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July 9, 2019

3 Signs of Burnout and What to do About It

Did you know that the World Health Organization (WHO) recently recognized “Burnout” as an occupational risk? While it is not a medical condition or injury, burnout poses a real threat to your hospital, OR, or ASC.

Burnout is a syndrome characterized by a set of symptoms related to or caused by stressful working conditions. No one wants (or deserves) to continue working under constant stress, but for many in the healthcare industry, it may seem unavoidable. So, what can you do about burnout?

The good news is that thanks to WHO we now have the means to identify and treat this syndrome before it turns-over your entire department. Here are 3 signs of burnout and what you can do about it.

1.Your tired is tired.

We’re not talking about “end-of-a-long-surgery” or “end-of -three-12s-back-to-back” tired or even “short-staffed-on-4th-of-July-weekend” tired. We’re talking about the kind of tired that seeps into your bones. The kind of tired that hits you as soon as you wake up, not when you lay down. The kind of tired that doesn’t let you rest, even on your day off. You know— the tired.

What do you do?

When your rest isn’t restful, somethings’ gotta give. Make a list of the things you have to do. Take the last three and DELEGATE. Contact the least busy person in your phone and ask them for a favor. It doesn’t matter if it’s doing the dishes or washing your dog or watering your plants—just the fact of knowing you can rely on your tribe takes the pressure off (and may even give you time to squeeze in a power nap)

DO NOT suffer in silence. No one wants to be known as the negative coworker but ignoring the stress will only make it worse. Find a way to talk about these issues with your coworkers in a way that respects and promotes the integrity of your work environment. Or have a dedicated friend you can “vent” to (just make sure it’s mutual). Either way, don’t let it stew!

2. Life is a Dream (But Not in a Good Way)

People suffering from burnout may feel as though they are going through the motions. Some describe the experience as life passing you by as in a dream or a movie. This feeling of detachment or “mental distance” from one’s job is a strong indication that you’re not managing stress, but rather, stress is managing YOU.

What do you do?

You have two options: look to the past to find what sparked your initial passion for your position or look to the future for new and exciting challenges.

Whichever you choose, don’t take it as a failure if you can’t reignite that spark on your first try. If thinking about new challenges in your career overwhelms you, find a new skill or hobby to give you a sense of accomplishment. If you struggle to get in the same mindset as when you started your career, you may find helpful insight by reaching out to past friends from a time in your life when you felt motivated by your work. Talking with an old friend or mentor has the benefit of getting perspective from someone with a little distance who is still knowledgeable on the subject.

3. “Oops!”

Unfortunately, burnout from high-pressure jobs can lead to increased mistakes and lower professional efficacy. This exacerbates feelings of negativity surrounding one’s job exponentially.

What do you do?

The solution is to tune in to the minutia of your daily tasks. Pay careful attention to each detail and every move you make as you perform your duties. If you notice your mind beginning to wander, focus in on your breath or some other part of your body involved in accomplishing the next task on your to-do list.  This mindful approach to your work has the added benefit of reducing stress.

It is also important to remember to give yourself a break when you *do* eventually make a mistake. It’s only human. Even if the consequences are upsetting, dwelling on the mistake and potential/actual fallout will only lead to further distraction. If you’re not used to making professional errors, try not to look at the mistake in the context of how long you have done the job or how well you have performed in the past. Rather, approach it as an opportunity to set a new goal or professional challenge for yourself. Whether you have just been promoted or chewed-out by your supervisor, it doesn’t change your ability to do your job or your responsibility to continue to grow.

What is your solution?

Burnout is a real problem. And you shouldn’t wait till you see smoke to start putting out the fire. Talk to your coworkers, supervisors, and HR department leaders about the signs and symptoms of burn-out. An ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure, but in certain professions—especially healthcare—sources of workplace stress simply cannot be prevented or removed. Having the tools to diagnose and treat burn-out equips healthcare professionals to maintain a healthy, effective, and positive workplace.

For more info on how to fight burnout in the perioperative setting, checkout AORN’s 4 Stress-Relief Tools to Boost Nurse Morale

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