7 Ways to Reduce Burnout for Healthcare Professionals

hospital-workers-wisdomway-instituteWhile those in the healthcare industry are working to help others improve their quality of life, they may often end up reducing their own. What was once a deeply fulfilling career can turn into a source of stress, especially while we are amidst a global pandemic. Whether you’re a physician, a nurse, or part of support and administrative staff, you are probably working overtime to help provide for patients’ needs. This can eventually lead to a constant feeling of being mentally and physically exhausted.

The consequences of burnout in healthcare extend beyond the individual level. It reduces quality of care as it diminishes one’s ability to be fully present with patients. Burned-out physicians and nurses can suffer from impaired attention, memory, and executive function which reduces patient safety. [1] Burned-out physicians are also at the risk of leaving the practice or field altogether which decreases overall access to and continuity of care.

As a healthcare worker, attending to your own mental and physical well-being is one of the best ways to ensure that you are providing the compassionate care that you intended to when you entered the field. In this article, we’ll help you identify some of the signs that you may be experiencing burnout along with listing practical ideas to help you reduce its effects.

The Three Symptoms of Burnout

Burnout is a long-term stress reaction that occurs in occupations where individuals work with people in some capacity. According to the Maslach Burnout Inventory, a leading measure of burnout, it is marked by three symptoms in healthcare professionals: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lack of sense of personal accomplishment. [2] Let’s take a closer look at each.

1. Emotional Exhaustion
It’s normal to have an occasional bad day. But if you feel more drained by your work than inspired by it on a frequent basis – even after taking some time off – you are likely suffering from burnout. There’s a point at which you give so much that you don’t leave enough emotional resources to care for your own well-being. This reduces your ability to regulate your emotions, make clear judgements, and to meet people with compassion.

2. Depersonalization
You really want to treat everyone with kindness – but maybe you sometimes notice that you’re getting a bit frustrated or cynical with patients or coworkers? This impersonal response towards people is a sign of burnout. It has also been called secondary trauma or compassion fatigue. Basically, you become so overwhelmed and stressed out that your ability to empathize with others diminishes – even though that’s not your intention.

3. Lack of sense of personal accomplishment
Ever feel like no matter how much you do, it doesn’t make enough of a difference? Or perhaps you don’t feel like you are achieving the level of “success” you imagined when you started in the field? When your accomplishments aren’t being acknowledged – whether by patients, coworkers, or yourself – it can be hard to notice how much your work really is making a difference. The inner critic that we all have then creeps up and adds an extra layer of stress and decreased fulfillment to your days.

Still not sure if you’re experiencing burnout? You can take a burnout self-assessment here (provided by MindTools.com). 

Seven Ways to Help You Reduce Burnout

To overcome emotional exhaustion:

1. Integrate self-care into your daily schedule
Feeling emotionally or mentally exhausted makes it harder to treat others with compassion. Think back to the last time you felt at peace and relaxed – you probably noticed that you naturally responded to people with more kindness and joy. 

At the beginning of your week, plan out how you will take care of your physical and mental well-being: whether it’s your favorite sport or workout class, yoga, meditation, massage therapy, a creative outlet, or a date with your loved one, put it in your calendar. You will be more likely to honor that commitment to yourself – and in turn benefit all those whose lives you touch.

2. Practice the STOP exercise throughout the day
The STOP technique is a mindfulness technique that can help you relieve emotional or mental stress as it arises – and it only takes a moment. Practice it a few times a day as you do your daily tasks. You could perhaps tie it into something you already do on a daily basis such as your coffee/tea breaks. 

Here’s how to do it:

Stop: Pause what you’re doing and thinking.

Take a breath: Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply a few times. Deep breathing slows the stress response and activates your parasympathetic nervous system which engages the relaxation response.

Observe: Observe what’s happening in your body. What feelings, thoughts, and sensations are you noticing? See if you can be with them without judging them as good or bad. Realize that there’s a greater awareness within you that is noticing these sensations.

Proceed: Go back to what you were doing, but now more mindful of how you will respond. You should already feel a greater level of awareness and kindness. Focus on your most important priority in that moment and take it one small step at a time.

3. Protect your work-life balance
It can be extremely hard to feel a sense of work-life balance when you spend most of your waking hours at work. But just because we live in a workaholic society doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t say “no” to extra assignments when you know that you will not be able to give a 100% due to exhaustion. 

In the long-run, asking for time off when you need to attend to personal issues can help you serve more people – and with a higher level of care – than trying to push through when you can barely think straight.

Creating a work-life balance may be even harder if leaders in the field aren’t modeling it themselves. If you’re a leader or a manager in the healthcare system, make sure to keep your own work-life balance in order so that employees feel ok with following your example and maintaining their own work-life balance.

To help you reconnect with patients on a more personal level:

4. Practice Self-Compassion
When you have compassion for yourself and are able to be with your own feelings, it makes it easier to cultivate greater compassion towards others. Take a few self-compassion breaks throughout the day – you could even tie this into your STOP breaks. When a situation brings you stress, notice those feelings of stress in your body (Observe). Now add the extra step of recognizing that you are not the only one dealing with stress. Think of others who may be going through something similar. 

Wish yourself and others well. You could even place your hands over your heart and say something along the lines of “may I be kind to myself.” The more you can practice this when things aren’t too stressful, the easier it will be in more challenging situations.

5. Connect with our common humanity
Before going into the room to see patients, take a few breaths to become centered. Open the door and try to connect with the patient beyond just the patient-caregiver role. As you notice that both you and the patient are in pain, it’s easier to meet them at the level of our common humanity. While the patient may be in physical pain, the feelings of stress and overwhelm you may be feeling are also a form of pain. When you connect on a deeper level, your work will become more meaningful and you will be able to listen better and provide better care.

“Having compassion for others frees us from fearing … it turns our attention outward, expanding our perspective, making our own problems … part of something bigger than us that we are all in together.” -Thupten Jinpa

To help you remember that what you do matters:

6. Acknowledge your success
Get into the mental habit of noticing how much you’re helping others. Every time you relieve someone of pain or bring a smile to their face, you are making a difference. What you do matters!

Try to notice the ways you’re positively impacting the lives of patients and coworkers on a daily basis – regardless of how small you think these are. Consider journaling about these experiences. Feel grateful for the opportunity to use your skills and talents to help relieve others of their pain and stress.

7. Identify what you can and can’t control
While we all want to be able to help others as much as possible, sometimes there are things that are beyond our personal level of control. This can especially be a source of stress for healthcare workers who may often feel responsible for all of a patient’s health outcomes. 

Learn to recognize what factors you can and cannot control within each stressful situation. If it’s something that is within your level of control, do it or make the plan to do it at the appropriate time. If there are things that you want to control but can’t, recognize the fact that you can’t control them and shift your focus towards something that you can control.

Reduce Burnout with Mindfulness

Even if you only implement one or two of the strategies mentioned above, you are already taking the steps to improving the patient experience – and your own quality of life.

Learning to practice mindfulness can help healthcare workers reduce burnout by increasing resilience, compassion, and self-awareness. WisdomWay Institute provides training to help you put insights such as these into practice so that you and all those whose lives you touch can find more peace and calm. 

Bring the tools of mindfulness and compassionate caregiving into your organization by contacting us today to explore how we can work together to transform healthcare.



[1] Physician Burnout, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality


[2] MBI: Human Services Survey for Medical Personnel