The chances of experiencing workplace burnout in a healthcare setting are quite possible in a helping career profession. New technologies, increasing job demands and staff shortages add pressure to job performances daily. Doctors, nurses and therapists as well as social workers, clergy and many other staff are exposed to a variety of stressors that add to the basic quality delivery of care.
I witnessed too many health care changes to count in a 25 year span in the healthcare field. As a retired occupational therapy practitioner, I have experienced healthcare burnout, so much that it was a contributing factor in shifting professions. Being able to identify the signs of burnout is vital to the healthcare worker to prevent physical, emotional or mental difficulties. Workplace or professional support can make the difference in any medical practitioner’s well-being.
Workplace burnout can be described as exhaustion of physical, emotional or mental resources and/or motivation, typically as a result of extended stress or dissatisfaction at work. Physically, signs of burnout can include muscular tension and stiffness, fatigue, poor sleep and increased reliance on substances, such as nicotine, alcohol and caffeine. Emotional signs may include loss of job enthusiasm, irritability, fearfulness, unfocused thinking, anxiety and depression. Mental signs can include, perfectionism, people pleasing behavior, and difficulties saying no to extra responsibilities.
As a healthcare professional, many mandates and policies change frequently, more often than we change our scrubs. What we have control over is how we think and perceive a situation. Here are two thinking patterns common to burnout in healthcare workers and choices to change our thinking:
1. Thinking Pattern #1: Perfectionism– Perfectionism is an unattainable state. It’s the mode of thinking that imposes a cascade of unrealistic expectations that are steeped in self-criticism and negativity. The distorted side of perfectionist thinking is that it is actually self-depreciating and restrictive by nature. It is a form of fear-based thinking that paralyzes us from thinking outside the box. As healthcare professionals, we have specific policies and procedures that are required for our positions and for quality outcome for patients. Being a perfectionist on the job ratchets up expectations so high that it can actually hinder a healthcare practitioner’s ability to give a realistic, well-rounded decision. Instead, begin to examine thoughts that include the words like should, ought, always and never. Give yourself space to develop realistic expectations and thinking can reduce stress tremendously.
2. Thinking Pattern #2: People Pleasing-People pleasing thinking can be another perception trap. Learning to say no to extra responsibilities and setting boundaries that match your priorities are two key factors in shifting people pleasing thinking. Remember, if you are everything to everybody, inevitably you will have nothing left for yourself. Self-care is not selfish. Making sure you give back to yourself fills you with all the goodness you want to share with others. Setting boundaries allow you take charge of your life and help reduce job stress.
Learn to check your thinking at the door before entering work. Shifting perception in the areas of perfectionism and people pleasing can be life-changing. Remember to seek support at or outside of work when you see the signs to workplace burnout.
Lisa Birnesser is a stress relief coach and owns Stress Relief Solutions. In her 25 years as an occupational therapist, Lisa has held a variety of positions as therapist, therapy supervisor and therapy instructor. She has experience in psychiatric and geriatric care, as well as practiced in home and outpatient clinical settings. Lisa has conducted stress management, coping skills and assertiveness training classes. Recognizing the value of stress reduction, Lisa has devoted the last six years of her professional life to her massage therapy practice.