Even though I had wanted to be a veterinarian since I was 7-years old, after 12 years in practice, I found myself at the point I didn’t know if I could stand another day in the office. I was frustrated, tired and worn out by the constant stresses of practice that included staffing headaches, client turnover, and financial strains. On top of it all, the stresses at work were having a profoundly negative influence on my personal life.
I felt disjointed and disconnected from those I most cared about. My life was out of balance and nearly out of control. The pain of burnout became so bad that I started abusing alcohol and drugs in an effort to numb myself so I could make it through another day. I even contemplated suicide before I finally woke up and realized the practice of veterinary medicine didn’t have to be so hard and unrewarding. In fact, life itself didn’t need to be such a struggle. It was at that point I finally sought help, and with that help, I turned, not only my practice around, but also my life.
The 4 Facets of Burn Out
Professional burn out is a growing concern in many business settings. There’s no question that work offers many challenges that can leave the most dedicated person as burned out like an overcooked French fry. National statistics suggest that many people are being adversely affected by the stresses of their jobs.
According to data collected by the Gallup Organization in 2001, less than 30 percent of American workers are fully engaged at work, and 55 percent are “not engaged,” while another 19 percent are “actively disengaged,” meaning not just that they are unhappy at work, but they are regularly sharing those feelings with their colleagues.
These statistics suggest to me that at least 1 out of every 5 people at work is in some advanced stage of burnout. Burn out is a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual shut down and exhaustion usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration. It’s like trying to run a car with a dead battery, with no water or oil in the engine, and no fuel in the tank. Let’s look closer at the four inter-related facets of burnout.
In a state of burnout, you are often physically exhausted and frequently overwhelmed by work and life in general, which complicates matters because it increases the chances of stress-related illnesses. Mentally, you may experience confusion, a lack of clarity and often an overall negative attitude. Emotionally, you may become depressed, frustrated, resigned, fearful and angry, while spiritually you feel disconnected, empty, wondering if this is all there is to life.
You can think of each of these four facets of burnout as a different colored string, with the four strands wound together in a tangled gnarl. The question is where do you start to unravel the knot of professional burnout. Here are a few strategies that others have found to be effective.
Physical, Mental and Emotional Exhaustion
A typical sign that you’re in this stage is that there’s simply nothing left of you at the end of the day. You’re used up, finding yourself vegged out in front of the TV, perhaps with a bowl of your favorite ice cream or a couple of beers. You’re suffering from a case of “brain strain” and it’s beginning to show in your work, and in your self-esteem.
Shame and Doubt
In this next stage you begin to doubt yourself, second-guessing your choices and decisions. You may even begin to think that you chose the wrong line of work. As Gorkin says, “You’re not feeling confident about the future; and you’re feeling pretty lousy in the present. Not surprisingly, you may even start discounting your past accomplishments. Beware…This is not a logical process; it’s a psychological one.” Left unchecked, this stage can quickly devolve into the third phase.
Cynicism and Callousness
In this stage people often develop an “attitude” as a way to protect themselves from others. By developing an abrasive or obnoxious attitude, you train people to avoid you. Unfortunately, some of the people who end up avoiding you can be your staff members and your clients. Again, this is not a sound strategy for growing a successful business.
Failure, Helplessness and Crisis
In this final stage, you find yourself in a “Catch-22” of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” You’ve been trying to win a marathon by running full out the whole way, and you now find yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally burned out.
If you find yourself heading down this path to burnout, there are some simple and effective strategies you can use to start yourself on the road to recovery.
S. T. O. P.
S. T. O. P. is an acronym for a powerful strategy that can be used in stressful situations, and that can help you prevent or recover from burnout. The steps are:
S ¬ Step Back
T ¬ Think
O ¬ Organize your thoughts
P ¬ Proceed
Taking such STOPS on a regular basis gives you the opportunity to recover from the stresses that build up at work
Ignite Your Passion Through Purpose
Schedule a weekend or longer STOP devoted to getting back in touch with your purpose for going into practice in the first place. Look beyond just he financial motivation. Look deeper to see how practice is consistent with your core values
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Many practitioners aren’t naturally skilled at delegating and end up trying to do everything, including a lot of the details like paper work, scheduling, payroll, etc. Make a list of the detail work that you find unpleasant, and then either delegate it to one of your employees or hire a new person to take it over.
Seek Assistance and Support
Don’t try to be ‘Macho Man’ or “Super Woman.” Reach out for support either in the form of a trusted friend, personal coach, or therapist. Burn out is not something to take lightly. It can be a killer. Treat it with respect by seeking assistance.
Burnout is not something to ignore. It can have devastating effects on your life and those around you, and as with many things, becoming aware of the issue is the first step to rekindling your life.