For those who don’t know, I left my job as an outpatient physical therapist earlier this year, but I’ve written about that before so if you’d like to read more you can do so here. Part of the reason that I made a career change was because of burnout; something that all too many physical therapists (and people in general) experience on a regular basis.
The goal of this blog is to provide you with an understanding of what burnout is (what it feels like) and how you can make changes in your life to avoid letting burnout become the norm. Remember that there is no one-size fits all approach to dealing with burnout and that everyone experiences life in their own unique way. The suggestions throughout this blog are just that – suggestions. Use what’s helpful and ignore the rest.
What Does It Feel Like?
When I graduated PT school in 2019 and started my first job, I was beyond excited to be “out in the real world,” making money and working with patients full time. However, the honeymoon phase of work quickly faded as I settled in to the pace of the clinic in which I was working. Seeing upwards of 18 patients on most days, I soon noticed that I was
tired exhausted, frustrated and simply, not at my best. These feelings continued for months prior to the start of the pandemic and led me to a negative headspace. With few alternative options, I was aware of the path toward burnout but didn’t know how to change course.
While it feels different for everyone, some common characteristics of burnout include decreased energy levels, lack of fulfillment, feelings of stagnation (lack of growth), reduced ownership (efficacy), lack of belonging (and/or appreciation) and mental dissonance from one’s job (among other things). Discussion on burnout is common within the physical therapy profession and for good reason – but that’s for another blog. Burnout can happen in any area of life (not just from work) and it affects every area of life. It’s an ambiguous combination of thoughts, feelings and emotions that can drag us down to a place where we don’t want to be.
How Does It Happen?
There’s no single, universal thing that causes burnout across the board. However, there are common circumstances that together, make burnout probable and while the following list is extensive, it’s far from comprehensive. There’s no particular order to what follows but I will express that through personal experience and reflection the following statement was the biggest contributor to the burnout that I experienced: what I was doing wasn’t aligned with who I was. In other words, I felt that I was a cog in a wheel and that I had the potential (and calling) to make a larger and more unique impact.
But enough about me, let’s get to the list.
- lack of fulfillment (your work doesn’t feel important or meaningful)
- lack of boundaries (your work life consumes your entire life)
- lack of belonging (your work doesn’t provide a sense of community)
- lack of alignment (your work doesn’t align with who you are)
- lack of potential (your work isn’t helping you grow toward the person you want to be)
- lack of appreciation (your work doesn’t make you feel seen, heard and appreciated)
- lack of energy (your work leaves you feeling exhausted, tired and unmotivated)
The list above is focused on things about our work that can lead to burnout however, there are plenty of internal (personal) factors that can also contribute to burnout. these include things like having high (unrealistic) expectations, unwillingness to work hard at things that aren’t easy, lack of relationships/support outside of work, etc.. There are thousands of things that can lead to burnout, but the point is this – if you’re feeling a combination of the things above, you might be headed toward (or at) burnout, but it’s not too late.
How To Make A Change?
For me, the solution to burnout was to take life into my own hands; to take ownership of the impact that I wanted to create. However, quitting a job is not the right move for everyone and that is not what I’m suggesting you go and do – it’s one of many possible routes. However, according to The Harvard Business Review, there are three important factors for enduring and fulfilling work.
- Career – work that provides autonomy and opportunities to grow
- Community – work that allows us to feel connected, respected and recognized
- Cause – work that creates a meaningful impact in the world
These components of fulfilling work are a great place to start when assessing and addressing feelings of burnout. If you’re reading these words and thinking that it’s time to quit your job and do your own thing, that’s exciting, but don’t jump ahead just yet (contact me though). There are likely ways to improve each of these categories where you are right here and right now. It all starts with having open and honest conversations with people that you trust and eventually with the people that you work with (and for).
To keep things simple (because next steps will be unique for everyone reading this), make a concentrated effort to improve each of these areas and monitor how you feel along the way. It makes sense to also do the obvious things – exercise, eat healthier, drink enough water, get good sleep, form meaningful relationships outside of work, be creative in your free time, take cold showers (surprise!) and just take care of you!
To end this blog, I want you to know that if you’re feeling the effects of burnout, you’re not alone. Whether or not you’re in the field of physical therapy, just know that even though you might not see a path to beating burnout right now, there is one and it takes time. Overcoming burnout is (in my opinion) about fulfillment and meaning fist and foremost – it’s about aligning what you do with who you are, not as a professional, but as a human being. Let me leave you with words much wiser than mine.
Being overwhelmed means that your life or work is overpowering you. Regain control by clarifying your intentions, setting realistic expectations and focusing on your next step.