I came very close to giving up years of education and hard work to hang my hat up as a clinical psychologist.
Three years ago, I was starting to burnout doing 50 clinical hours a week. A fifty-hour week was considered slow. Sometimes I had to do more to keep up with the literature and best practices.
The constant stress of bureaucracy and vicarious trauma was also draining me empty. I knew I had to do something or I will lose out on the career I love. I also didn’t want to leave my career so I had to make a change elsewhere.
I went and revisited my old love, my artistic self. Through some exploration and a few accidents in sip-and-paint classes, I found ceramics and I felt more invigorated soon after. Transforming an amorphous lump of clay into a unique utensil I use everyday day brought a sense of newness.
This newness provided momentum for more changes in my perspectives and eventually my life.
I think about it and smile every time I take a sip out of my cup.
People often use the term burnout to describe being overly fatigued. Burnout is much more complex, dangerous, and costly.
Graduate school was incredibly difficult and at the end of my third year, I was feeling very tired. I thought it was normal to feel beaten up since I was going to school full-time, completing a practice rotation, completing qualifying exams, and had a part-time job. I was noticing myself being highly irritable and disconnected from the field I love so much. I observed that in my peers as well.
It concerned me so much that I decided to look into it. Once I learned its name and its detrimental effect, I decided to spend my dissertation year on it.
A recent report by the American Medical Association reported that almost 50% of physicians experience burnout. The number seemed to have gone up when I was researching the topic five years ago. Physicians who experience burnout make more mistakes. In the past year, there were several reports of physician suicides due to the demand of the job.
Other professions with high burnout rates include nurses, social workers, attorneys, police officers, teachers, accountants, and those who work in retail. The mistakes, decrease in productivity, and absenteeism from burnout can be costly to companies and their employee.
Burnout is more than being tired. Its presentation can be broken down into three categories.
This is emotional and physical exhaustion and at times can look very familiar to symptoms of depression. At times, emotional exhaustion can lead to a depressive episode and exacerbates the symptoms of those with a history of depression. Some common signs are easily irritable, sadness, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, and difficulty focusing.
When people are at this stage, they are starting to feel disconnected from the people with whom they work. This may look like a physician with “bad bedside manners” or a retail worker exhibiting “as if they don’t care” behaviors.
Burnout can impact a person’s life values and the progress of their goals. People may sound defeated or even hopeless about their careers. At times, it can look like “this is the best I can get anyway.”
Those who experience burnout often jump from job to job hoping they would feel more invigorated and anew (which works but not for the reason they think) or they leave their career altogether.
Burnout happens when there’s prolonged exposure to moderate to high stress. The duration of the stress is more predictive of burnout than intensity. Although intensity can speed up the process. However, that’s not the whole story. There is more to burnout than stress.
A perceived lack of control, irregular and long hours, a sense of not-being-valued, inadequate support, and poor coping skills are some of the other factors that can contribute to burnout.
Burnout is best prevented because trying to get someone out of burnout is a much longer and more difficult process. Burnout prevent can and should happen at the systemic level in an organization. Increase employees’ morale with changes to working culture, hours, and benefits are some good starter.
On a personal level, increasing coping skills, utilizing the right type of supports, and taking breaks from work with hobbies or travel, and a holistic approach to self-care can help to reduce the risks of burnout.
I know you are probably tired of reading the word burnout in this article. However, burnout is common and at times can be created in other contexts of life. While it is damaging and hard to avoid, the good news is we can prevent it and treat it. We just have to know when it is here.
You can follow Dr. Long on Instagram @adaptive_mind.
Dr. Long Quach is a clinical psychologist. He specialises in emotional management, anxiety, burnout, impulse control, relationships enrichment & infidelity in relationship. His #1 goal is to help each individual create meaningful and healthy changes so they can live their life in the most meaningful way. He has worked in different colleges and universities, hospitals, and community outpatient centres with a wide age range, sexual and gender expression, cultural and ethnic identities, and clinical presentations. His experience is with CBT, psychodynamic, mindfulness approaches, solution focus, and motivational interviewing with individuals, couples, and family. You can reach him at www.adaptivemindpsychological.com