Those in the medical industry must fully commit to their choice. They spend years gaining the education to properly treat injury and disease, they have full schedules, and they spend each day giving of themselves to help others feel better. The service our medical professionals provide is unmistakable, but it is not without its cost. Without proper care and attention, mental and emotional burnout in medical staff is a real threat, but the good news is that it can be prevented.
Defining Mental and Emotional Burnout
Burnout describes the unmanaged mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion that follows prolonged stress in the work environment. All employees are at risk. The nature of our society, the general shift toward always being on the go or always doing something, causes more people to struggle through careers or leave jobs each year.
Members of the medical profession are especially subject to the effects of physical, mental and emotional burnout. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the problem, leaving over half of medical staff feeling hollowed out. Each working day is spent in giving of oneself, and if a good balance between taking care of others and taking care of oneself cannot be achieved, burnout is sure to follow.
Manifestations of Burnout
Responses to mental and emotional burnout are unique to the individual, but there is some consistency. Medical personnel and their supervisors should be mindful of the common warning signs. Staff experiencing burnout may exhibit cynicism and irritability or reduced feelings of sympathy or empathy. On the other hand, they may experience hypersensitivity or anxiety. Both extremes are detrimental to healthcare workers and the patients they serve.
Many who experience burnout feel swallowed up in feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and depersonalization. This often causes them to withdraw from friends and family and increase their drug or alcohol use. Other eating patterns also tend to suffer. Concerned friends should at least look for the more visible symptoms even if the more cerebral or emotional side effects cannot be observed as readily.
Burnout is commonly associated with chronic emotional as well as physical fatigue. Physical effects include trouble sleeping, headaches, stomach pain or other gastrointestinal problems, and frequent illness. Typical remedies to these concerns may not have any effect on those suffering from burnout if the underlying cause, the load at work, is not first addressed.
Managing Burnout in Medical Personnel
The management of mental and emotional burnout must be a collaborative effort between the individual and management at the workplace. Both parties must not be too caught up in providing patient care that the wellbeing of their own employees is overlooked. When procedures are in place to prevent burnout, the health, safety, and happiness of medical staff is maintained, and a clinic or hospital can operate as it is meant to to help patients.
Prevention measures against burnout begin at home. Much can be said for a nutritious diet, subtle and consistent exercise, and a healthy sleep routine. The latter can be a bit more difficult to arrange with healthcare schedules, but medical staff should find a system that allows them to get sufficient hours of quality sleep.
In addition to the basics, measures to help calm and control the mind can help limit anxiety and worry. Meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga are good examples. While quality self-time may be needed after a long day or work week, healthcare workers should be careful to avoid people to the point of isolation. Connect with family and friends in healthy ways to foster two-sided relationships.
Members of the healthcare community know how important regular medical care can be. Those at risk of mental and emotional burnout should keep their appointments with regular physicians to ensure that feelings of burnout are not caused by something else and that burnout is not causing other physical problems. Licensed therapists and psychiatrists can help medical staff process their thoughts and feelings caused by burnout and address their concerns.
Sometimes the best treatment for burnout is a break. While negotiating healthcare schedules is a challenge, management at healthcare facilities should work with their staff and honor time off so employees can take the time to rest and rejuvenate. In some cases, scheduling or workload allocation changes may be required to give burned out staff room to breathe. Telephone triage services are designed to ease the load on care centers and help prevent the mental and emotional burnout of their medical personnel.