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Burnout in Medical Professionals and Students

It is a widely accepted notion that the field of medicine is one of the most challenging and strenuous professions globally. This field not only brings with it a greater sense of responsibility, perfectionist standards but also a certain level of self-satisfaction. For professionals and students, earlier it was commonly believed that the study of medicine requires them to put in their intellectual capabilities, but it is a known fact now that this field leads to a lot of emotional and psychological wear and tear. Long working hours, erratic schedules, emergency calls, negative patient responses, piles and heaps of books to study, working away from families, can take a toll on any normally functioning human being as time progresses. Research studies indicate that a significant percentage of medical professionals and students go through anxiety, depression, and heavy psychological distress. But the one issue that is seen and faced, in monumentally higher percentages, is ‘Burnout’.

The concept of burnout comes from the field of psychology. Burnout is conceptualized as the persistent physical, mental, or emotional exhaustion caused by long-term stress, usually as a result of excessive workplace and/or personal responsibilities. A nationwide survey on burnout in medical professionals was conducted by Doctor Pranav Modi and Amit Gharpure, where 500 doctors across India filled a questionnaire. Almost 45% of the respondents scored high on the factor of emotional exhaustion and 66% suffered from depersonalization. Another study conducted in India also points out towards similar results, a cross-sectional survey was conducted among 482 registered medical practitioners across India. The results suggested that high burnout levels were uniformly recorded for the entire population. Studies have also suggested that the prevalence of burnout among residents varies from 50% to 76%, depending on the specialty.

The classical signs and symptoms of physician burnout

1) Emotional Exhaustion: You are completely drained after the office day, hospital rounds, or being on call and are unable to recover with time off. Over time your energy level begins to follow a downward spiral.

2) Depersonalization: You end up being cynical and wry about patients. Your attitude is negative, detached, uncaring. This aspect of burnout is usually alluded to as “compassion fatigue." It is often easier for you to see this in others than notice it in yourself.

3) Reduced Accomplishment: Here you begin to question whether you’re offering quality care and whether what you do matters by any means. (Source- An article by the HelpGuide, 2019)

How can you recover from physician burnout? Strategies to help you reset:

1. Take A Break

Working too long without taking a break can exhaust you mentally and physically. The best way to deal with this is by taking timely breaks and spending quality time with your family and friends or going on a well-deserved vacation. There is a chance that you might not be able to take a long vacation or break but you can always take a weekend off.

2. Stay connected with people!

When doctors start to feel burned out, very often they start to pull back from others. This can lead to a vicious cycle of feeling socially isolated and spacing out from those closest to you who often want to offer help and support. Look for ways to connect with family and friends regularly. Staying in touch with those who care about you will help with keeping up great emotional well-being during long periods of self-isolation.

3. Build a support system

Talk to people you trust. Opening up to people about the distress you’re experiencing can take some courage, especially when you wrongly worry they’ll see you as incapable or lazy. But battling through burnout alone can make overcoming it seem difficult. Frank discussions can also help you or your colleagues spot warning signs early. And you never know, your loved ones may have experienced burnout themselves and could have some valuable insight to share.

4. Prioritize work-life balance

Finding the proper physician work-life balance means taking care of your emotional and physical well-being. The key to keeping up a decent work-life balance is to check in with yourself at regular points during the day, week, and month. This helps you to identify your stressors. Determining the triggers permits you to plan for extra relaxation to cope up

Here’s a small article by themindfulmom to help you balance your work while maintaining your sanity and happiness: Physician Work Life Balance: 10 Things Physicians Need to Know

5. Identify immediate changes you can make

Try to recognize a few ways to lighten your load. And the two immediate steps you can take towards it are, delegate things amongst your colleagues and set boundaries. Evaluate your existing commitments and consider canceling or rescheduling a few if they are not of utmost importance the immediate relief this brings may surprise you!

Setting limits on the time you give to others can help you manage stress while recovering from burnout. Part of this also involves learning to say NO. Being selective of your time doesn’t point towards laziness or inefficiency, it’s called protecting your ownself and your own mental health.

6. Exercise!

As we struggle with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to forget an important component of health-related to the immune system: exercise! The body’s response to exercise is to launch into a cascade of cellular mechanisms that help in protecting the body from viral illnesses. Besides, there is clear evidence to prove that exercise reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety in everyone.. This is a very important benefit of maintaining an active routine during this period of isolation and stress. Confused about how to start an exercise regimen?

Try: Exercise is Medicine

Feeling lazy? Here are 7 simple ways to motivate yourself to exercise: 7 Simple Ways To Motivate Yourself To Exercise According To Science | TIME

7. Tune into your favorite beats and go with the rhythm!

Music is a good stress reliever. For instance, listening to soothing music when you are exhausted can change your mood. Listening to music has been shown to improve memory functioning, increase the rate of healing, ease pain, lessen anxiety, and improve your cognition amongst other benefits.

8. Read something non-medical

Even if you enjoy catching up on the latest medical news in your spare time, spending 10 minutes engrossed in a good novel or magazine can get your head out of workday stresses and help you feel refreshed. A little trip to the fictional universe will do you a world of good!:)

9. Practice self-compassion

Reaching a point of burnout can raise sentiments of disappointment, failure, and a loss of purpose or life direction. You might feel as if you can’t do anything properly or you’ll never achieve your goals. What you are forgetting is that if you are burned out, you have already used up your reservoir of energy. You've done more than what is generally capable and now it's time to step back and replenish yourself.

What would you say to a friend if she/he was in your situation?

Chances are, you’d offer empathy and kindness and support. Why not direct the same compassion and solicitude towards yourself then? Remind yourself you don’t have to be perfect, and that it’s okay to step back for a while.

10. Look for warning signs of burnout, and get help when needed!

If you’re a physician who’s going through a hard time, you’re not alone. Talk to somebody. And if you see a colleague suffering, please get them help. Although, asking for psychological help is stigmatized, ignoring warning signs of burnout leads to worse outcomes including depression, substance abuse, dependence, and impaired relationships. Try to be mindful about these signs. Confronting burnout isn’t easy, especially when it’s already taken a toll on your relationships and quality of life, hence seek the assistance of a therapist, he or she can help you identify its causes, explore possible coping methods, and navigate any life challenges that are contributing to burnout.

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