"I'm feeling burned out." Many of us have heard this phrase recently—or said it ourselves. As we start to return to normal after more than sixteen months of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are just tired.
Those in the helping profession are more susceptible to burnout, and COVID-19 has dramatically increased that potential. Now is the time to talk about being burned out, learn to contest this issue, and reach out for help if needed.
So, how do you define burnout? What are the signs to look for? How do you cope? Tina Halliday, LCSW, Behavioral Sciences Manager at Huntsman Mental Health Institute, discusses burnout and offers some helpful tips and ways to combat this sense of hopelessness in the workplace.
How do you define burnout?
Burnout is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as the "exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually because of prolonged stress or frustration." On top of this, the World Health Organization (WHO) added burnout to the International Classification of Diseases in 2019, labeling it as a global health concern right before the COVID-19 pandemic. In Utah, the burnout among health care workers is real. "We call it 'compassion fatigue' because this is something that has existed for a long time prior to the pandemic and is certainly something that should be considered as fallout from the pandemic too." Halliday says.
What are signs of burnout?
Signs of burnout include:
- Mental and emotional exhaustion
- Reduced ability to be empathic and sympathetic
- Anger or irritability
- Increased use of alcohol and drugs
- Diminished sense of enjoyment in day-to-day activities and with your career
- Increased anxiety
- Hypersensitivity or insensitivity to emotional material
- Difficulty separating work life from personal life
- Absenteeism (missing work)
- Overly high expectations of yourself
- Sleep disturbance
- Not taking time off for yourself
How to do you cope with burnout and compassion fatigue?
"The best way to cope with burnout is to establish a good support system in your personal and professional life." Halliday says. "There are many healthy ways to cope including: physical exercise, relaxation, mindfulness, good rest, and nutrition. It's important to be self-nurturing, too, by spending time with others, varying your activities from the workplace to personal space, being patient with yourself, taking time for introspection, spending time in nature, laughing as often as you can, and practicing gratitude."
Potential consequences of job burnout?
"There are many negative consequences of job burnout including, but not limited to, increased sick days, loss of productivity, and strain on your overall health—mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual," Halliday says. "Burnout can cause you to lose a sense of balance in life and lose passion for your work. Burnout creates a vicious cycle of working harder to fix the situation, which contributes to exhaustion, withdrawal, depression, and anxiety, often leading people to rely on substances like alcohol or drugs to cope."
In the health care profession, leaving your work at work is difficult, as many patient-facing positions include paperwork. Many in this profession find themselves interacting with patients less and focusing on paperwork more. If you can, try and leave your work at the workplace and not let it follow you home. It may be difficult and near impossible, but in any profession, work-life balance can help you avoid burnout.
How can managers/leadership prevent burnout in their employees?
"Managers can help prevent burnout by frequently checking in with their team members," Halliday says. "It's important to take time to ask and process what people are going through, bring your team together, do activities with your group, and model taking time and breaks to focus on mental health. As a team, you could also think about creative ways to practice self-care, provide healthy snacks, walk, or exercise during the day, have walking meetings, breathing exercises, and encourage the team to get outside."
Burnout is temporary. While there is much to be said on how to avoid burnout, one thing that can always improve your mindset and situation is connecting with your people. Spending time recreating, eating, or cooking with family, coworkers, or friends is a sure way to increase your mood. The feeling of utter exhaustion, loss of interest in your passions, and diminished sense of enjoyment, is only fleeting. It is important, however, to know that things will become better, and that help is there if you need it.
As an employee, student, resident, etc., of University of Utah Health, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a fully confidential, free counseling service available to you and your immediate family.
The Utah Warm Line offers a listening ear to those as they heal or recover from their personal struggles. Staffed seven days a week, 8 am - 11 pm, someone is here to listen. Call 801-587-1055 (local) or 833-SPEAKUT (toll free).
If you or someone you know is in need of support or crisis care, please call our Utah Crisis Line at: 801-273-8255.