Dr Saeema Ghafur, Clinical Psychologist and Founder of Psyma Mental Health Technologies Ltd, shares her thoughts on avoiding professional burnout as a GP.
If constant stress has you feeling helpless, disillusioned, and completely exhausted, you may be on the road to burnout. Burnout is far more than feeling blue or having a bad day. It is a chronic state of being out of sync with your job, feeling exhausted or emotionally drained and is accompanied by depersonalisation, manifesting as cynicism and negativity, and a reduced sense of accomplishment.
The unhappiness and detachment that burnout causes can threaten your job, your relationships, and your health. But by recognising the earliest warning signs, you can take steps to prevent burnout.
Spotting the signs of burnout
- Loss of enthusiasm
- Low mood
- Feelings of guilt, failure and blame
- Work avoidance/ lateness
- Deterioration in interpersonal conduct
- Inflexible behaviour Acting out (typically alcohol/ drugs)
- Sleep disturbance
- Lowered immunity
- Headache or muscle pain
In medicine, burnout is the biggest occupational hazard of the 21st century. In fact, doctors are more prone to mental health problems than any other profession. A report in the British Medical Journal in 2011 found that a third of doctors have a mental health disorder. So why are so many doctors experiencing these difficulties at work?
There are several factors that can lead to burnout including: increased workload, with more appointments required for our ageing population, shorter appointment times hindering quality of care, the loss of traditional support networks resulting in over-dependence on doctors and rising patient expectations resulting in more complaints.
Strategies to prevent burnout
The effects of these stressors can be devastating, however, small changes in the right places can be transformative. In order to put helpful strategies into place it is essential to firstly recognise that you may have burnout.
Take a step back and see yourself objectively. It may be that you need to care for yourself. If you are not getting the attention, care and compassion you need as a clinician, how can you pay that forward to your patients.
Share your concerns with fellow doctors, recognise that you are not alone and that there is help available. Talking to your manager to see what changes could be made to make your work-life balance better can reduce stress at work.
Reassess your personal goals. Burnout can occur when your work is out of sync with your values or when it’s not contributing to long term goals.
Focusing on your health and well-being is pivotal in reducing symptoms of burnout. Getting plenty of exercise can help boost your mood, reduce stress and improve your overall health. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating well and drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
These might sound obvious but often busy professionals ignore their most basic needs, instead caring for others and their responsibilities far more than they take care of themselves.
There are things you can do at work to buffer you from burnout; develop friendships at work, join team coffee breaks, take a break from screen time (including mobile phones), take a walk and engage in some quick and simple relaxation strategies such as deep breathing and mindfulness.
These strategies can be extremely powerful and help to reduce stress at work.
Until we accept that burnout is almost a universal experience amongst doctors and that most doctors have experienced symptoms of it at some point in their career, it is unlikely that we will succeed in creating a working environment in which the threat of burnout can be lessened.