Everyone thinks they’re busy, and that the job they do is critical. That is especially true for healthcare providers who have life-and-death pressures to deal with, in addition to all of life’s other stress and challenges.
How do they manage it all? Preventing burnout means not just being efficient doing the work, but also taking time for yourself.
Taking time for yourself isn’t selfish, said Dr. Bev Smallwood, CEO of the business consulting firm Magnetic Workplaces in Hattiesburg. Smallwood is a psychologist who frequently gives workshops to healthcare organizations and other businesses.
“Finding time for yourself is more than challenging when you’re working hard to fulfill the needs and expectations of others — your employer, those you love and those you don’t love so much,” Smallwood said. “Yet, finding and taking time for yourself is a critical part of being emotionally healthy. Studies show that people who are overworked and burned out are less productive, provide poorer customer service and become generally emotionally exhausted. When you do things to keep up your morale and your energy, you save time in the long run. In any profession, you cannot afford to be at less than your personal best.”
Smallwood said healthcare professionals need to give themselves permission to take care of themselves, as well as others.
“Everybody profits when you make taking care of yourself a priority,” Smallwood said. “When you are at your best, you can be more open and attuned to the needs of others. Identify a menu of things that both relax and energize you. These could be things like a massage, a long, hot bath, exercising, creative projects and fun activities with family or friends.”
She recommends scheduling time for yourself. Make an appointment that is as firm as an appointment you’d make with a client or a loved one you want to please. “Book” things from your list of activities several times a week.
And it is also a good idea to schedule “mini-vacations” throughout the day.
Several times a day, take a minute or two to close your eyes, do some deep breathing and visualize relaxing scenes. Research has also shown that “power naps” (no more than 15-20 minutes) feel like a night’s sleep and energize you for several hours.
Lives on the line
Especially when other people’s lives are at stake, it is important to keep your life in balance.
“If you spend so many hours on any one area of your life, work or otherwise, that you neglect other things that are important to you, you’ll begin to feel guilty,” Smallwood said. “Others will begin to complain or show signs of neglect, which will add to your stress and decrease your effectiveness. Plan for quality time with those who are important to you. Take care of yourself physically by eating nutritionally, exercising and sleeping well. Don’t neglect your spiritual life, which can keep you in touch with the ‘why’ of all the things you do.”
If meeting the needs of others is important to you, that’s even more reason to keep yourself healthy. It’s hard to show love when you’re feeling irritable, burned-out and fatigued.
“Take the time to relax, to refocus and to renew your energy,” Smallwood said. “You and everyone around you will profit from it.”
It is also a good idea to be aware of major burnout symptoms. Noted burnout researchers Maslach and Jackson list three major burnout symptoms:
1. Emotional exhaustion. Do you feel that you have nothing much left to give? Like you want to either explode or go hide? Is your emotional energy level at an all-time low in work or home relations?
2. Depersonalization. Do you find yourself more cynical about people? Do you suspect their motives or expect the worst? If you are in a helping profession, do you find yourself thinking of people as “cases,” diagnoses or generically simply as “problems”?
3. Reduced sense of accomplishment. Does it seem you are working harder and getting less done? Do you picture yourself in a squirrel cage walking and running, but going in circles and not getting anywhere?
“If these three factors describe you, you could be burning out,” Smallwood said. “Interestingly, it is typically the most committed people who are vulnerable to burnout.”
She recommends three strategies for combating burnout:
1. It is okay to say no — really! It’s not essential that everyone’s needs (perceived or real) be met all the time, and it’s certainly not your responsibility to keep everyone happy. Hang out with some people who like you but don’t need anything. Learn to set your boundaries so that both your relationships and you will last longer.
2. Change something. When you are down, go on a vacation or even a weekend getaway. Think of a creative new way to get something done and do it differently. Sign up for a class to develop a new hobby. In your workaholic schedule, ink in some time for fun and play.
3. Revive your spirit. Spend some regular time alone connecting with your faith and nature. Journaling is advised, particularly prayer journaling. Pause to count your blessings and give thanks. Notice the little answers to prayers. At work, remind yourself of the meaning and purpose of what you do. Recall times when you knew you were in the flow of what you were made to do, and look for opportunities to do more of that.
“Balance your giving to others with these essential strategies for recharging your internal resources and, like the Energizer Bunny, you’ll be able to keep on going and going and going,” Smallwood said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.