Ahhh Burnout!!! Thoughts on Prevention and Recovery


Burnout is an issue that continues to plague numerous medical professionals including physical therapists. As explained in an earlier post burnout is defined as a syndrome characterized by a loss of enthusiasm for work (emotional exhaustion), feelings of cynicism (depersonalization), and a low sense of personal accomplishment (Shanafelt 2012). There are many signs and symptoms accompanied with burnout but how can we prevent and recover from it?

Recovering from burnout is so important because it’s likely it could lead to further stress related illness as well as poor patient care. There are many things that one can do but these are some of the things that have helped me. Some of these will also be part of a prevention list later in the article. Simple ways to help you recover from burnout are…

  • EXERCISE  This is my favorite and is something all health conscious practitioner’s should enjoy. I mean as a therapist you prescribe it for god’s sake; at least set a good example. Exercise can give you “your own” time that is good for both body and mind.
  • Take a VACATION from work. This doesn’t mean that you have to go away somewhere fancy or expensive because “stay-cations” can be just as fun and stress free.
  • Get good nights SLEEP.
  • CONTINUING EDUCATION. Learning and applying something new can be a great way break up the monotony of your typical care as well as increase professional development.
  • BREATHE BETTER. Taking time away from your busy day to sit or lay while focusing on breath can be extremely beneficial. It helps decrease stress as well has other physiological and psychological benefits.
  • THE WHY? Make a list of what is increasing your stress levels at work or elsewhere and try to mitigate those threats. If you know why you keep getting burned out then you can make a clearer path to recovery.

Preventing burnout is a difficult task but here are some thoughts…

  • Work in an office that has patient per hour ratio that you believe suits your capabilities and desires. This can be difficult due to the current health care reimbursement climate… but it may be the best thing you can do for yourself.
  • Use vacation time wisely. What I mean by this is carefully schedule your vacation time to provide predetermined breaks so you have something more to look forward to than just work.
  • Regularly read some fictional non-physical therapy based books that allow time for you. Maybe every night before bed read a chapter or two to let your mind wander away from the clinic.
  • Exercise regularly

Burnout is multifactorial but it’s definitely something you can get a handle on before it gets to an unmanageable point. Stress is a major contributor to this syndrome so limiting stress is huge. These are just a few examples of what helps me with burnout and stress but there are tons of constructive ways you can help yourself through harder times. Figure out what makes you happy and integrate that more into your life and watch your career change for the better. Remember… work to live but work to help others live well.

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