How Do You Tell If You Are Burnt Out?

Wow

That was a rough two weeks. 

Some of you may have noticed my lack of blog posts of late. Life has just been insane. I recently attended the national ACFAS conference in New Orleans and presented a poster regarding the rate of sexual harassment experienced by podiatry residents. I hope to have the article submitted for publication soon. I’ll also have some recommendations in an upcoming blog post if you are looking to pay a visit to the Big Easy.

Presenting on the important topic of harassment

Presenting on the important topic of harassment

I then returned to a lot of academic tasks at work, including the initiation of a Boston-wide collaboration amongst podiatry programs. All good things, but also time consuming and physically exhausting. 

In my weary state, I have been musing over the topic of burnout. 

Is It Burnout?

How do you differentiate between feeling tired and feeling burnt out? I have previously posted about a technical definition of burnout. Emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of inefficacy are all part of this definition. But it seems that physical exhaustion can also cause all of these symptoms. 

I always wonder about the individuals who work over a 100 hours a week. Some of these people are healthcare providers, some of them are not. They all must be physically tired, but not everyone gets burnt out. It seems like bodily fatigue can contribute to, but does not guarantee, burnout.

Speaking of physical exhaustion… The CrossFit Games Open just started! (Image courtesy of CrossFit)

Speaking of physical exhaustion… The CrossFit Games Open just started! (Image courtesy of CrossFit)

Get An Idea

I think burnout looks different for everyone. For some in healthcare, burnout may be a feeling of complete cynicism towards patients. Or it could be an increase in mistakes with clinical decision making. Or being unsure if you can keep going.

To truly check if you are burnt out, the scientific gold standard is the Maslach Burnout Inventory. Unfortunately, taking this survey will cost you $50. It may be worth spending the money on, but I cannot speak to this personally.

The best thing I have found for free is this online survey. While not “scientific” per se, I did find value in thinking about the questions and the different answer choices which were provided.

A few months ago, I personally knew I was burnt out. I would wake up in the morning and wrestle with going to work. Yes, everyone has been there and sure, I was physically tired. But there was a bigger internal struggle. I felt that it would make no difference if I went into work or not. Honestly, I have struggled with that sense of significance before. I have always felt a sense of purpose in my daily labors.

I also had a hard time enjoying time with my wife. I came home and was always thinking about what I needed to do next, consistently overwhelmed with the size of my task list. I did not find joy in things I used to love.

It was a very difficult space to be in.

I did not even enjoy cooking anymore

I did not even enjoy cooking anymore

Figuring It Out

I am in a better place now.

I wish I could say I found a magic solution to share with you. I just hung on to a greater hope, one that allows me to believe that burnout is a not a permanent state. But I still struggle sometimes.

Interestingly, despite these hectic weeks, I have felt a renewed sense of purpose at work. I did not get much sleep, but felt content at the end of the day.

Maybe there needs to be space in medical training for residents to pursue their true medical passions. Maybe it is time for residency programs to not just train another paperwork pusher. Maybe we all need to be insistent on rest. Maybe we all need help from those around us.