Are You Trapped In A Comfortable Misery? – by Clark Gaither, MD, FAAFP

Okay, so you feel completely burned out at your job but you’ve decided to put your head down, grind away and tough it out until retirement. You have come to believe your current misery is better than the unknowns of change. Have you stopped to consider, though, what you will give up or lose with acceptance of a “comfortable misery” strategy?

The burned out individual will tend to assume their current situation is the better path to take and reject any objective notion to the contrary. This is a reflection of the burned out mindset.

Burned out match

Do you feel burned out?

Simply tolerating burnout is not a fail-safe way to go. The long-term consequences of unremitting job related burnout can be severe. They will not only exact a toll on the burned-out individual’s mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health, but will affect others in their life as well.

Here are nine undeniable truths, consequences and realities about job related burnout and why it should definitively be addressed at all costs:

  1. Burnout is characterized by disengagement. The transition from engagement to burnout is disengagement. The burned out individual loses their vigor (energy), dedication (involvement) and absorption (efficacy) which are opposite the hallmarks of burnout – exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy.
  2. In burnout the positive emotions are blunted. In the beginning, burned out individuals get to a point where they can no longer give of themselves on an emotional or psychological level and can become almost emotionless. Some describe this as feeling dead inside, like they have nothing left to give.
  3. Burnout produces helplessness and hopelessness. The ability to change one’s circumstances seems to be taken away by the burned out mindset. Making needed change seems too overwhelming, if not impossible.
  4. Burnout leads to loss of motivation, ideals and hope. The on fire, dedicated, “I can accomplish anything”, passion driven idealism of the engaged provider is replaced by feelings of inefficacy. Providers begin to feel they are no longer making a difference in the lives of their patients, or in their own lives for that matter.
  5. Burnout leads to detachment and depression. Detachment is a universal consequence of burnout. People detach as they have a more difficult time dealing with the growing dissatisfaction in their work-life. The person with burnout tends to withdraw from coworkers, family and friends. This inevitably leads to professional then social isolation. As individuals become more and more isolated, depression is often the result.
  6. With burnout the damage is primarily emotional. Emotional exhaustion, helplessness and hopelessness are imposed by burnout in the short term as positive emotions are blunted. Long term, negative emotions such as anger, resentment and bitterness often become amplified.
  7. Burnout will make life seem not worth living and increases your risk of suicide. If burnout is allowed to progress, depression can result. Without relief or adequate treatment, a certain percentage of depressed individuals will act out in an attempt to alter their mood. Acting out can be with drugs, alcohol or aberrant behaviors. The worst way physicians act out is with suicide. Each year, over 400 physicians commit suicide in the U.S. which is six times higher than the general population.
  8. Full blown burnout can be much more difficult to manage as it includes stress and many other factors. All of the manifestations, symptoms, and causes of burnout must be correctly identified, treated or eliminated as part of any management plan. Efforts must be applied on many fronts. The most successful results come from workplace redesign and task restructuring, which can be a complicated process and difficult to achieve, but it’s not impossible and the rewards of doing so are great.
  9. Burnout may not be recognized as such by the individual as symptoms may be incorrectly attributed to some other cause. The symptoms of burnout are often incorrectly ascribed to stress. Burned out individuals are usually stressed, nearly 100% of the time, but you can be stressed without being burned out. If you treat burnout as you would treat stress or depression, nothing fundamental will change. The causes of burnout must be correctly and precisely identified and eliminated from the workplace. This is the only remedy.

You will never lead a life of happiness derived from passion-driven purpose if you are burned out. The most effective strategy for defeating burnout is early recognition and effective action. Future posts will feature both individual and organizational strategies to effectively manage this potentially devastating workplace scourge.

Do any of these resonate with you? Do you feel burned out at work? In a relationship? On life and living? Have a question about burn out? If so, please contact NCPHP at 919-870-4480.