By Jennifer Jabaley, OD
July 13, 2016
The other day I was talking to a recent OD grad. She was enthusiastically telling of a recent patient encounter. Pride and accomplishment oozed from her pores and it got me honestly thinking – when was the last time I felt that exhilarated by a day at the office?
I put in a few phone calls to some colleagues and asked them their current state of engagement at their jobs. One friend laughed. “I’m too exhausted trying to run my practice, help my children with homework, chauffeur them to activities, cook, clean and do laundry to be exhilarated by any patient encounter.” Another friend said, “In the beginning I felt those moments of appreciation, like I was really making a difference. But now, honestly, sometimes it just seems like a daily grind. It’s become, well, a bit monotonous.”
I realize that most of us have days when we feel bored, overloaded or underappreciated, when the myriad of balls we juggle aren’t noticed, let alone valued. But what is the difference between a busy, demanding life and true burnout?
Burnout is a gradual process that occurs over an extended period of time. The American Psychological Association defines burnout as “an extended period of time where someone experiences exhaustion and a lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance.” Dr. David Ballad, head of APA’s Psychological Healthy Workplace Program says: “A lot of burnout really has to do with experiencing chronic stress.”
Chronic stress is characterized by high emotions, anxiety, loss of energy. Left unchecked, over time, an abundance of stress can wreak havoc on health, happiness and workplace success, eventually rolling over into true burnout.
Physical Signs and Symptoms of Burnout
Feeling tired or drained frequently is a classic sign of burnout. True physical ailments such as chronic headaches, backaches and a change in appetite or sleep habits can be signs and symptoms of burnout.
Emotional Signs and Symptoms of Burnout
A helpless, defeated or detached state of mind are indications that someone might be experiencing burnout. Additionally, a decreased sense of satisfaction or accomplishment are hallmark characteristics.
Behavioral Signs and Symptoms of Burnout
If you find yourself isolating from friends, withdrawing from activities that were once enjoyable or procrastinating more often, these could be indications that you are showing signs of burnout.
True burnout is not solely caused by stress at work or too many responsibilities at home. Other factors also contribute to the gradual process of burnout.
Work Related Causes of Burnout
Working in a high-pressure or chaotic environment can naturally contribute to burnout. But also, a lack of recognition, or rewards, or doing work that is monotonous or un-challenging can also lead someone down the path to burnout.
Lifestyle Causes of Burnout
Working too much without any downtime or vacations can contribute to the gradual process of burnout. Not getting enough sleep or not having enough supportive relationships are also factors.
Personality Traits That Contribute to Burnout
High-achieving, Type A personalities, often found in optometrists, are most prone to burnout.
If you recognized some of these signs and symptoms, and feel like you’re experiencing burnout, how can you prevent slipping farther down the hole and regain balance?
Burnout Prevention Tips
Actively Address the Problem
Take a proactive rather than passive approach to issues on the job to combat workplace stress. If you are employed, assert yourself and express your needs to your superior. If you own a practice, delegate some responsibilities within your office staff to lighten the administrative load. If you are in a partnership, make sure you and your partner designate specific meeting times for regular discussions of the practice to address issues before they mount. Have written guidelines and responsibilities so one person doesn’t shoulder a greater chunk of the load. Consider shifting responsibilities to ward off monotony.
Force yourself to slow down or take a vacation. Even a day or two of new scenery can offer great relief to stress or boredom. Cut back on commitments and activities that are not essential. Today children participate in many more activities than when I was young. I see parents constantly shuffling from one place to another with no down time or fun time for themselves. Actively look for carpool opportunities to lessen the driving obligations, and don’t be afraid to put limits on kids. Additionally, when community clubs and organizations request participation or volunteers, don’t be afraid to say no. I’ve learned the hard way that people quickly learn who is willing to volunteer and sometimes abuse your willingness to help.
On the flip side, however, occasionally volunteering in activities that you truly love can be an amazing experience. Doing mission work within optometry, whether it’s on a grand scale in a foreign country, or charity work for a local vision screening for an under-served population, can cast a new light on our special gifts and talents as eye doctors. It can allow us to see our daily jobs in a new light, renewing our sense of purpose.
Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle
A good diet, regular exercise and enough sleep will give you stamina and resilience to be the energetic and enthusiastic optometrist you once were fresh out of school.
Take a Break from Technology
Most optometrists spend an enormous amount of time looking at technology, whether it’s EHRs on an iPad or computer screen, Optos or retinal photos and office software. Then, we stare at our phones, laptops or devices at home. As eyecare professionals, we should know this is too much stress on our eyes, and yet we all do it. Additionally, the pull of social media can trap us into scrolling for hours, never mind giving our eyes or minds a break. Dedicate a time each day to truly unplug and rest.
Crate a work environment that you and your employees enjoy coming to. Having a positive, enjoyable atmosphere will boost morale and prevent both employer and employee burnout.
Optometry is a great profession, but it can be demanding both mentally and physically. Take steps to prevent job burnout, or recognize if you are at risk. Then take appropriate actions to try and regain a positive work-life balance and rediscover the joy and enthusiasm we all had as new graduates, engaged and enthusiastic about every patient encounter.