Burnout: Signs and remedies

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As a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, I am vulnerable to burnout. Provider burnout is increasingly common in the United States and globally. The work of healthcare professionals is often carried out under crisis conditions, the outcomes of their decisions can seriously affect another person, they work long hours, and they may have little time for activities outside of work. All are factors that contribute to the possibility of developing burnout.

Burnout is not unique to the healthcare profession. Anyone who is exposed to prolonged high-stress levels can experience burnout, such as teachers, parents or someone dealing with an ill family member. Feelings of exhaustion, depression, anxiety, and isolation from friends and family members can be signs of job burnout. As I share here what I've learned from research and experience, I hope it helps you too.

The syndrome of provider burnout is an area of increased study. In the article, "Physician burnout; a global crisis," it is characterized as a work-related condition demonstrated by emotional exhaustion, feelings of being detached, and a lost sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. It is important for those at risk to be aware of the warning signs of burnout so they can prevent or remedy it. They include the following:

- Exhaustion

Physical symptoms may include headaches, stomachaches, and appetite or sleeping changes.

- Isolation

People with burnout may stop socializing and confiding in friends, family members, and co-workers.

- Escape fantasies

In response to job stress, people with burnout may fantasize about running away. They may resort to drugs, alcohol, or food as a way to numb their emotional pain.

- Irritability

Burnout can cause people to lose their tempers. Coping with normal stressors like preparing for a work meeting, seeing the next patient, responding to the next 911 call can feel impossible.

- Frequent illnesses

Long-term stress can affect your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds, the flu, and insomnia. It can also lead to mental health concerns like depression and anxiety.

Some amount of job stress may be unavoidable, but burnout is preventable. Self-care is vital. Here are some tools for burnout prevention:

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- Exercise

A daily walk is beneficial for physical health and can be a mood booster.

- Diet

Eat a healthy diet, rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as walnuts and fish, which are natural anti-depressants.

- Sleep

Healthy sleep habits are essential. Rest restores energy and resets the mind.

- Work-Life Balance

Professional time, family time, and personal time must be balanced. Making time for family, hobbies, or social events is essential to overall well-being.

Reach out for help. Everyone needs help at times and reaching out to close friends or family can make a difference.

Most of my patients have heard me ask, "Are you feeding your soul?" When I realized I was starting to neglect my own advice and was possibly headed for burnout, I recommitted myself to my passions: music and cycling. I incorporated cycling into my routine by commuting to work on my road bike as often as possible. I also made music a major part of my life again.

I started playing the piano at age three. Later, I also studied drums, saxophone and guitar. I attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, intent on a career in film scoring and jazz performance. I was fortunate to enjoy playing professional music for some time, living and playing in Los Angeles and southern Europe. When I got married and planned to start a family, I decided to pursue a more sustainable profession, so I trained to become a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.

Along the way, music faded from my life. I played the guitar to soothe my daughters to sleep, but not much else, until I realized it could help me re-balance my life. Over the last two years, I re-engaged with this passion and my sister and I wrote and recorded an album titled HI-LO, under the name Benjamin Jayne. It took 20 months and was just released on all major outlets this past August.

Actively engaging in exercise and art has noticeably improved my quality of life and acted as protective factors against job burnout. Even if you are working long hours, small acts of self-care can stop stress from turning into burnout. Lastly, for employers out there, the recognition and support you can provide your staff will be an invaluable ingredient to your success and your employees' well-being.

Benjamin Wright, PMHNP-BC, is a board certified psychiatric nurse practitioner. He joined the Grace Cottage Family Health staff in 2015. He holds a BA in Psychology from the Univ. of Massachusetts, and Bachelor and Master of Science in Nursing degrees from the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston.


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