Some of the professionals and businesspeople I coach have been close to a burnout or have had to take sick leave due to burnout. Before hitting the wall, and taking sick leave, they were putting in long hours, unable to cope with crushing workloads, chronically exhausted and empty of hope.
Watching someone lose his or her zest for life and become more fearful, anxious and depressed is heartbreaking.
The circumstances and conditions leading up to feeling burned out, or overwhelmed and stressed, are different for everyone. But the similarities are striking with respect to feeling depleted of energy, unmotivated ("what’s the point of it all?"), and in a fog of self-doubt and insecurity regarding on-the-job performance and competence.
I have a longstanding personal and professional interest in health and medicine. This includes working in healthcare research, designing educational programs to improve chronic care self-management strategies, and developing continuing medical education programs designed for family physicians, specialists and oncology pharmacists.
Research has shown that medical students, residents and physicians are at an especially high risk for burnout. Over and above long hours, they face clinical challenges in settings and situations where mistakes carry significant consequences.
“As physicians, we are perfectly capable of 'running on empty' and continuing to see patients long after we are completely drained and exhausted. Building this capacity to work despite complete exhaustion is a core component of our medical education. Learning how to keep going no matter what — is part of surviving residency.This survival mechanism makes sense if you have a defined end point … like graduation. However, once you get out into private practice … your whole life stretches out ahead of you. There is only so long that you can continue to practice on empty before something bad happens. And empty is just the beginning for many of us”
We know that sustained high stress over time undermines our health seriously. It is a risk factor for depression, anxiety and many chronic diseases. Existing physical or mental health issues (and their symptoms) also become more marked and intense due to stress.
Things just get worse under stress!
We do less or no exercise when stressed. We eat more and it tends to be fattier, saltier and sweeter. Smokers smoke more. Drinkers drink more.
Our bad habits get badder!
And, when you hit the wall, you have some choices
Endless online resources and books have great suggestions on how to protect yourself against stress and burnout. And you can't let yourself go. Because once you are in a depleted state, with little or no surplus energy, the simplest task or change feels impossible.
When I need to boost my energy, I have a talk with myself:
By becoming more aware of what zaps, and what boosts, it's easier to fire the energy-drainers and hire the energy boosters.
Some weeks you can do more and others less. And remember: When you're approaching the wall, you do have choices.
With a zap and a boost,
My family, relationships, movement, nature, flexibility of mind, exploration of alternative perspectives & openness are central to my life.