By Amanda Rights, OD,
May 16, 2018
Feelings of burnout, in which you feel your energy lagging and your passion for optometry lessening, can happen to any OD–even a new one like myself. Fortunately, there are signs that tell you burnout could be coming, and strategies to apply to re-energize your life and career.
Burnout is a long-term reaction in response to chronic stress, characterized by persistent emotional exhaustion, cognitive weariness and physical fatigue. Psychologist Christina Maslach defined burnout as “a psychological syndrome involving emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment that occurs among various professionals who work with other people in challenging situations.” When left unchecked, excessive stress can wreak havoc on health, happiness and professional success, eventually leading to occupational burnout.
It may be surprising to hear a newly graduated optometrist talking about burnout, but it is something I have experienced firsthand: After years of intensive academic training and study, preparing for licensure examinations, and ultimately, practicing optometry full-time with writing and consulting work on the side, I would come home drained and self-protective, hiding in a shell of physical and emotional exhaustion.
Red Flags You’re Burning Out
Burnout can affect your emotional, behavioral and physical well-being.
Emotional signs and symptoms of burnout
• Loss of motivation or enthusiasm
• Cynicism and pessimism
• Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
• Boredom or loss of enjoyment of activities
• Feeling helpless, trapped and defeated
Behavioral signs and symptoms of burnout
• Withdrawing from responsibilities, friends and family
• Inappropriately taking out your frustrations on others
• Procrastination, difficulty concentrating or forgetfulness
• Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early
• Using food, alcohol or drugs to cope
Physical signs and symptoms of burnout
• Mental and physical lethargy (often feeling tired or drained)
• Tiredness that does not respond to adequate rest
• Lowered immunity and frequently feeling unwell
• Chronic headaches, back pain or muscle aches
• Change in appetite or sleep habits
What You Can Do to Feel Better
The Power of “No”
I turned my focus inwards through the use of self-care techniques such as exercise, yoga, meditation and dietary changes to mitigate the effects of stress. I developed morning and evening routines to set aside time for myself, and to ease my mind. I learned to vocalize my needs as a priority, and to say “no” more often.
Get Rid of Monotony
Doing the same tasks everyday at the same times each day, and doing those tasks the same way, can be enervating. Here are some ways to change things up:
Learn something new and expand your skill-set. Your work will be more interesting and engaging when new information and abilities are added.
Learn more about a topic that interests you. Incorporate a new piece of equipment to your office, or new testing procedure to your exam, or offer specialty services.
Network with colleagues and industry professionals. Spend time with like-minded individuals who share your passion for the profession.
Attend continuing education conferences, events and meetings. Be inspired by the latest technology, eyewear and research in the eyecare industry.
Volunteer and connect with your community. Host a vision screening at your local health fair. Lecture at a local community college, or senior center, about vision care or ocular disease. Visit a school on career day to talk about your role as an optometrist.
Vary your weekly work schedule. Instead of “9-to-5,” arrange your schedule so that you start and end at different times on different days. Shift your break times, or maybe split your one-hour lunch break into two segments (e.g., 45-minute lunch break and 15-minute break later in the afternoon).
Head outside the office during lunchtime.We spend most of our day inside a windowless exam room. During your lunch break, go outside for fresh air and sunshine. Take a walk, or hit the gym, to clear your mind and de-stress.
Take a break from work. Spend time with family and friends. Go on a vacation, and just relax. Make time for quiet reflection and meditation. Dedicate time to a hobby.
Sometimes you can’t do it alone. You try making changes on your own, and can’t figure your way out of burnout. Here are some resources to help you:
“Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder” by Arianna Huffington
“Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living” by Shauna Niequist
A Special Collection of Interviews from ‘Beyond Resiliency Training: Organizational Strategies to Alleviate Burnout and Increase Wellness in Academic Medicine’ by The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center