The Covid-19 pandemic has wrought havoc on almost every aspect of our lives. Overwhelmed by workload, lack of sleep, societal and economic issues and a dramatic increase in illness and death within their profession, physicians and healthcare workers are reporting professional burnout at all-time-high rates. According to a poll by ComPsych, the world’s largest provider of behavioral health and well-being services, 57% of employers say employee burnout is affecting turnover, retention and productivity at their company. Approximately 40% are concerned about declining employee engagement and morale.
According to Dr. Teralyn Sell, Psychotherapist and brain health expert, burnout is nowhere more prevalent than among medical professionals and health care workers. “We are seeing it all over social media, burned-out doctors, nurses and mental health professionals,” Sell said. “Medical professionals have a naturally high rate of burnout typically 43%—46% with critical care physicians and nurses leading the burnout pack. Though the acute care medical staff has been a highlight, mental health professionals have been experiencing an extremely high rate of burnout at upwards of 61%. With the current state of the pandemic, we can likely see an increase in burnout in the medical and mental health fields.”
Dr. Sell notes that many burned out employees are finding unhealthy ways to cope: alcohol or drug use, overworking, disconnecting from friends and family, feeling numb (as if you don’t want to talk anymore), sleep interruptions, loss of appetite, irritability and sadness. Sell provides four tips for how workers, especially those on the front lines in the medical field, can combat burnout in healthier ways.
TIP #1: Know your limits; don’t be a martyr
More often than not, we think we know our limits when it comes to work hours, but we do not. Just because you are upright and going to work and staying late doesn’t mean that you are sharp, engaged and productive. Throwing yourself on the proverbial sword is not truly a useful thing to do, nor is it noble. These professions are rife with messaging that we take care of others, at the expense of ourselves. Changing this mindset by putting boundaries and limitations on work is an important first step. Remember saying “NO” is a complete sentence.
TIP #2: Seek help
This should say, take time to seek help. As frontline workers, we back-burner our own physical and mental health care. If you know you are burned out but can’t seem to work your way out of it, make seeking help nonnegotiable. Additionally, make sure you take the time to get your physical health, dental and vision checkups done. Your health is the most important thing. Without it, you will help no one.
TIP #3: Change the way you look at self-care
We tend to look at self-care as opportunities to outsource our care to someone or something else like pedicures, massages, vacations or even alcoholic beverages. We need to change that and look at self-care as ways that you can take care of you when time or resources are limited. Self-care is the little things you do for yourself every single day that add up. Take breaks—if you can’t take a break, head to the bathroom and take three minutes to meditate or deep breathe. If you have no energy for physical activity, try doing yoga and stretch it out. Mindset and thought pattern changes are also self-care. If you notice that your thoughts are of despair, negativity or doom, work on changing them to something simple like, “I’m ok right now” or “I’m doing the best I can.” Then, when you get the opportunity, go for that massage as a special treat!
TIP #4: Eat
Eating is crucial, not optional. As healthcare professionals, food becomes optional during our busy days. Keep in mind that coffee is not food. Making sure you start your day with high-quality brain fuel and keep fueling up all day is the most important thing you can do to avoid burnout. Using protein to fuel those neurotransmitters and reduce the stress caused by reactive hypoglycemia is one of the most important things you can do to stay sharp and mentally alert. Try for protein every three hours. Make it portable and convenient on the go foods or keep some ready-made protein shakes on hand. Also, make sure you remain hydrated.
Practicing these tips can keep you in tip-top shape and prevent cumulative stress from leading to burnout.