Preventing & Managing Burnout

As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve gathered a collection of information and resources to help address health care worker burnout during these stressful times. These resources are designed to provide education, strengthen resilience and help you manage the symptoms you may be experiencing

Burnout For Healthcare Workers

All medical professionals, including physicians, nurses and physician assistants, medical students and residents and the entire array of allied health professionals are at risk for burnout. According to a 2018 report by Gallup, employee burnout has five primary risk factors:

  • Unreasonable time pressure. Employees who say they have enough time to do their work are 70 percent less likely to experience high burnout.
  • Lack of communication and support from a manager. Manager support offers a psychological buffer against stress. Employees who feel strongly supported by their manager are 70 percent less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis.
  • Lack of role clarity. Only 60 percent of workers know what is expected of them. When expectations are like moving targets, employees may become exhausted simply by trying to figure out what they are supposed to be doing.
  • Unmanageable workload. When a workload feels unmanageable, even the most optimistic employees will feel hopeless. Feeling overwhelmed can quickly lead to burnout.
  • Unfair treatment. Employees who feel they are treated unfairly at work are 2.3 times more likely to experience a high level of burnout. Unfair treatment may include things such as favoritism, unfair compensation, and mistreatment from a co-worker.

Additional Resources:
Article: Physician Burnout: 10 Work Factors that Hinder Your Well-Being >

Burnout takes on many different forms and can look like general stress. Take a few minutes to review these common signs of burnout for health care providers and begin to develop awareness of some of the ways that burnout could be impacting you or your colleagues:

  • Chronic fatigue: Health care professionals are a tired bunch due to the nature of the job. When hours stack up and demanding patients cause trouble, it’s hard not to feel tired. But chronic fatigue that lasts days or weeks without letting up is both a predictor and symptom of burnout.
  • Forgetfulness: As a strong sign of emotional exhaustion, inattention is a problematic aspect of burnout. When professionals become disengaged, they tend to forget simple things that used to be a matter of routine. Forgetfulness is one of the more dangerous signs of burnout.
  • Pessimism: When a staff member is experiencing burnout, they often feel like the world is against them. When someone goes from seeing the glass as half-full to seeing it as half-empty, they may be experiencing the depersonalization element of burnout.
  • Isolation: It’s essential to set boundaries in such an emotionally charged field, but it can be a sign of burnout when a professional begins to withdraw from their normal level of social engagement. They may stop their usual small talk, avoid the break room or otherwise show their loss of interest in being a part of the team.
  • Irritability: Health care professionals have ample reason to be cranky now and then, but pervasive irritability is a classic burnout symptom that can drag down team morale.
  • Poor performance: Professionals experiencing burnout don’t do their jobs as well as they previously did. The stress and anxiety they feel are distracting and keep them from performing at their best.

Burnout in healthcare workers is often demonstrated through their attitudes and actions. It can also have physical, emotional, and cognitive impacts. When all the symptoms of burnout combine, they result in things like:

  • Missing or being late to appointments
  • Feeling more judgmental or bitter toward clients
  • Giving up on advanced training
  • Daydreaming at work
  • Feeling unable to disengage from work while at home

When you notice one or more of these symptoms in a co-worker or yourself, it may be tempting to think of them as the results of temporary stress. It is important to consider burnout symptoms and evaluate them in terms of time. If symptoms persist more than a week without letting up, burnout is likely to be the reason, and it is time to address it.

Here are some things that you can do to help address job burnout. Remember, burnout is caused when you invest too much into something without doing anything to restore yourself. The following actions are things that help you take care of yourself. We know this can be hard for health care professionals, since your whole career is dedicated to helping take care of others! That said, we know you also have to find ways to recharge your batteries, so you can physically, emotionally and mentally present both at work and outside of work.

  • Evaluate your options. Discuss specific concerns with your supervisor. Maybe you can work together to change expectations or reach compromises or solutions. Try to set goals for what must get done and what can wait.
  • Seek support. Whether you reach out to co-workers, friends or loved ones, support and collaboration might help you cope. If you have access to an employee assistance program, take advantage of relevant services.
  • Try a relaxing activity. Explore programs that can help with stress such as yoga, meditation or tai chi.
  • Get some exercise and improve your diet. Regular physical activity and healthy eating can help you to better deal with stress. It can also take your mind off work and make you feel better overall.
  • Get some sleep. Sleep restores well-being and helps protect your health.
  • Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of focusing on your breath flow and being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling at every moment, without interpretation or judgment. In a job setting, this practice involves facing situations with openness and patience, and without judgment.

Most importantly, keep an open mind as you consider the options and begin to practice them!

Keep in mind, finding self-care activities that work for you is critical, so we encourage you to try a few of them, even if you are unsure if they will work for you. Most people are surprised at the impact just a little bit of dedicated self-care can have in a short time. If you are unsure how to practice these, that’s okay! Check out the resources that we have shared to help you learn and be sure to do your own research and learning as well. You can easily find lots of great educational information and resources that may fit better for your specific interests and needs.

Self-Care Resources for Burnout

Mindfulness activities such as controlled breathing, meditation and guided imagery have been shown to help reduce stress. According to research mindfulness activities have several benefits for physical and mental health. Some of the strongest health benefits include: improving mood, reducing stress, helping cope with physical pain and improving brain functioning.

StressRemedy has a selection of free guided meditation exercises that you can try.

Below are a few audio guides that can help with practicing slowing down thoughts and reconnecting the mind and body:

Awareness of Breath

Giving and Receiving Compassion with Cassondra Graff

Short Seated Meditation with Allan Goldstein

Journaling has been shown to decrease blood pressure, ease symptoms of depression, and improve immune functioning. Research indicated that journaling reduces blood pressure, improves mood, and decreases absenteeism.

Article: Journaling: A Valuable Tool for Registered Nurses >

Yoga can help reduce the feelings of stress, helping to release the body and mind from a state of “fight-or-flight”, and bringing it into a state of “rest-and-digest”, by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

Listening to or playing music is a great way to help manage burnout. Music is extremely powerful when it comes to stress-management and relaxation. It can aid in meditation, lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and helps decrease stress hormone levels.

Regular physical activity can improve quality of life and relieve stress, tension, anxiety, and depression. You may notice a “feel good” sensation immediately following your workout and also see an improvement in overall well-being over time as physical activity becomes a regular part of your life.

Article: Working Out to Relieve Stress >

Video: Increasing Your Productivity with Exercise >

Sleep is critical to a healthy mind and healthy body. Research has shown that people with burnout have significantly higher insomnia troubles, sleep fragmentation, and non-restorative sleep. In addition, burnout subjects have higher levels of anxiety and depression scores. Improving sleep doesn’t happen quickly, but there are some steps you can take to improve sleep hygiene that can get you on the road to a better night sleep.

Choosing healthy foods may help you to feel well and happy. A balanced wholesome diet may help to prevent and improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. A diet rich in processed foods with added salt, sugars and fats may lead to poor mental health and exacerbate symptoms of burnout.

Creating a wellness vision and setting goals are two important ways that can help keep you motivated and focused on addressing your burnout.

Next Steps

Take a few minutes to read this information and begin to think what you want to work on and why this is important to you.

After you finish reading, work on creating your own wellness vision. Remember, a wellness vision briefly lays out what you would like to see for yourself relating to your overall wellness. It may include what brings value and meaning to your life. It is something that can be changed and modified any time.

Here are some examples:
“I want to be physically and emotionally present with my children”
“I want to feel rested and energized every morning for work”.

Take a few moments to write down your wellness vision.

After you have your wellness vision, try setting some goals. It is important to make sure they are SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound). You also also view the NeuroFlow Goal Planning Worksheet for more help.

Here are some examples:
“I will walk 30 minutes per day during my lunch break, 5 days this week.”
“I am going to manage my portion sizes by making sure half of my plate contains vegetables at every meal. I will stick to just one plate at dinner.”

Take a few moments to write down your goal(s).

Keep your wellness vision and goals handy and look at them often. It can be helpful to work together with a close friend or family member who can support you with staying on track!

Additional Information & Resources

If you find that you are struggling during these uncertain times, please know that you are not alone and that support is available. If you feel that you are having a mental health crisis or are at risk of harming yourself or others, it is important that you reach out for help now.

Call the Nation Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or chat online.

To reach the Crisis Text Line text “HOME” to 741-741 for support.

You can also call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room for assistance.

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