or shut down your participation in it. It is essential that when you are about to go over the cliff of burnout, you must apply the brakes and take time off.
  • Get Help: When pulling away from the source of stress, you may feel even more depressed or hopeless because you believe you were unable to successfully resolve things before becoming burned out. This is normal. In addition to unplugging temporarily, you should share your thoughts, concerns, fears, and ideas with trusted family, friends, or a professional.
  • Rethink or Reconsider: Whatever you have been doing before getting to this point has not been working well enough. While you may feel that you just need some more time or a little more sleep, the likelihood is that, if you are burned out, a little more time or a little more sleep will not really help. You need to rethink what is important and redefine your priorities, your goals and your values.

Top 10 Tips for Burnout Prevention

  • Practice relaxing: Take a few minutes (only a few minutes), close your eyes, take a deep breath and tell yourself to relax. You can program your mind to calm down with just a little practice. You can also take a warm bath, stretch several times a day or just take a 5-10 minute nap.
  • Sleep: If you are not sleeping well or are sleep deprived, you will likely perform poorly at work, feel irritable and be short-tempered. Sleep deprivation is often a major contributor to burnout.
  • Exercise: Every study shows the benefits of getting any form of exercise. It will help to reduce stress and is essential for well-being. It may not prevent burnout but it can delay it.
  • Cut down on alcohol: If you drink more than one or two drinks and do this every night, you are probably drinking too much. Drinking too much will wear you down, reduce your creativity and can potentially cloud your judgment.
  • Laugh a lot: Laugh often, lighten up, be a little less serious and try finding the humor in things. You’ll cheer others up and enjoy yourself more often.
  • Get organized: Lack of organization can lead to unnecessary frustration. Freeing yourself of clutter and learning better time management skills can go a long way.
  • Express yourself: Be assertive, not aggressive and say what’s on your mind and in your heart in an effective, respectful way at work and at home. Don’t let resentment and anger build up. Talk to the people you care about and who care about you.
  • Don’t procrastinate: If you often find yourself putting things off or avoiding what you know needs to be done, you are unnecessarily causing stress.
  • Learn to compromise: Negotiation is a fundamental principal in business, politics and life. If you want something, you have to give something. Everybody wins when there is flexibility.
  • Stay positive: Have positive references handy so you can call upon them when you are stressed and feeling gloomy. Know the things in your life that you are grateful for and think about them often. Stop beating yourself up with negative self-talk.

Learn more about TeamHealth’s commitment to clinician well-being and learn more about resources available if you or a loved one is suffering.