By Debra Wood, RN, contributor Mar 15, 2021
has increased the risk of burnout for physicians and other healthcare
professionals; learn simple techniques to help avoid this debilitating
burnout is not inevitable, even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues on. Learn
more about what causes burnout and how you can take steps to prevent it.
to burnout among healthcare professionals
Maslach and Susan E. Jackson, both at the University of California, Berkeley,
first described burnout in a 1981 Journal of Occupational
They defined it as a “syndrome of emotional exhaustion and cynicism.” They
explained burnout occurs when healthcare workers deplete their emotional
years later, clinicians who have been working through the COVID-19 global
pandemic can understand this description.
increasing number of physicians reported feelings of burnout in the Physicians Foundation’s
2020 Survey of America’s Physicians COVID-19 Impact Edition, Part 2, 58 percent up from 40
percent in 2018. COVID’s effects on their employment or practices led about
half of the physicians surveyed to report experiencing inappropriate anger,
anxiety or tearfulness. Women reported feelings of burnout more often than men,
68 percent to 50 percent.
2021 study in Critical Care Medicine reported “overburdening
of ICU professionals during an extended period of time,” such as during the
COVID-19 pandemic, led to symptoms of burnout. “Working long hours and under
conditions of scarcity of staff, time and resources comes at the price of ICU
professionals’ mental health.”
Hammer, MD, a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto,
California, and author of GAIN Without
Pain: The Happiness Handbook for Health Care Professionals, recognized the difficulty
so many physicians and other healthcare workers are experiencing. So he set out
to help them.
reported in the book that burnout can lead to people leaving their healthcare
professions or stepping away from direct patient care. Burnout also can result
in decreases in quality of care and increases in cost.
GAIN to find happiness and resilience to burnout
caring for patients with COVID-19 can be exhausting to physicians and other
healthcare professionals on the front line, it’s extremely gratifying to make
such a big difference in people’s lives,” Hammer said. That leads to the
opportunity to experience eudaimonic happiness, arising from service to others.
leads to living a longer, healthier life,” Hammer said. But that often requires
“rewiring” the brain, since most people think more about the past or future
rather than the present. Mindfulness, staying in the moment, can be learned and
developed GAIN, which stands for
gratitude, acceptance, intention and nonjudgment, which is a way to practice
Gratitude requires paying
attention to the things one is grateful for and reflecting on the blessings
received, Hammer said, instead of taking things for granted. Even in the most
stressful of times, opportunities for gratitude exist. Hammer suggested
constantly looking for the good in daily experiences. Physicians can appreciate
one’s health, abilities or loving family. Doing so will improve personal
recommends people write down in a journal three things they are grateful for as
they prepare for bed. It takes little time, yet people sleep better and are
happier, with a positivity bias.
Acceptance refers to not
struggling against chronic pain, anxiety or other negative things. It does not
mean being apathetic, but rather actively practicing acceptance of those things
one cannot change. Pain and suffering is part of life, and healthcare
professionals must accept it. Resisting can magnify the suffering.
purpose for the moment. People can decide how to think or act. Intention is a
process, not a goal or destination.
have to live our lives with purpose and intention,” Hammer said.
acceptance of the things as they are, without categorizing them as good or bad.
toward happiness and away from burnout
each day with a three-minute meditation. Then, incorporate sleep as a priority,
along with healthy eating and exercising.
recommends noticing one’s breath when entering a patient’s room. Air should
enter through the nose, into the chest and out.
professionals should reverse their maladaptive thought processes and think
positive thoughts, Hammer said.
small steps for steady progress over time. Compassion for oneself and others is
essential and will lead to greater happiness.
is possible. One has to make the choice and take the GAIN steps. Hammer
encourages everyone to give it a 30-day trial.
health care professionals have been pleasantly surprised by the transformation
that GAIN has produced for them in just a few weeks,” Hammer concludes in his
book. “An antidote to burnout, GAIN buffers us from stress and builds
for a new perspective on work? Staff
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