Talking about burnout

OUT NOW another bitesize episode with fellow psychologist Lou Jones. This week we’re talking about burnout, something that is becoming way to prevalent during the pandemic.

What is it? How do you know if you are experiencing it? What should you do about it?

Burnout has three key dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism and a decline in professional efficacy – which in English means having reduced productivity.

Exhaustion – worn out, lost energy, depleted, debilitated and fatigued.

Cynicism – negative attitude towards others, becoming irritable and withdrawn.

Reduced productivity – low morale, decreased capability and an inability to cope.

What should you do about it?

One paper written specifically for those at the brunt of burnout (i.e. healthcare workers) offers some useful quick tools, aka “micro-practices.” 

Taking a moment to name your emotions (especially challenging emotions). For example, when I notice that I am feeling upset, is it anger? Concern? Exhaustion? This aids self- awareness and self-management. 

This “name it to tame it” practice as Dr Dan Siegel calls it is backed by fMRI research. Simply the process of naming shifts brain activity from the amygdala (the emotional centre of the brain) to the more advanced thinking area of the brain. This means that it can help bring a sense of calm. For a list of words to use in this practice try the following link:

Another evidence-based technique is the simple act of writing down three things that you’re grateful for several times a week. 

If you work in a group setting then showing gratitude in ways such as starting meetings by giving kudos for recent efforts, can also help stimulate positive emotions and positive relationships. 

Hand hygiene—now a constant routine — is an opportunity for self- awareness and self-management. A chance to focus on your breath, centre your mind and body, and visualize the kind of presence, empathy, and calmness one would like to bring to the next person you interact with. It’s also an opportunity to self-connect—Am I well hydrated? Hungry? Carrying an unreasonable emotional vestige from the last news update? 

Opportunities to engage in this type of mindfulness micro-practice are available in a myriad of other situations such as waiting at a red light, boiling the kettle or brushing your teeth. 

Making use of social support found within both the workplace and home (family, friends, neighbours) is also a very effective and incredibly important practice. 

For longer term solutions other approaches include eating more nutritious food, engaging in regular exercise building your self-awareness and understanding, time management, cognitive restructuring, relaxation strategies – such as meditation, biofeedback, naps and a longer night’s sleep and changes in work patterns – working less, taking more breaks, avoiding overtime work, and taking more time off or more holiday. 

Links to podcast recording:

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Fessell, D., & Cherniss, C. (2020). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and beyond: micropractices for burnout prevention and emotional wellness.Journal of the American College of Radiology,17(6), 746-748.

Maslach, C. (2017). Finding solutions to the problem of burnout. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 69(2), 143.

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