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More than half of physicians are experiencing burnout in the wake of COVID-19 with 58 percent revealing they are stressed in The Physicians Foundation’s 2020 Survey of America’s Physicians: COVID-19’s Impact on Physician Wellbeing. That is up 18 percent from their 2018 survey, when 40 percent replied that they feel burned out often. As the world grapples with an unrelenting pandemic, how can physicians, nurses, and healthcare teams better cope and manage stress? Felicia Speed, Vice President of Social Work Services for Fresenius Medical Care North America, discusses three ways that health care teams can combat burnout.
1) Identify Self-Awareness Zone
It is important to understand that there is a fear zone, a learning zone, and a growth zone. Identifying and understanding what zone a person is in can help with tackling stress. In the fear zone, there is focus on what cannot be controlled, and there can be a tendency to get mad easily. The goal should be to move into the learning zone where there is acceptance for what cannot be controlled. After the learning zone, there is the growth zone, which allows a person to approach a situation looking to contribute to the solution.
In a recent episode of our Field Notes podcast, Speed explained the growth zone as asking, “How can I put myself in someone else's shoes to understand where they're coming from so that we can have more tolerance and compassion for each other? If we get to that acceptance of overcoming our own fear, then we can help others overcome theirs as well.”
Handling stress for long periods of time is draining on the body both emotionally and physically. In a Medscape survey, physicians revealed the alarming ways in which they were dealing with the increased stress during the pandemic, with 29 percent saying they were eating more, 19 percent saying they were drinking more alcohol, and 2 percent saying they were taking more prescription stimulants and medications. The American Medical Association has also acknowledged the concerning spike in burnout, creating resource pages to address burnout and well-being.
To better manage stress, it is important to find a way to relax and reset, even if for 15 minutes. Speed recommends listening to music, and even dancing. Dancing can be a break that allows the body to release the endorphins that it needs to replenish itself. Whether it is a hobby of fishing, woodworking, or sitting on the couch to watch television, find the time to unplug.
3) Get off Your Own Island
The stress related to dealing with COVID-19 impacts everyone in different ways. “Getting off your own island,” Speed explains can be helpful to recognizing that you are not alone in your stress and feelings. Even if in a virtual environment, forcing yourself to interact with other colleagues and breaking away from the daily routine can create much needed separation from day-to-day commitments.
In an op-ed for FierceHealthcare, Speed wrote, “Addressing burnout starts with confronting it directly, especially from leaders at the top, who can help recognize its pervasiveness and acknowledge the many ways it manifests. There is much more to be revealed about the long-term solutions that can address burnout in a compassionate, sustainable way. We can help by building a roadmap that validates burnout, customized for an organization’s culture and needs, at every rank of experience.”