Symptoms of burnout that are plaguing physicians and society include feelings of cynicism, apathy, depersonalization, and fatigue. These are associated with anxiety, depression, and suicide. In fact, more than 400 physicians each year die by suicide.
So much is written about the causes and what can be done to change these statistics. Whether it’s from the leadership standpoint, the autonomy of physicians, the burdens insurance places on physicians and their practices, or the time physicians might not have to take care of themselves.
In all aspects, from the birds-eye view to the self as a physician, a key component to transcend feelings of apathy, guilt, and shame is to
lead with love.
Learning self-love and self-compassion are critical to the way we deal with anything. Understanding our inner worth and power shows we have self-love, which helps set boundaries. And it takes learning to use our voice and say no to things that are not serving us as physicians or as patients.
So many physicians lead their life with a fear of the “what ifs,” “shoulds,” and “buts.” They don’t realize that making any decision from a place of fear is only contributing to them being stuck in a place they don’t want to be.
Fear activates the sympathetic nervous system, which leads to cortisol being released and thus starting the fight or flight response. We are hypervigilant and reactive (ready to fight), but our prefrontal cortex, or the planning part of the brain, is shut off. It also decreases dopamine and serotonin, which are neurotransmitters that help us feel happy and calm.
Leading with love also means letting go of the ego and leading with humility, understanding we are not experts but students of life. This is a big challenge, as we are always taught. We are experts. We are the best. We are the crème of the crop.
Yet because of our human nature, which is imperfect, there will always be complications, bad outcomes, patient deaths, and, yes, even lawsuits.
If our entire identity is built on being the best, knowing everything as an expert, and everything is going well, our façade of the ego crumbles when we don’t live up to those expectations. We quickly tumble down to feelings of despair, impostor syndrome, shame, and guilt that can quickly lead us to hopelessness and even suicide.
Instead, when we realize we are always learning, every situation is a learning opportunity, and we let go of false beliefs of perfection, we never will be. We let go of the heavy burden. We begin to feel freedom. We realize all humans go through similar challenges, and we are more alike than different. Yes, we all have unique gifts, but we are the same. There is no better than, higher than. We see the humanity in all. Again, we lead with humility and not the ego of all the temporary roles and titles we accumulate.
We must ask ourselves, what are all these roles for? Is it to help humanity and others, or is it to try to validate my worthiness that I don’t feel internally? When we don’t feel self-love and worthiness internally, we try to display it with titles, possessions, and status to outwardly show our worthiness and importance.
Yet what happens to us internally when these external validators are taken away? When we are no longer a physician, perhaps due to an injury, when we lose our house or possessions due to a poor investment or unexpected bills — what happens to our worthiness? It begins to crumble once again as all our worth is tied to it.
Instead, when we focus on our innate worthiness despite the temporary titles and roles and focus on love, humility, and gratitude, we begin to get out of the molasses of leading a life of jealousy and competition. It’s then that we begin to see and feel love and truly experience joy and peace. The inverse of burnout, chronic stress, and worry is joy, enthusiasm, love, and peace.
Anyone can start a path to feel these emotions when we set an intention to lead our lives from a different place. It takes work, it takes intention to what we pay attention to and what we decide to hold on to or let go of. We have many attachments to ideas, emotions, positions, and roles. When we do not let go of them, they will lead us to pain, worry and stress.
When we begin to feel worried or depressed, it is a sign that we are leading our life in a way that is not true to our nature. We are deviating from a path of authenticity. Our body will signal something is not right, but we tend to suppress the signals and push through it
as we are so busy in the quest to “get somewhere.”
There seems to be no time to pause to listen to what the body is telling us because we all have somewhere to be. Something to achieve.
Something to do. Something to get.
What if we could just be?
Be in the moment and pause on what is happening now. Realize that the worry, the rumination is because we are stuck in the past that has already happened or catastrophizing the future that is not here.
Yes, we cannot control what happens. We can’t control accidents — your house burning down, getting sued, or losing a child — but we can control how we react to them. Learning we have control over how we react and lead our lives will give you control and make you the creator of your life, not the victim.
Pause, take control of your life, and make the decision to lead with love, humility, and gratitude. Every day is a gift.
Diana Londoño is a urologist and can be reached on Twitter @DianaLondonoMD.
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