The work you do is valuable. It has the potential to be very satisfying even if it doesn’t feel that way today. Feeling a lack of accomplishment from your work is one of the three major indicators of burnout.
Many physicians choose to cut back on their hours or leave the practice of medicine altogether when burnout strikes and nearly 50% of physicians in America are experiencing at least one of the three major symptoms.
Before you take action to cut your work hours significantly below 40 hours a week or leave the profession entirely, I urge you to try another option. I believe it will work and if it doesn’t the other options will always be there. And yes, I know you probably work between 50 – 70 hours a week. If you’re experiencing symptoms of burnout cutting back to forty hours may be necessary, at least for a while.
If you were trained in the United States or really anywhere other than the Far East, you were trained in a medical model that separates mind from body. If you’re burned out you could be any age but you are most likely to be in the middle of your career. I will write this article as if you are mid-career because that is most often when burnout strikes although it can occur as early as medical school or as late as when you’re nearing retirement age.
Since the time you were trained the world has shifted on its axis. The mind/body connection is making its way back into medicine. Not as the “It’s all in your head” way of earlier generations that dismissed psychosomatic illnesses, but in a way that understand the real physical impact of stress on your body’s ability to function.
Stress has a negative impact on your ability to think and on your immune, digestive and central nervous system. Burnout is the result of a combination of factors but it begins with chronic stress and continues because you weren’t taught how to manage stress. You’re not alone. The strength of the connection between physical health and stress was acknowledged in the 1970’s but the recommendations for stress reduction then bear little resemblance to what is known today. If you asked two people, one a 2-year old and the other a NASA trained rocket scientist how to build a spaceship you’d have an understanding of the difference between stress management strategies available in the 70’s compared to the latest methods.
Frankly, I tell all my clients not to make any important decisions when they feel highly stressed unless it is a life or death emergency. We know enough about how stress restricts the ability of our brain to access solutions that it doesn’t make sense to make non-essential decisions while we’re stressed because they will be suboptimal decisions. So if you’re burned out, do your absolute best to feel better, even if it is just for a few hours, and make your decisions when you’re in the best possible emotional state.
If your sense of urgency to make the decision isn’t insisting you make a decision today, give yourself a month to learn the latest strategies to reduce stress. These strategies can make things that seem like mountains today seem like molehills. I’m not talking about suppressing negative emotions but transforming them.
Our minds are very powerful but we haven’t been taught to use them. We’ve been taught to memorize things but we haven’t been taught to program our minds for greater success and wellbeing. Everyone’s mind is programmed. Most of us live our lives using programming that was already well established before our 10th birthday. We did not make conscious decisions about the programming. It was programmed by default by the experiences and cognitions we had as children.
That’s actually good news if your life doesn’t feel good because you have the ability to reprogram your mind to optimize your wellbeing and your enjoyment of life. It’s not even difficult when you understand how to do it. It also feels good every step of the way. It is the one exception to the “No Pain, No Gain” mantra that seems to accompany every other self-improvement technique.
And, perhaps, best of all, when you learn these techniques that something missing that you’ve been sensing in your ability to help your patients will become apparent. Everything you learn will help you feel better and you will feel energized about your work. You may still decide to make changes but they will be made from an empowered state of being, not from a desperate one. Everything you learn will help you be a more effective resource for your patients.
Depending on which study you read, between 65-99% of all illnesses and diseases begin with stress. Stress begins in the mind and is dependent upon the way we perceive situations.
A decade ago a new theory about the purpose and use of emotions was published and support for the new definition has grown since then. I began applying the new definition of the purpose and use of emotions in my own life in 2007. I was clinically depressed and suicidal when I began using it and had experienced chronic depression for decades. My depression quickly lifted as I applied the new definition of emotions to my life and I know that I will never be depressed again.
Depression and burnout are not identical but they share many common traits. Both feel disempowered. Both can lead to suicide ideation or worse. [In compliance with the International Suicide Reporting Guidelines that save lives when they are followed the following notice is provided: If you are considering harming yourself or someone else, there are people who want to help you. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), call 911 (outside the United States call your local emergency number), or go to the nearest emergency room.
Coming back to my story, I know I will never be depressed again because depression is not just being in a low emotional state and neither is burnout. It is feeling low and not knowing how to feel better or if you ever will feel better. Once you understand what your emotions actually mean and learn a few techniques that help you shift perspectives, you’ll know you can always feel better if you want to. I don’t advocate for attempting to always be happy. I advocate for always knowing you can find a way to feel better when you’re ready to do so. No heavy burden of trying to feel happy when you don’t. These are simply techniques you can use to feel better when you want to.
The fun part is that once you know you can feel better the burden lifts and you want to feel good more often.
The research on emotions discovered the obvious that was hidden in plain sight. Emotions are a sensory feedback system just like our senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. The purpose of emotions is to guide us toward self-actualization and away from paths that aren’t leading us toward self-actualization. The negative emotion you’re feeling is simply telling you that you’re not thinking about your situation in a way that serves your highest good.
Emotional Guidance does not tell us what others should do. It is about what is best for our personal goals and desires.
You can feel better and it can happen soon. You didn’t become burned out overnight and the road to recovery is a much quicker journey.