“I am not certain that women will burn out earlier because of family issues,” Dr. Robinson says. “One female in our group with several children insists that family sharpens her focus while taking care of patients because she knows when she goes home, she’ll have other important issues.”
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Explore This IssueJuly 2014
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What to Do
Rheumatologists and health professionals need to stay attuned to the signs that they might be under too much stress, and take steps to counter it. In an article in Forbes, the American Psychological Association’s David Ballard, PsyD, advised:7
- Take relaxation seriously; think about what you’ll do (e.g., read, listen to music, meditate, spend time with family or friends), and set aside time to do it.
- Cultivate a rich nonwork life; find something you’re passionate about outside of work, something challenging and engaging, and do it.
- Unplug; turn off cell phones at dinner, and set a time to check your email.
- Get enough sleep; remember that fewer than six hours of sleep per night is a major risk factor for burnout.
- Get organized.
In Psychology Today, Sherrie Bourg Carter, PsyD, proposed three “out-of-the-box” ideas for beating stress:8
- Rediscover nature;
- Give back; and
- Work to resolve conflicts.
“Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, relaxing is in the mind of the relaxer,” says Dr. Carter.
Looking Out for Burnout
So just what does burnout look like?
Dr. Pfifferling characterizes it as a feeling of emotional exhaustion and the inability to give more to patients. This may lead the person to feel cynical and depressed. They may grieve the loss of their original expectations for their career vs. today’s realities.
“There’s a lack of a sense of personal accomplishment, and that’s associated with a desire to leave the job if not medicine altogether,” Dr. Linzer says.
Some other burnout symptoms described by Dr. Pfifferling include:
- a tendency not to set or maintain boundaries;
- always preferring to work alone;
- externalizing blame;
- having a personal identity bound up with one’s work role or professional identity;
- overloading with work, but having a hard time saying no;
- feeling guilty when you “play” or rest; and
- feeling it’s harder now to establish warmth with peers, clients and patients.
Recognizing burnout in yourself or in colleagues can be the first step to work toward treating it, Dr. Pfifferling says.
It’s also helpful to let go of unrealistic expectations. Physicians can find it useful to participate in retreats where members discuss what they do to handle unrealistic pressures in their job, says Dr. Pfifferling, whose organization specializes in helping healthcare professionals.