Monday, February 19, 2007

Struggling with Career Burnout?

The Miami Herald had a great article call Don't let your occupation burn you out. Here is what they said.

Feeding the spirit to treat work burnout. Our culture encourages a healthy, balanced physical, emotional and mental life, but not many people consistently pay attention to their spirit. Your job is a drag, your co-workers are baboons and your favorite movie is Office Space. Ever considered that you might be the one with the problem? Does this sound familiar to you? How many people do you find that actually like their job? Does the saying TGIF really mean something to you?

Work burnout -- that persistent, nagging feeling that you loath the hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. -- may not be a clinical disorder, but it is serious: About three-fourths of workers will experience it at one time or another, according to some studies, said Dr. Alan Shelton.
He should know. First of all sign me up for 9 to 5. With an hour lunch that sounds like a 7 hour day. I usually start work between 7 to 7:30 am, work through lunch and then stay until 5:30 pm. Probably one of my problems that results in me feeling burned out.

Shelton was doing everything he was supposed to: He had an active life, enjoyed great relationships, worked as the medical director for the Puyallup Tribal Health Authority and was a faculty member at Tacoma Family Medicine Residency program for doctors in training.
Then, gradually, he lost his energy and enthusiasm. ``I felt like it was a struggle to go to work. I was cranky, I didn't have compassion for my patients, and I was getting resentful.'' Unfortunately, our culture in the U.S. is too push it and over work the best workers. However, what happens is when you get things done you end up getting more to do. It is a vicious cycle. Our culture loves workaholics and doesn't mind burning them out, so like the old book says you have to be Looking Out for #1 which is an excellent old book that I highly recommend.

To sum it up: ''I wasn't . . . very nice to work with,'' he said, laughing riotously. So he did more of all the things he was supposed to: He tried taking a vacation, changed his hours, ramped up his social life. Nothing worked. His burnout got so bad that a co-worker scheduled him an appointment with an American Indian healer without telling him. He learned of the lunch-break appointment only minutes before. Not finding an excuse (and he did try), he went to the appointment. He was surprised that the ''healing'' consisted of one question, some stories and a chant. I am always amazed at how fast the calm and relaxed feelings from vacations wear off. Sometimes they even wear off the night before you go back to work. Do you wake up before your alarm the first day back to work after a nice vacation? Do you feel the pressure of all the things that you need to do so it wakes you up even before the alarm?

He was even more surprised when, despite his healthy level of doubt, Shelton returned to work that day feeling like he was finally ``back.'' ''I was how I used to be when I was a good doctor,'' he said. But, as you'd expect, it wasn't so easy: About a month after his session, he had slowly faded back to his burned-out state. I find that when I am stressing out or feeling down I start to search for some type of relief or a distraction and I usually find it in some type of article or book. The tough part is that it wears off too fast.

That time, he'd had it. Convinced he needed to make a change, he took a leave of absence so he could study his problem and learn how to deal with it. Work burnout can have many causes: stress, long hours, lack of a life outside work, the accumulation of general negativity or even underlying health problems. One of the biggest stress relievers that I find helps me is to exercise. Sometimes I even try to get 2 work outs in one day. Unfortunately, I don't think I can take a leave of absence so I need to figure out how to cope and deal with the stress other ways. Shelton also writes that it's often experienced by people who feel a lack of control, those who have to suppress emotion at work (caregivers, for example) and workaholic types who strive for perfection.

The three main burnout symptoms, Shelton writes in his book, Transforming Burnout, are exhaustion, withdrawal and lack of job satisfaction. When health problems are ruled out, it's important to assess if you're doing everything you can to avoid or cut off burnout. ''It often comes from actually being out of balance: Too much of one thing, not enough of the other good things in your life,'' said Phillip Prudhomme, a Tacoma mental health counselor. ``That's why we have vacations or we take up hobbies. It's something to shift that focus.'' One thing to watch is how often we shut things off. Do you end up bringing work home. You need time to relax and focus on your family, friends and hobbies. Bringing things home and not shut off the work just continues to amplify the problem. I find if I do emails to late at night that it screws up my sleeping and makes me more stressful. I find that I need some couch time every night. Just some time to relax and not do anything constructive. Doing this helps me unwind and sleep a lot better.

Prudhomme said it's also important not to compare yourself to others -- whether at work or in your personal life -- but to establish reasonable goals for yourself. But Shelton was doing all those things. When he started to study the problem, something the healer had said stuck with Shelton. The healer had told him he needed to do something to tend to his spirit. One of my favorite motivational speakers is Deepak Chopra and he focuses on tending to your spirit through meditation.

At the time, Shelton thought he was doing just fine. But later, he considered it: He kept his body fit, his mind sharp and his relationships healthy but wasn't doing anything consistently to take care of his spiritual side. He compared being spiritually connected with maintaining physical fitness. ''You can't go work out once a month; it needs to be something daily,'' he said. During his time off, he found that meditation was a good way to nurture his spirit. He was also surprised to find how much damage he was doing every day. ''Those kind of things, over time, erode the spirit,'' he said.

So he reversed his thinking. When the alarm went off, he reminded himself it was the start of a new day. When it rained, he tried to appreciate that it takes rain to live in the lush, forested Pacific Northwest. Armed with optimism, he returned to work and presented his findings to a group of physician residents. To his surprise, they were fascinated. What he found out was simple: Our culture encourages a healthy, balanced physical, emotional and mental life, but not many people consistently pay attention to their spirit. To make matters worse, with his academic background, he had learned to be an unfailingly critical thinker. ''When you extend that into all areas of life, you end up being negative a lot,'' he said, laughing.

Things like complaining, resentment, carrying grudges and worrying all chip away at the spirit, which is possibly why, Shelton said, there are more people in this country unhappy with their jobs than there are people happy with them.

• Do you wake up feeling tired in the morning?
• Have you lost feelings of satisfaction, accomplishment and enjoyment in your job?
• Are you more irritable and impatient than usual?
• Do your co-workers frequently ask you, ``Are you all right?''
• Does taking a vacation give you only a temporary sense of relief?
• Do you take longer lunches and breaks than you used to?
• Does life seem like ``all work and no play''?
• Do you often feel overwhelmed and too tired to do your work?
• Do you procrastinate, and welcome interruptions?
• Do you spend time doing nonwork activities?
• When you're doing your work, is it accompanied by a feeling of inescapable fatigue?
• Do you daydream about ''running away'' and quitting your job?

No comments: