Beware of Burnout During the Holidays

DECEMBER 08, 2016
Christopher Burton, MD
Practice Management, Columns, Lifestyle, Burnout, Stress, Physicians, Doctors, Holidays, Christmas, Hanukkah

The holidays are in full swing. Everywhere you turn there are colored lights, advertisements, glittering tinsel, shopping, delightful holiday get-togethers, and dreaded holiday parties. This time of year is the perfect storm of joy and stress that can cause burnout in anyone.

Most of us enjoy this time with family and friends, and seeing the excitement of children makes even the most cynical smile. Christmas music is upbeat and happy, and crackling fires, warm drinks, and the smell of special treats baking in the kitchen all bring a sense of nostalgia. But the warm, fuzzy side is only part of the story.

For physicians, we face a flood of patients wanting to get their procedures, work-ups, and surgeries done before their deductible starts over in January. People come down with colds and flu, and they want to be squeezed into our already overflowing schedules right away. Our staffs get sick too and want time off for their vacations, meaning we may be short-handed at a time when we really need all hands on deck.

On top of that, we have our own challenges with getting all of our administrative work done by the end of the year. There are charts, charges, reports, and piles of other paperwork that need to be addressed. There are meetings and strategic planning sessions. Our calendars are overflowing even more than usual.

Of course we have family commitments and personal responsibilities too. None of that changes just because we are busy. Christmas programs and recitals seem to be every week. Then we have to squeeze in time for shopping and sending cards.

All of these responsibilities can create an overwhelming level of stress. It is important to be aware of our own stress levels and monitor how it is affecting us. Our stress also affects our interactions with staff, the care we provide, and our relationships with family. So what should you look for?

Signs & Symptoms:
  • Dreading going to work or social events
  • Getting frustrated by things that normally wouldn’t bother you
  • Feeling fatigued all the time
  • Being disinterested in your patients
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, then take some time to refocus and recalibrate. You may simply need to create some free space on your calendar or, if burnout is becoming more intrusive, consider seeking out additional help. Some large institutions are developing programs for physicians suffering from burnout. Coaching can also help overcome some of the challenges that lead to increased stress and burnout.

Awareness of burnout and actively taking steps to prevent it can help all physicians. Enjoy this holiday season. Don’t let stress ruin the joy you should be experiencing.

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