We all run the risk of burnout at work. Long hours, doing the same things, issues with coworkers, and emotional exhaustion can all contribute to professional burnout.
But did you know that physicians suffer more burnout than any other workers in the United States? According to studies, upwards of 46% of physicians have experienced burnout, and many more are at risk. As a board certified plastic surgeon and President of the Northwest Society of Plastic Surgery (NWSPS), I see it on a daily basis. The important thing is to take action. The good news is there are a number of things you can do to help prevent burnout, and these tips don’t just apply to physicians.
Find and Stick With an Enjoyable Hobby
It’s easy to let work take over your life, but having defined boundaries between your professional and personal life is crucial. One way to keep your work/life balance in check is to find a hobby you’re passionate about and enjoy doing. Being able to “escape” into your hobby for a while will bring you pleasure, keep your thoughts away from any work-related stress, and engage your mind.
Your hobby can be anything, but I like to emphasize the importance of creativity and activity because burnout is associated with idleness and rigid thinking. So find something that fits your interests and personality, that calls on your creative side and/or keeps you moving. As someone with a competitive edge, cycling and participating in triathlons is a perfect fit for me: they are great hobbies that also support my physical health and wellness. Which brings me to my next point.
Treat Your Body Well and Your Mind Will Follow
It’s a well-known fact that exercise not only keeps your body healthy, it is also one of the best ways to improve mental health. Because burnout often starts with emotional exhaustion, it makes sense that physical activity can provide direct benefit: it has been shown that exercise has a significant positive impact on depression and anxiety.
Engaging in regular exercise will also help you feel more energetic, relaxed, and sharp during the day while you’re working, which will inevitably influence your overall feelings about work itself. In my role as President of the NWSPS, I strongly advocate that physicians make movement a large part of their daily lives. Whether it’s hitting the gym, taking a run, or practicing yoga, moving your body will make a huge difference.
“Downtime” is Just as Important as Activity
While exercise is crucial to keeping your mind and body healthy, downtime should also play a role. Make sure you designate at least an hour per day of downtime to allow your body and mind to relax and unwind. I find meditation to be a great tool for mental clarity and relaxation, but “downtime” can consist of many different things.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Read a book simply for fun
- Take a relaxing bath while listening to your favorite calming music
- Sit outside and meditate on a good view
- Play a game with friends or family
- Take time to call an old friend or relative
Whatever you choose to do, it should be enjoyable, relaxing, and calming.
5 Questions to Help You Recognize the Signs of Burnout
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to avoid burnout is to recognize when you’re starting to show signs. Ask yourself these 5 questions:
- Have I lost enthusiasm for my work?
- Do I feel bitter or cynical most of the time?
- Do I still recognize and celebrate my work accomplishments?
- Am I annoyed by the people I work with or for on a regular basis?
- Do I feel mentally exhausted?
If you answer yes to more than two of these questions, it may be time to reevaluate your work/life balance and start employing some of the tips above. Making changes can seem daunting at first, but you can build new habits by starting with small, simple acts. I promise you will notice the benefits over time.
Dr. Kiya Movassaghi works in Eugene, Oregon in 2002 after spending 14 years in Boston where he completed his medical and surgical training at Harvard Medical School. His practice focuses on cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery. Dr. Movassaghi is also a Clinical Assistant Professor of Plastic Surgery at Oregon Health & Science University’s School of Medicine in Portland.