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Tips for physicians to combat burnout naturally

Medical professionals have a naturally high rate of burnout typically 43 – 46 percent. What is to be done?

Taiwan boosts coronavirus testing for tech industry
A doctor teaches volunteer medical staff how to collect a swab sample for Covid-19 testing in Hsinchu, Taiwan - Copyright AFP Sam Yeh
A doctor teaches volunteer medical staff how to collect a swab sample for Covid-19 testing in Hsinchu, Taiwan - Copyright AFP Sam Yeh

The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought havoc on almost every aspect of our lives. Overwhelmed by workload, lack of sleep, societal and economic issues, and a dramatic increase in illness and death within their profession, physicians and healthcare workers are reporting professional burnout at all-time-high rates.

Looking at the wellbeing impact for Digital Journal is Dr. Teralyn Sell, psychotherapist and brain health expert. Sell highlights the prevalence of burnout among medical professionals and physicians during the pandemic.

In relation to this, Sell finds: “We are seeing it all over social media, burned-out doctors, nurses and mental health professionals. Medical professionals have a naturally high rate of burnout typically 43 – 46 percent with critical care physicians and nurses leading the burnout pack. Though the acute care medical staff has been a highlight, mental health professionals have been experiencing an extremely high rate of burnout at upwards of 61 percent. With the current state of the pandemic, we can likely see an increase in burnout in the medical and mental health fields.”

Sell moves on to consider the tell-tale signs: “There are many symptoms of burnout, here are a few of the most common: using alcohol or drugs to relax, overworking, disconnecting from friends and family, feeling numb (like you don’t want to talk anymore), not sleeping, not eating, irritability and sadness.”

Dr. Sell provides Digital Journal readers with four tips for individuals in the medical field looking to combat and avoid burnout naturally. These are:

TIP #1: Know your limits, don’t be a martyr

More often than not, we think we know our limits when it comes to work hours, but we do not. Just because you are upright and going to work and staying late doesn’t mean that you are sharp, engaged and productive. Throwing yourself on the proverbial sword is not truly a useful thing to do, nor is it noble. These professions are rife with messaging that we take care of others, at the expense of ourselves. Changing this mindset by putting boundaries and limitations on work is an important first step. Remember saying “NO” is a complete sentence.

TIP #2: Seek help

This should say, take time to seek help. As frontline workers, we back-burner our own physical and mental health care. If you know you are burned out but can’t seem to work your way out of it, make seeking help nonnegotiable. Additionally, make sure you take the time to get your physical health, dental and vision checkups done. Your health is the most important thing. Without it, you will help no one.

TIP #3: Change the way you look at self-care

We tend to look at self-care as opportunities to outsource our care to someone or something else like pedicures, massages, vacations or even alcoholic beverages. We need to change that and look at self-care as ways that you can take care of you when time or resources are limited. Self-care is the little things you do for yourself every single day that add up. Take breaks… if you can’t take a break, head to the bathroom and take 3 minutes to meditate or deep breathe. If you have no energy for physical activity, try doing some yoga and stretch it out. Mindset and thought pattern changes are also self-care. If you notice that your thoughts are of despair, negativity, doom, work on changing them to something simple like, “I’m ok right now” or “I’m doing the best I can”. Then, when you get the opportunity go for that massage as a special treat!

TIP #4: Eat

Eating is crucial, not optional. As healthcare professionals, food becomes optional during our busy days. Keep in mind that coffee is not food. Making sure you start your day with high-quality brain fuel and keep fueling up all day is the most important thing that you can do to avoid burnout. Using protein to fuel those neurotransmitters and reduce the stress caused by reactive hypoglycemia is one of the most important things you can do to stay sharp and mentally alert. Try for protein every 3 hours. Make it portable and convenient on the go foods or keep some ready-made protein shakes on hand. Also, make sure you remain hydrated.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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