There has been a lot of increased focus on burnout in health workers over the past two years—with good reason. The added stress of a global health crisis to an inefficient system created a compounding effect on a pre-existing issue. This has led to soaring rates of burnout and increased the overwhelm, moral injury, trauma, and stress that clinicians were already facing.
The great resignation is at our doorstep as well. According to recent data from the ongoing Larry A. Green Center Quick COVID-19 Primary Care Survey, 25 percent of clinicians expect to leave practice within three years. We are facing an unprecedented crisis in medicine.
As an occupational medicine physician and certified life and embodiment coach (who experienced burnout during my first residency and in my early post-graduate career), solving the burnout equation has become my mission. But to truly solve it, we have to take a deeper look at the contributing factors.
There are three main factors that cause burnout: workplace, lifestyle, and personality factors. Most people experiencing burnout are acutely aware of unsatisfactory work-related factors such as working in a demanding high-pressure field, having little control over scheduling and office operating procedures, and feeling undervalued and underappreciated.
But two-thirds of the burnout equation has nothing to do with the job itself.
This is great news because it means you can immediately shift your experience of burnout–without leaving medicine.
Here are five lifestyle and personality-related reasons that the women in medicine I coach are burned out:
1. Lack of clarity. When you don’t understand the thoughts, beliefs and patterns of behavior that keep you stuck in the burnout cycle.
2. Lack of self-connection. When you struggle with guilt, self-judgment, and imposter syndrome instead of developing self-love, self-compassion, and self-trust.
3. Lack of productivity. When you have a story or limiting beliefs about time and don’t have an effective time management system that is aligned with your natural rhythm to enable to be effortlessly productive.
4. Lack of burnout-proof habits. When you don’t have a consistent self-care practice or routine to replenish your cup, which amplifies exhaustion and burnout even more.
5. Lack of boundaries. When you don’t have clear standards for how you engage with others and with yourself.
I suspect most women in medicine have experienced all of these at some point in their career, but some of you reading this may be experiencing all of them right now. I developed a three-step approach to burnout recovery in my coaching practice that addressed each of these factors.
The process of burnout recovery begins with developing awareness. It’s critical to see and understand your unique thinking and behavior patterns. Everything we do serves a purpose and provides a benefit (even if it’s very slight or seems counterintuitive). This typically happens at a very deep level (in the primitive part of the brain), but you can use your neocortex to understand how you think, reframe beliefs that aren’t serving you and create new neural pathways to eliminate burnout.
After better understanding how you think and feel, a lot of mental and emotional drama can come up. In this phase of the process, it’s important to receive yourself with compassion and kindness (instead of judgment in shame) as you start to see more clearly the illusions that you’ve come to believe about what it means to be a woman, a professional, a daughter, wife or whatever category or label applies to you. Also, becoming a clinician is often traumatic, and there may be experiences that you never fully process. Doing the inner work to liberate these anchors that hold you down will free up more of your energy.
During the final step of the process, you set up your inner and outer environment in a way that supports you. To manage your time more efficiently, you re-write your time story and re-frame your limiting beliefs about time. Once you clean up your thoughts on time, you can create a weekly schedule that is aligned for you and feels nourishing instead of draining (which allows you to get more done in less time). You learn how to create and embody healthy boundaries so you can navigate your personal and professional relationships with ease and grace. You will step into feminine-centered leadership as you create a vision for your career that truly excites you.
Of course, it will still be necessary to target the workplace factors contributing to burnout on a more macro-level (or it could involve a job change). But you don’t have to wait for something outside of you to change before you get relief from burnout. By addressing these five reasons, you can start shifting your experience of burnout today.
Claudine Holt is an occupational medicine physician and life and embodiment coach.
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