Rock steady: Helping alleviate stress at work
There is a word circulating in the medical community and currently drawing national attention: burnout. Though it’s grown in popularity in recent years, the term “burnout” has been used for decades and has had clinical significance since the 1970s.
With May recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s a good time to discuss the signs of burnout or stress and learn ways to reduce your chances of experiencing them at work.
What is burnout?
Burnout is clinically accepted as having three specific characteristics:
- Exhaustion: Which can be experienced at both a physical and emotional level.
- Depersonalization: When a care provider starts to disengage from patients and the desire to connect or spend time with patients and their families.
- Lack of efficacy: When an individual starts to doubt the meaning and quality of his or her work.
“When all three reach their peak level, depression can set in and skilled faculty and staff can feel utterly worn down or ‘burned out,’” said Kathleen Robertson, director of the Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience. “That’s why it’s so important to try and alleviate burnout as early as possible.”
Putting out the fire
If you begin experiencing feelings of distress, separation and exhaustion at work, the following services and strategies can help:
- Any Michigan Medicine faculty and staff member dealing with or concerned about burnout, stress or depression can contact the Michigan Medicine Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience (formerly named the Employee Assistance Program).
- Confidential, individual counseling; unit interventions/debriefs around stress, compassion fatigue, and moral distress; and coaching with a specialty in health care professionals and faculty are available at no cost.
- Find support among your colleagues who deal with similar situations and likely have similar feelings. Recognizing there is a shared purpose and a community to support you is key to building resilience. Support each other in conversations about the areas that are causing distress. Discuss the challenges and focus on the joy of your work.
- Make time, even if for a short period, for you. Take a quick walk or chat with a colleague. Spiritual Care also offers “15 minutes of peace” in the chapel at lunch time every weekday.
- Get enough sleep. This is vital for overall health and well-being but can fall to the wayside during stressful times. If you are having trouble sleeping, programs are available such as Sleep Well and Sleep Tight, free, self-paced online programs available through MHealthy’s Rewards program.
- Watch your alcohol intake. Individuals sometimes use alcohol to help unwind, transition from work to home, or as a stress reliever at the end of a hectic or emotional work day. However, alcohol can actually cause you to feel worse by increasing guilt, depression and anxiety. The Alcohol Management Program offers brief, confidential support in-person or by phone to anyone interested in talking to a professional about their mild to moderate alcohol use.
- Pay attention to your overall well-being. Well-being encompasses the whole person, with many factors playing a part in achieving balance, purpose and vitality in one’s career and at home. The university identifies eight key dimensions of personal well-being and offers resources to help improve your overall quality of life.
“While there’s no quick fix to burnout or stress, making your mental and emotional well-being a priority in your everyday life is an important step toward quelling the flames,” Robertson said. “And that’s what so many of us in the organization are here for — to help you take that step.”