5 Practical Solutions for Those Suffering From Burnout

While in medical school and residency, no one ever talked about work/life balance.  It was a nebulous concept people alluded to, a thing to keep in mind when trying to pick out your dream job – but it was never defined nor was there any instruction on how to achieve this desired state of being.

Fast forward 7 years.  I was part of a very successful private practice.  Initially, I was busy and enjoyed my work.  However, in time as I became busier and busier, things started to snowball  I was emotionally exhausted, cynical, and I felt like my work didn’t have any value.  In fact, I distinctly remember being in a delivery and feeling like it was a mundane chore.  I demonstrated the typical signs of burnout. That is when I knew I had to make a change so that I could once again become the physician I wanted to be.  I also had thoughts of leaving medicine but didn’t know what I would do instead and I didn’t want to say good-bye to all those years of training.

When I started to look at my life I realized that most of what I did revolved around work. I was not able to maintain balance between my work and my life outside of it.  So, I set about to make some changes that would help me do that.  I was having a hard time doing this in my current position, so I elected to leave private practice and become an OB/Gyn hospitalist.  Shift work was very useful for me, as I learned how to clearly define time for work and time for play.  Once I made this change and achieved some much needed rest, I set about to share my experience with others.  I found that coaching was an amazing vector through which to do this work.  Now that I am a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach and a Certified Physician Development Coach, my goal is to spread awareness about burnout and to provide prevention strategies.

Take time off

If you are anything like I was, you are exhausted.  A week’s vacation would help, but it didn’t solve my deep rooted exhaustion.  Look at your schedule and talk with your peers.  Be open and honest.  I would imagine that they would work with you to find a solution that keeps you in practice.  Can you take a longer vacation?  Can you take off time during the week?  Can you schedule breaks during the day?  Look at what times of day are most overwhelming and brainstorm ideas on how to improve.  Bear in mind, that there may be a financial cost to these changes.  How much can you afford to change?  Look at both the financial and non-financial expenses of change as well as the burden of maintaining the status quo.

Prioritize

Make a list of all the things you do in a day.  Look at a typical work day and a typical non-work day.  What are the things on that list that you are good at?  What are the things on that list that only you can do?  These items are your priorities.  Now, look at what remains.  What can you delegate?  How would it feel to not have those responsibilities? Again, look at both the financial and the non-financial price of having that item on your to-do list.

Boundaries

This is a tough one.  How do you create boundaries and stick with them?  I continually struggle in this area.  Start by identifying areas where you feel uncomfortable or where you have resentment.  What do you have control over?  What can you change?  The answers to these questions are a great start to creating boundaries.  As you create your boundaries, also consider when it is appropriate for you to bend or make exceptions.  For example, let’s say you are planning to take a day off during the week and you have worked it out so that you do not have any clinical responsibilities that day.  This will be returned in kind to your colleagues during their day off.  Where is your boundary regarding any work that day?  Will you complete charts?  Will you make an exception if there is a patient in the hospital with a complication from a procedure you performed?   The key here is that saying no to some things allows you to say yes to the things you need and/or really want to do.

Stay creative

Creativity is the antidote to burnout.  What do you like to do that gets your creative juices flowing?  Do you like to paint or draw?  Do you write or act?  Do you cook or sew?  Try something new or resume a favorite hobby.  Take a class or join a group of individuals with whom you have that hobby in common.  Make time to do this on a regular basis and keep your activities varied.

Practice gratitude

Gratitude is linked to happiness in numerous publications and articles.  Making gratitude a part of your daily routine can be key to improving your happiness and satisfaction, which in turn, helps treat many of the symptoms of burnout.  I find that using a journal is the easiest technique.  Take time to write down what you are thankful for on a daily basis.  Don’t just make a list, really describe the experience.  There’s no set number of things to include and your journal entry can easily be a picture or memento.  This is a place to unleash some creativity and really languish on the positive parts of your day.

I hope that you find these strategies useful.  It’s been 5 years since I initially recognized that I was burnout, and I have to continually reinforce these strategies.  My work/life balance is always a work in progress.

It is important to allow yourself time for recovery and to forgive yourself if you don’t stick to your plan.  Recovering from burnout is a work in progress. Every day is a new day and YOU get to make it wonderful.

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