Combatting Burnout; Life vs. Workload
Twenty-four hours after posting about my personal experience with burnout my blog traffic went up 850%. 850% y’all. This is validating and maddening. And no one is doing anything about it. The people that notice what’s going on host seminars and tell people to do more yoga. We need more than that. Can you imagine if Google ran healthcare? After every code blue we’d all probably get two weeks at a yoga retreat. (Can I get an ‘Ohm’men?)
After seeing the increased traffic, I immediately felt on the hook. I shared my thoughts on burnout and felt like it was necessary I share ideas on how to move away from the scary side and more towards the joy side of the burnout spectrum. I came up with 9 different ways to move things towards the side of joy. (The recovering perfectionist in me is hating that it’s not an even 10.) But then I realized I didn’t really explain the symptoms of burnout either. Keep reading.
Nursechoice.com describes being on the “brink” of burnout as experiencing the following:
- Apathy (lack of emotion): It’s scary sometimes how talking about something like seeing a dead body evokes no emotion. We have dissociated ourselves as a defense mechanism – a normal response to trauma – but this is not where we want to be with our humanity. Showing emotion is not weakness. It takes courage and vulnerability to not armor up and let ourselves feel and be seen. I could go on and on about Brene Brown’s research and what it means to be real with people. I’ll let you have that journey.
Recently I heard a story about a local nurse shaming another nurse for crying when her patient was dying. Are you kidding me? I get to cry because that’s incredibly sad. Does any of this sound familiar to those coming back from combat with PTSD?
- Depersonalization (they’re things, not people): This is very easy to slip into in the operating room. The person on the table, lying there unconscious and naked, and we are all oblivious to this- it might as well be a tree trunk we are operating on.
- Sleep Disturbances: Oh my gosh this made me laugh. Between getting calls in the middle of the night to do a case, to waking up at 2am realizing I forgot to chart the patient’s tube feed, to my body aching so that I can’t sleep, to hearing the monitor’s alarms in my nightmares – This one was just funny to me.
- Short tempered: We have no patience because patience takes energy. No energy, no patience.
- Physical disorders: I don’t know if they mean disorders from chronic flight-or-flight stress and cortisol pumping through our veins – or the cancer we give ourselves from the diabetic doughnuts, radiation exposure, and processed food we eat.
I’ve come up with some things that I feel like would help us combat burnout that is within our own control. I’ll be honest I got a little overwhelmed reading it all- maybe pick one thing a week to work on. Start small and give yourself grace along the way.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Decrease the Workload
This all about balance and one way to tip the scales towards the ‘joy side’ is to decrease your workload. That looks different for everyone. For some, it means taking that break that is offered to you. Some people are saying “duh,” but you’d be surprised at how many people pass on the breaks when they are either offered or available. Either they are “too busy” or “they won’t do it like you can” or they don’t want to be bothersome or needy.
Amy E. Smith, creator of the Joy Junkie Podcast (I highly recommend her) says it best:
“Putting other people ahead of yourself is poison disguised as nobility.”
One more time for the people in the back (say it out loud to yourself): Putting other people ahead of yourself is poison disguised as nobility. There is a reason why the flight attendants tell you to put your oxygen mask on first. Your everyday work life is not a matter of life and death for everyone, only the people you are caring for. Yes, if I had to make a choice between saving my life and a child’s I hope that in that moment I could choose to save them and sacrifice myself. But that’s not what we are doing here every day at work. You cannot, CANNOT, care for people if you haven’t cared for yourself first. Get that thought out of your head that self care is selfish- it’s not. If you are tired, lack energy, your emotional cup is empty- you will not be able to have empathy. That is the reason of why we went into healthcare (or insert your career), right? Because we see a need and we want to fulfill it. But the only way you can really do that is by taking care of your needs first. It is not selfish to do so, it’s necessary.
So while at work- take the break. I’m not calling for people to become lazy. I’m saying to take those breaks when you can. You’ve trained your body to ignore the cues (aching joints, dry mouth, brain fog). Since we won’t notice them we need to take care of them on a regular basis. Drink the water. Put your phone down and just close your eyes for 10 minutes and meditate, go to your car if you can.
If you are able to financially, start cutting back your schedule and hours you work, even if it’s a little at a time. Start saying no to work projects. If they don’t have the staff to get the work done- that is their problem, not yours. If everyone was able to only give what they can give and not over-extend themselves, and the company is not getting what it needs done- then they need to hire more workers. We cannot keep extending our humans to the breaking point. That’s not ok. If you are in management and you are the one being squeezed, it will take an extra amount of energy to have firm boundaries.
Let’s say you are in charge of keeping a group staffed and production at a certain pace. If you have firm boundaries and don’t push your staff to the end of the burnout spectrum, things are going to start to go wrong. You have to expect that production is going to go down and your superiors are going to start questioning things. It has to start hurting for things to change in some facilities. Some have to see numbers drop before they are willing to do anything. What you tolerate is what will continue. But even so, if they see you as unwilling to do what they want and you get fired- I pray for God’s direction, guidance, and redemption for your life. When you stand up for injustice, God takes over and goes before you to make your paths strait. Be brave. Because, personally, I don’t want to go down with that sinking ship. I don’t want to be a part of an organization that treats their workers like robots. Bye Falicia.
2. Increase the Life
Again, increasing the “life” side of the equation looks different for everyone. Maybe it means scheduling vacation every so many weeks. Or getting regular massages, pedicures, scheduling a night out with a friend. (Hint: scheduling is soo soo important. If it takes up time, it gets on the calendar. For me, my Fridays are sacred. I do not schedule anything work related on Fridays. Those days are for me to do whatever I want. Do the fun thing.
When I was a kid my mom knew the look on my face as soon as I would wake up – usually once or twice a semester. She would say , “let’s take a mental health day.” And she and I would skip work and school and get bagels and go to the zoo. I had no idea what mental health was or why we were celebrating it but I am so grateful for her example. I’m sure she needed it just as much as I did but it definitely refueled me to make it through the season. Eat the bagel. Go to the zoo.
3. Find a Creative Outlet
We are creative beings. If you’re one of those people who say “I’m not creative,” stop saying that. Unless you don’t want to be creative -because you can literally convince your brain of anything – positive and negative. I read the book Called to Create by Jordan Raynor and it motivated me to take the photography classes I’ve always been wanting to do. The thing about being creative is it is vulnerable. It’s part of our humanity. If you are a good nurse and let perfection do the driving, shame is riding shot gun. You’ll never be perfect; therefore, you’ll always be dealing with shame. (Cue Brene Brown quotes). “There is no innovation and creativity without failure.” You’re gonna make some weird stuff. And it’s gonna feel vulnerable to failure, disappointment, a ridicule. But eventually you’re going to find that thing that sparks you. That makes you forget to pee -in a good way. That passion that fuels you and brings you to life. Whatever it is, find it. Who knows, maybe it will be another career path for you. Look at what you create and be proud. Hang it on the wall. Remember it is a piece of you and you were brave enough to create it. We were created in God’s image and he was the most creative of all of us.
“Whenever we bring order out of chaos, whenever we draw out creative potential, whenever we elaborate and unfold creation beyond where it was when we found it, we are following God’s pattern of creative cultural development.” – Tim Keller.
4. Take the Vacation
I am amazed at the number of millennials with no job willing to pack a backpack and a head to wherever with a friend a document it. They become “influencers” and make money for traveling with no money. I am truly jealous of their stories and life experiences. If I had to guts to do that when I was twenty I would be in South America right now blogging about my favorite sandals to wear in Bali while riding an Elephant. They’d be locally sourced made from recycled peanuts.
My point is, there’s something to be said for travel – and it can be done on a budget.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain.
5. Love Yourself
This should be number one- because it’s the only way any of this is going to work. I haven’t figured out a trend as to why, but I get the feeling a lot of nurses do not find themselves worthy of love and belonging and kill themselves trying to can earn it.
You. Are. Worthy.
You are worth it. You are worth caring for. You are worth loving. You are worth saying no for. You are worthy of a break, a vacation, a hug, a cry, a complement. You are worth it all because you are a child of God. Don’t believe it if you were to say it to yourself? Chart a new path in your brain. Our brains a plastic and moldable. Write it on 75 post it notes and say it out loud 947 times a day until it starts to feel real. You can even use progressive affirmations like “I’m figuring out what it looks like to feel worthy.” Or “I’m on my way…” Affirmations help cultivate the self love we need so badly. Here is my blog on what God thinks of you. And to go a step further, when you say an affirmation and pair it with the scent of an essential oil, its physical properties enter your brain directly to the limbic system, bypassing the processing center. You are “pavolving” into loving yourself.
6. Take Care of Your Body
Put the pop (yes I say pop) down. Drink the water. Go for a walk. Join a gym. And in the words of Rachel Hollis: “eat the stupid salad.” Your body can’t function on processed food. Give it vitamins and nutrients. It’s trying so hard to constantly detoxify and heal. So thank it and give it some support.
7. Get Emotional Support
This means a whole lot of things. Bring your tribe in closer. Take time with friends and family or a counselor- someone who can give you empathy. This is so important to take care of our emotional wellbeing. Remember the end of the burnout spectrum is suicide or drug use. It’s normal and natural to numb pain. There’s nothing “wrong with you” if you’re crying on the way to work, praying to get stuck in the elevator to avoid work, or wondering what it would be like if you didn’t turn the wheel and went off that cliff. It means you need help. If you are at that point you need drastic change- and quickly. Talk to your people. If you don’t have people, find some people at church, or a counselor. This is serious.
Support can also look like paying for services like Amazon or Shipt grocery delivery, and fast food delivery. I pay an annual fee to have my groceries delivered- it is worth every penny to save me an hour every week (or more) going to the store. Is 52 hours of time worth $50? You bet. (Want to try Shipt Grocery Delivery? Here’s my code for $50 off: mHT8M). Sometimes I’m working while they are shopping. And other times I am literally laying on the couch reading or scrolling Instagram and I feel not one ounce of guilt for it because that is what I need in the moment.
Start saying no. I am not naturally tactful. I am a recovering people-pleasing doormat. (See what I did there- I’m not identifying with something I don’t want to be so I’m ‘in recovery’ or ‘figuring out what it looks like to____’). My go-to phrase for saying no is with kindness and grace. Something like “thank you so much for the invite but I’m going to have to pass.” Or “I won’t be able to make it” and not explain why or give an excuse. It keeps me from lying. Lying feels yucky and I try to be as trustworthy as I can. I always say “thank you for thinking of me but at this time I can’t commit” to whatever it is. Amy Smith goes into immense detail in her Podcast, the Joy Junkie, and how to perfect the “no.” It’s amazing how liberating it is to gain back your power.
There’s also laundry services, asking your spouse to pick up a few responsibilities, delegating to other family members, paying for a lawn service or nanny. Or what about moving? Downsizing to a more minimal lifestyle will do wonders for mental health as well as your pocket. Sell some junk so you can take a day off. Have a garage sale, donate to charity instead of buying Christmas gifts, or move to a smaller house. Have you heard that saying “more money more problems?” You don’t need that over time paycheck as much as you need to start living your short and precious life. You only get so many sunrises with coffee. It’s time to start living.
8. Give Your Time and Money.
This is going to sound absolutely counterintuitive because I’ve been talking about working less, having less money, and spending money on yourself and vacations. But there’s something that happens when you give with a cheerful heart. One year I bought 10 QuickTrip gift cards and wrote on the back a few affirmations. I kept them in my car and gave them to the people with signs on the street corner. It gave me so much joy that I would look forward to stopping by them. Or volunteer at a local homeless shelter. No matter how much I encounter the less fortunate at my job, I’m still humbled at hearing their stories.
9. Practice Gratitude
Brene Brown, with whom I clearly have a woman crush as much as I talk about her, researches shame and vulnerability and has written books sharing her findings. She has found in her research the key to joy is GRATITUDE. For my research nerds -there is a direct correlation between the amount of gratitude one observes and the amount of joy they experience. Don’t spend your money on an app or a fancy notebook, just stop and look around and thank God for your socks, your air conditioning, the fact that you don’t have dirt for floors (there is a tech I used to work with who had dirt floors- in America people.). This kind of goes with number 8 – the more you give to those less fortunate, the more you spend time with them, the more you share your blessings with them, the more you are grateful for your own situation – the more joy you will have.
And I am grateful for you.