Juggling work, personal life, and everything in between may take a toll on one’s emotional well-being, leading to burnout. Although burnout may be on the rise, some steps can be taken to prevent it from affecting your job and life at home.
The World Health Organization describes burnout as a condition that results from workplace stress unsuccessfully managed. The term "burnout" was developed by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s to describe the repercussions of "helping" professionals working in high-stress environments.
Owner and Mental Health Practitioner at HeadSpace Counseling & Wellness, Kristina Aiello, describes burnout as total exhaustion.
"The first and most primary symptom of burnout would be emotional and physical exhaustion, just kind of existing in this constant state of fatigue where everything feels overwhelming," Aiello tells Healthnews. "Emotional and physical exhaustion looks like not being able to sleep, or when you get enough sleep, you just don’t have the mental and emotional wherewithal to not be overwhelmed by remedial tasks."
Signs of burnout:
- Persistent negativity
- Disruptive behavior
- Physical and/or emotional exhaustion
- Substance abuse
Although anyone can experience burnout — a study released in February 2023 by Future Forum found that 41% of the United States workforce felt "burned out" at work — the condition is strongly associated with health professionals. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Academy of Medicine found that 35% to 54 % of nurses and physicians and 45% to 60% of medical students and residents experienced burnout. Those numbers have only risen since due to the toll COVID-19 had on health professionals. A survey released in March found 47.3% of physicians reported burnout, with 24.3% planning to quit in the next two years.
Elliott Trotter, M.D., is all too familiar with burnout’s prevalence in the health workplace. As the current associate clinical professor of Emergency Medicine at Texas Christian University Medical Schools, he also served as the Chief Division EM at THR Harris Methodist Fort Worth from 1998 to 2002 and has over 30 years of emergency medicine experience across multiple hospitals in North Texas.
Trotter is the originator of the modern medical scribe, a vital physician extender role he developed in 1995 to help physicians manage the original E and M charting guidelines. After witnessing numerous experiences of burnout among his colleagues, Trotter has become invested in providing insight to others about burnout.
Research shows workers under 30 are more likely to be burned out than their older peers, something Trotter finds to be a common trend among health professionals. He says the increase in burnout among Gen-Z and millennial populations is due to the mindset difference between younger and older generations.
Another contributor to burnout could be the increase in access to information. A survey from Slick Text earlier this year found Gen-Z adults spent 7.2 hours a day on TikTok, YouTube, and Netflix. Meanwhile, millennials, Gen-X, and baby boomers all spent significantly less time on the following social media apps. In her opinion, Aiello believes more screen time is only adding to the stress Gen-Zers face on a regular basis.
"I think the rise of industrialization and the access we have to media is a huge contributor. In the last 20 years, we have started measuring our worth and value based on the opinions of others as we have had more access to them," says Aiello. "I certainly wonder what adult mental health would be like if we didn’t have access to scrolling the world. We have access to every big, bad thing the second it is happening in addition to the opinions everyone has the second it is happening."
Dealing with burnout
To prevent burnout, Aiello and Trotter both highlight time management as key. It can be easy to say "yes" to events with friends and family or extra help at work, but to reduce the chances of burnout, say "no" and take some time for yourself when your schedule begins to feel overloaded. Also, maintaining a healthy diet can go a long way in preventing burnout.
Trotter notes positivity is key to offset burnout. He encourages those to think positively about work, but when the day is over, shift focus to other tasks that need attention.
As you are driving home, know you did a great job. No matter what position you are in, you are not perfect. So know you did a great job, and you may have made a small mistake, but none of us can be perfect.- Trotter
For those who work at home, this may be difficult. Trotter admits he tries to keep the majority of his work in the hospital versus at home. Those who work at home may find it hard to separate their personal life and way of living. Taking your yearly vacation time, separating an office room from a living room, and creating an overall space where you can go "into" the office, plus prioritizing sleep, can keep burnout at bay for remote workers.
Those who get "burned out" often find it hard to give energy to tasks and feel a sense of depersonalization. For those who are suffering from burnout, Trotter encourages them to find someone to reach out to for comfort. On the other hand, Trotter notes it is important for all of us to seek out those in need of assistance.
"Be prepared that it may happen to you, and know that it is not your failure but the failure of the system," Trotter says. "The point I want to emphasize is we all know people who are dealing with burnout or depression, and it is important to reach out to that person. You are never going to put the seed of suicide in someone's head, in fact, you are going to let them know you are a safe person to reach out to when and if they want to come to talk to you about it."
- FutureForum. Future Forum Pulse Report Winter 2022-2023.
- NIH. Depression: What is burnout.
- HHS. Health Worker Burnout
- JGIM The Association of Work Overload with Burnout and Intent to Leave the Job Across the Healthcare Workforce During COVID-19.
- SlickText. 30+ Average Screen Time Statistics for 2023.