Here is a Burnout quiz with only 2 questions you can use if you're a healthcare professional.
Burnout is a tricky, nebulous thing to define.
Especially if you're in the throws of it, mental fogginess and forgetfulness comes with the territory.
In the past, I have found myself wondering time and time again if I'm burned out or
Am I just tired?
or am I in the wrong job for me?
Why did I stop caring about my work as much as I did in the past?
or find myself increasing the pressure on myself to overperform to compensate for the internal feeling of unsatisfaction & feeling that something in me is off.
Simply defined, burnout is: "physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress", according to the dictionary.
The World Health Organization, however, has a much more in-depth definition and describes burnout as "a syndrome resulting from chronic work-related stress, with symptoms characterized by "feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy."
I've also heard burnout referred to as compassion fatigue, moral injury & occupational burnout.
What I have found working in healthcare & going through two distinct bouts of severe burnout- meaning I had to stop working in order to fully recover; is that getting a clear diagnosis is super hard to do since its signs and symptoms are broad, vague & not pathognomonic. It is confounded further by healthcare culture's normalization of overwork and self-sacrifice where healthcare workers may not feel unique in their suffering since everyone they work with is under similar stressors.
Here is a quick way to assess whether you're experiencing a Healthcare Hangover (HH) or if it's full-blown burnout.
There are only two questions to ask yourself that will distinguish HH from professional burnout:
Are you able to recover with adequate rest?
Do you have physical symptoms of chronic stress?
If you answered yes to both, then you may be in the throes of burnout.
Physical Signs of Burnout
These are just a few common ones & may not reflect the breadth of signs an individual healthcare professional may experience.
Ever-present physical exhaustion
Increased Gastrointestinal problems such as IBS, heartburn.
reduced sensitivity to pain
Insomnia or hypersomnolence (sleeping too much)
Susceptible immune system: frequent colds, autoimmune disease onset, or flare-ups
Sensory overwhelm- sensitivity to light and sound sensorial overstimulation
Other Hallmark Signs of Chronic Exposure to Stress
It bears mentioning that healthcare professional burnout can be compounded by chronic stress in other areas of life also, that even if the source of the burnout is not primarily coming from work-related stress, it may affect work performance, satisfaction & lowered threshold for stress in the work setting.
Lowered resilience, moodiness, crying more easily.
Compromised mental health such as depression, anxiety, rumination, overreactions/ temper tantrums, suicidal thoughts
Mental fog, confusion, forgetfulness, paralyzing doubt, decision fatigue
Apathy, withdrawal, isolation
Sleep disturbances, escape fantasies, taking work home.
Less empathy, cynicism, hopelessness, pessimism, dread.
Self-destructive behavior: inconsistent eating, harm, substance abuse, seeking dangerous situations, violent outbursts, toxic relationships, obsessive behaviors
Lack of purpose, meaning, sense of loss of identity, existential crisis
Remember that a HH and complete burnout are very similar in terms of signs, however, it is the physical symptoms & inability to recover that differentiate burnout from a HH.
As a simple rule- consider that if you are having ongoing physical illness as a result of chronic stress from work, life, or both, it is a serious warning sign from your body.
Your body is trying to tell you to stop because it's beginning to break down and can signal an impending decompensation.
I recently experienced my second bout of serious burnout and required a hard stop from work.
Stepping away from my job as a surgical PA was a difficult decision that took me a while to come to terms with but because I had a host of physical symptoms that I could no longer cope with.
It prompted me to do whatever it would take to feel like myself again.
I had not necessarily financially planned for this, but after landing in an ER mid pandemic, & finding myself in a stretcher in a hallway of a very overwhelmed Covid epicenter, I took it as a wake-up call.
To learn more about my story of burnout recovery & taking a sabbatical check out this podcast episode on Joy Energy Time.
I understand this may not be a choice for everybody, but please consider how important your wellbeing is & consider every option available to you even if it requires a hard stop.
For you it may look like taking that PTO, taking days off consecutively & doing nothing, seeking professional help, a combination of a few things, or any other set of options that allow you the time you deserve to get yourself back to baseline.
For some ideas on how to recover check out this blog post, I wrote about recovering from a HH.
To learn more about the prevalence, impact & coping strategies in healthcare workers check out this article.
To take a more robust online quiz on burnout click here
*This article is for information only and is not intended to replace a consultation with an appropriate medical practitioner. Opinions & anecdotal experiences are my own.