Philippe Goldin, PhD
There are many causes for burnout that involve organizational structure, policies and workflow, as well as poor work-life balance. However, many of us neglect to recognize signs of burnout that include exhaustion, cynicism, lack of efficacy, desperation, anger, overworking, disruptive external behaviors and maladaptive coping (e.g., isolating, eating junk food, over-reliance on alcohol).
The recent 2018 Medscape National Physician Burnout & Depression report indicated that 42% of respondents identifying feeling burned out on the job and that 15% endorsed feeling depressed.
These rates may be higher in nurses and other care providers.
What to do? What is within our capacity to avoid burnout?
As expected, our list includes physical exercise, autonomy, flexibility, a sense of accomplishment, managing expectations, positive outlook, liking your patients, supportive colleagues and family, a caring work environment, spending time at home and with friends.
On a more psychological level, there are several specific practices that might help. For example, every morning when you are about to enter your workplace, pause for a moment and reflect on your motivation and set an intention for the day (e.g., “I am here to serve others and help alleviate suffering”).
- When you see your colleagues, greet them and say to yourself silently, “I am so grateful that you showed up at work today and will work together with me to care for others.”
- When you see a colleague experiencing distress, offer that person a moment of your full attention, a cup of tea, and acknowledge that our job is tough.
- When you witness a patient and/or family member in distress, consider kneeling or sitting next to that fellow human being and holding her/his hand or shoulder. In essence, connect with your basic humanity and goodness.
- When you are working with a very difficult colleague or patient, consider visualizing a person who is an unconditional hero or person of inspiration for you next to or above the difficult person, and take a meaningful pause and breath to feel without judgement for a moment.
- Be creative and experiment with how to work with your mind to reduce irritation and rigidity.
If you are interested in diving deeper, there are many interesting resources such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, non-violent communication, mindful self-compassion, compassion cultivation training, free online cognitive behavioral therapy for depression (moodgym.com.au), and a good book called Attending by Ronald Epstein, MD.