Emotionally Drained? How to Avoid a Fatal Burnout

If you feel emotionally drained you are not alone. It’s a symptom of a fatal burnout and it happens to many of us. How can I reinvigorate my career and avoid a burnout?

Variations on this question arise all the time, yet paradoxically are not asked often enough. Time to wake up and smell the coffee. Tedium, boredom, ennui, staleness, any other term you wish to think of, comes with the territory of being alive. Nobody is exempt. Counteracting them takes a plan. Try the following.

Here are a few tips, and if this doesn’t work, take a career test to find a new career path.

Adopting the right mindset

1. Everything that is normal and natural in the world has cycles. Your career is an organic process too, as subject to a winter of discontent as all the rest of us. Why should we fear or shy away from what is normal?

2. Be willing to talk about it – with colleagues, friends and most of all with your spouse or partner. It won’t cost you anything and the problem, if you choose to see it that way, will seem less onerous. Often, we own a great reluctance to admit to our own vulnerabilities. Why does holding some degree cause us to distance ourselves from our own frailties – it’s absurd.

3. Stop taking yourself so seriously. There’s a bit of the demigod in each of us, blessed as we are with all that education and power, and with others kow-towing to us. We may take on words like duty and responsibility with an overly weighty valence. Ours is a demanding profession, but we are just one person. Do what you can do, lay down your tools at the end of the workday, return to the world at large.

4. Remain idealistic. Many migrate from the idealism of youth towards a jaded cynicism of middle-age. Our accrued degrees, diplomas, committee memberships, acquisitions and retirement funds cause us to play it safe, to look askance at fresh faces or ideas. Idealism, a quality that led many of us to the entry doors of our schools in the first place, is devalued, at our own cost.

Avoid negative actions

1. Pace yourself better. The sprints through medical school and residency training as you hurtled through different rotations and countless tests are poor experiences for the 30-year marathon you are engaged in with a life in medical practice. Unfortunately, by the time most of us make it to about age 30, we’ve become locked into an unhealthy way of being professionally engaged.

2. Avoid the hyper-competitiveness of our fast-paced society and those externally applied dictates that suggest that if you are aged X, you should be at point A and have accumulated net worth B. Who says so? Do they know you? Do they care about the real you?

3. Don’t get swayed by the negative comments of others. Make up your own mind, don’t be influenced by bitter people.

4. Avoid toxic resiliency. Resiliency is a necessary attribute for all successful people. There’s a danger in oversubscribing just the same. You may know friends or colleagues who are as the saying goes “sucking it up”. Their prized resiliency is leading to the equivalent of some pre-cancerous change in a cell. On the surface, nothing will be different tomorrow, next month or year, or maybe even in five years. But, eventually, it will. Resiliency is the ability to return to our natural state without distortion of the underlying fibers of our being. Any other apparent adaptability is toxic resiliency which is typical for our Western way of acting and thinking.

Adopt positive actions

1. Be sure that what you are doing is playing to your strengths and satisfying needs we all have for intrinsic rewards from our professional engagements. It’s all about your vision of happiness.

2. Maintaining work-life balance is at high risk of becoming one of the most tired nostrums of our times. If murky in some abstract sense, it is intensely real to anyone and their family where the scales are out of kilter. I can’t tell you what it is for you or you or you. But, if honest with yourself, you know where the demarcation line is. Stay on the positive side of it.

3. Vary your routines within the day, week or year. Take on different roles in your practice, department or office The worktop should be on permanent simmer. Boredom is entropy at work. It has to be actively counter-weighted. Each person’s job description should remain fluid with a 5-10% change in functions annually. Some of us are self-starters in this regard, others need coaxing. This should be a part of the practice, departmental or institutional culture.

4. Make a conscious effort to learn something new. This applies equally to one’s personal and professional lives. Where is it written that from age 30-60 we should travel on some dull plateau? You know, there are so many pitfalls when we turn our passions into profits.

5. Celebrate successes. As high-achievers, we may take success for granted, an expectation met rather than an achievement to cheer about. Celebrations should include professional colleagues and your support staff. Make your support staff part of your professional family.

6. Set yourself some career goals. I’ve deliberately placed this last because part of me believes that physicians could do with toning down the goal-directed culture a little. Goals are good but go for them with an awareness of all the other points I’ve raised above. They should be directed to making your professional life more rewarding, not to beat yourself with, not to gain a competitive edge over another individual or practice.

And, the bottom line?

Your attitude is key. Learn to say Thank You. Mindset is powerful. All else flows from that.