Healthcare Burnout: How To Spot Chronic Stress Before It’s Too Late

Office worker burnout

Let’s face it, everyone experiences some level of stress during their career, especially those who work within the healthcare industry.

And while short periods of stress are a normal part of working life, chronic stress symptoms, if not addressed early on, can take a serious toll on the physical and mental health of the person experiencing it.

Prolonged stress, also known as burnout, has become an increasingly dangerous predicament for physicians, nurses, laboratory technicians, and other healthcare employees in recent years, due in large part to the amount of pressure placed on individuals in this ever-evolving field.

So, how can you identify burnout symptoms and take appropriate steps toward alleviating your stress before it’s too late?

Here’s what you need to know…

What Is Burnout?

Despite not being classified as an official medical condition, burnout is typically considered a form of severe mental and emotional exhaustion that occurs when the body has been exposed to high levels of stress over an extended time period.

In most cases, work burnout happens when employees feel “swamped” or overwhelmed by their job duties, either because they’re working too many hours or they have more responsibilities than they can realistically handle.

And the more you become burnt out at work, the harder it is for your nervous system to regulate your mental and emotional state, leading to serious complications in your personal and professional life.

To put it simply, feeling burnt out at work isn’t just about being stressed out. It can cause a serious disruption in your daily life, no matter how hard you try to push past it.

What Are The 5 Stages Of Chronic Burnout?

Of course, mental burnout doesn’t happen overnight.

Instead, these symptoms tend to build up over time, which is why burnout is commonly broken down into 5 different stages.

Honeymoon Stage

Taking on a new job can be an exciting time filled with endless new possibilities and aspirations. That’s why this stage is referred to as the honeymoon phase when you’re too thrilled with your new position to be impacted by the early stages of stress.

You’ll know you’re in the honeymoon stage when you experience…

  • Bursts of creativity and inspiration
  • Intense commitment to the task at hand
  • Strong drive to prove yourself to others
  • Feelings of deep satisfaction and even elation
  • Increased energy and productivity levels
  • Renewed sense of optimism

While the honeymoon stage varies from person to person, you can expect these feelings to last anywhere from a few weeks to several months after starting your new job.

Onset Of Stress Stage

When it comes to falling in love with your job, the honeymoon simply can’t last forever. And once the “newness” begins to wear off, you’ll start to experience the early onset of stress. This stage could be described as the normal levels of stress that most of us encounter on a regular basis.

Early symptoms of stress might include…

  • Anxiety around completing certain tasks
  • Decreased levels of energy and optimism
  • Feeling fatigued or lethargic
  • Difficulty sleeping at night
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Avoidance towards decision making
  • Increased muscle tension
  • Putting off personal needs

When these symptoms begin to emerge, it’s important to take the necessary steps to alleviate your stress before it becomes a chronic problem.

Chronic Stress Stage

Once prolonged stress has taken hold of your life, you start shifting into the chronic stress stage. This stage occurs when we fail to take proper care of our initial stress symptoms, leading us to extreme levels of exhaustion both mentally and physically.

Tell-tale chronic stress symptoms include…

  • Increased irritability of agitation
  • Feeling cynical or negative about your life
  • Lack of sex drive
  • Panic attacks and heightened anxiety
  • Coping with alcohol or other substances
  • Failing to meet work deadlines or avoiding responsibility
  • Constant feeling of being tired
  • Withdrawing from social gatherings and other hobbies

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you’re not alone. With the right support and resources by your side, you can reverse the effects of chronic stress and take back control over your mental well-being.

Burnout Stage

If you aren’t able to take action towards decreasing your chronic stress symptoms, you might enter the official burnout stage. Typically, people suffering from burnout have an extremely difficult time coping with their stress levels, leading to devastating side effects both at work and at home.

You’ll know you’re burnt out at work when you experience…

  • Negative behavioral changes
  • Ongoing headaches
  • Digestive problems
  • Lack of enthusiasm for everyday life
  • Intense desire to run away or quit your job
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Obsessing over work tasks
  • Isolating yourself from friends and family
  • Lack of self-esteem

It’s crucial to keep in mind that feeling burnt out is a serious mental health problem that might not be adequately addressed with regular self-help. If you suspect that you’ve reached the burnout stage, you should consider seeking guidance from a licensed mental health professional.

Chronic Burnout Stage

The final stage of burnout is known as habitual or chronic burnout. This stage occurs when feeling burnt out has become such an integral part of your life that you can’t seem to pull yourself out of stress symptoms no matter how hard you try.

People experiencing chronic burnout describe feeling…

  • Extreme mental exhaustion that prevents them from thinking clearly
  • Ongoing physical pain associated with stress
  • Deep emotional depression
  • Inability to think positively about their life

Once you’ve developed chronic burnout, it’s imperative that you seek support to cope with your symptoms, so that you can start to undo the damaging long-term effects of stress before serious medical issues develop.

How Can You Cope With Burnout?

First and foremost, learning to recognize the early signs of burnout can greatly reduce your likelihood of reaching the chronic stage, even if your stress symptoms don’t seem severe just yet.

If you suspect that chronic stress or work burnout is becoming a significant part of your life, there are a few steps you can take to ease your concerns and put the power back in your hands.

Reduce Your Workload

It’s easy to bite off more than you can chew, especially in a short-staffed healthcare setting. If you’re worried that your workload is driving your burnout symptoms, talk to your supervisors about cutting back on your less-pressing work duties, at least until you’re able to manage your stress symptoms in an effective way.

Practice Self-Care

Taking care of ourselves doesn’t just make us feel better. It makes us more alert and productive in every aspect of life, which can have a huge impact on our overall work performance. Do your best to keep up a regular self-care routine, whether that includes eating healthy foods, exercising, spending time in nature, or implementing mindfulness.

Set Workplace Boundaries

People in high-stress job positions often struggle with maintaining a healthy work/life balance, leading to an increase in physician burnout in the healthcare space. That’s why it’s important to set clear workplace boundaries like only communicating during your office hours, focusing on your home life when you’re away from work, and letting your team know when you’ve become overworked.

Talk To Someone

If you’ve tried everything to manage your stress, but still feel the impending sense of burnout hanging over you, you don’t have to cope with it alone. Consider reaching out to a licensed mental health professional, especially if your company offers mental health resources as part of your employee benefits.

How Can You Prevent Employee Burnout?

For employers in the healthcare industry, fighting off their own burnout symptoms isn’t the only factor to be concerned about. When you have staff members working under you, it’s important to monitor any potential signs of chronic stress, so that you can strive to create a supportive environment that allows your employees to thrive. Check out our blog: The Complete Guide For Creating An Ideal Work Environment For Your Employees (And You!)

Here are 3 things you can do to support your team…

#1) Know The Signs

While none of us really know what might be going on in someone else’s shoes, we can train ourselves to recognize the signs of burnout in those around us. If you notice that your employees have become increasingly withdrawn, are easily irritated, or are struggling to keep up with their daily tasks, you should initiate a non-threatening conversation about what might be causing their stress as soon as possible.

#2) Implement Self-Assessments

If you’re worried that you won’t be able to spot the signs of burnout on your own, there is a simpler way to encourage your employees to recognize their own chronic stress symptoms. By implementing regular stress level self-assessments, you can draw attention to any problematic symptoms without putting your employees on the spot, so that they can take the necessary steps on their terms.

#3) Enforce Workplace Balance

In most cases, chronic burnout happens when employees fail to properly balance their personal and professional lives. As an employer, you can help prevent this from happening by enforcing strict workplace boundaries, such as discouraging working extra hours, encouraging the use of personal days, and only communicating with your staff during normal office hours.

Final Thoughts

As a leading provider in the laboratory testing space, the team at S&G Labs knows firsthand how difficult it can be to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

But with the proper knowledge and resources at hand, we can make the healthcare industry a more supportive environment for anyone struggling with mental burnout – together.

Learn more about how we’re striving to reimagine the medical field today.