10 WAYS TO AVOID BURNOUT

In a previous post we addressed the causes and symptoms of burnout. Now, we would like to address ways it can be avoided.

Doctors typically have minimal time to recharge and gear up for the next shift, which creates a need to alleviate stress quickly rather than in a consistent, healthy way. Quick stress relievers can often be unhealthy, and eventually land doctors in the same position as their patients. The key is to practice consistent forms of rest and/or stress relief as often as possible. Don't let stress build, and don't deprive yourself of appropriate amounts of rest and downtime. 

Here are ten ideas for reducing the symptoms of burnout:

1. TREAT THE DISEASE, NOT THE SYMPTOM
The medical profession is performance-driven, especially in the early years. Competitive pressure to perform is what drives doctors to be their best. These expectations are good when held in healthy balance, but can quickly lead to burnout. This creates conditions ripe for the disease Performeritis - a degenerative condition that attaches your performance to your worth as a human. Separate the two and you'll more easily avoid burnout. 

2. PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH
You encourage patients to eat a balanced diet, get plenty of rest and exercise, and avoid unhealthy habits. The same rules of biology apply to you. A healthy body makes space for a healthy mind. These habits will not prevent burnout, but they will help you recover properly during down time. 

3. LEARN WHEN IT'S OKAY TO SAY NO
Remember: just because something is good, that doesn't mean it's best. If you're a people-pleaser it can be difficult to say no. But before you know it, expectations become overwhelming and your career will suffer. You might not have the luxury of declining work or patient loads, so find other areas in your life where you can relieve some pressure.

4. SEEK OUT A MENTOR
Perhaps you already know everything about everything. If so, congratulations! But, if not, it would be wise to develop a relationship with someone who is a bit further down the road both in medicine and in life. Find someone you respect who is willing to meet with you regularly to listen, share their experiences, and give you perspective. 

5. GET A HOBBY
Healthy rhythms involve activities separate from your job. Golf, yard work, carpentry, knitting, reading, meditation, Jazzercise, hiking, fishing, small engine repair, Civil War reenactments, whatever. Find something you love outside of your job and use it as a means of mental rest and rejuvenation.

6. KEEP A LIST OF "WINS"
Reminders of past success are of great value. Keep Thank You notes from patients, positive reviews from employers, or uplifting messages from colleagues in an accessible place like a file or desk drawer. Take them out often and remind yourself of the good you've done and the contribution you've made to the world. Some days you may struggle to remember past "wins," and those are the days on which you need the reminder most.

7. MINDFULNESS
Do this now: Pause for a moment and listen to the sounds around you. Isolate one sound and focus your mind solely on that. Did you feel everything slow down for a moment?

You can do this with all 5 senses. Focus with your eyes, through touch, smell, or taste. With each practice, notice how everything instantly becomes calm around you. Notice the way in which you feel fully present in both time and space. Notice the smallness you feel as the world happens, even without your contribution. Mindfulness is a wonderful gift for mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Take a few moments each day to practice mindfulness, then take a deep breath and keep going.

9. BE AMAZED AT SOMETHING
As a physician it might become rote to daily experience what would otherwise amaze the average person. But look for something that taps into your sense of awe and wonder. It may or may not be in the field of medicine. Watch a skilled dancer, listen to a classical cellist, eat something exotic, stare at the stars. Return to a state of childlike-ness and let yourself be amazed. This enhanced perspective will increase meaning and purpose to your life and calling.

10. SPEAK WITH A THERAPIST
Seeking mental health services is unfortunately a touchy subject in the medical field. Some incorrectly equate therapy or counseling services with weakness or even mental disability. Therapists and counselors are trained to help you dig deep to the source of your stress, shame, fear, or pain. They help relieve the mental and emotional load you bring into your practice as a physician, freeing up your mind to engage more fully with your work.