How to Help Mitigate the Physical Impact of Burnout

Posted on August 9, 2018 by Liz Ferron, MSW, LICSW

Potential Physical Implications of Burnout

Physician-Burnout-Healthy-SolutionsBurnout—defined as persistent emotional exhaustion, physical fatigue and cognitive weariness—may negatively affect physical health more than previously believed.

Recent studies show burnout is a significant predictor of hypercholesterolemia, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, hospitalization due to cardiovascular disorder, musculoskeletal pain, changes in pain experiences, prolonged fatigue, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, respiratory problems and severe injuries. The psychological effects of burnout include insomnia, depressive symptoms, use of psychotropic and antidepressant medications, hospitalization for mental disorders and psychological ill-health symptoms.

A literature review by psychology professor Samuel Melamed, PhD, and his colleagues at Tel-Aviv University in Israel, sheds light on how burnout contributes to poor health outcomes. One possible culprit is low cortisol levels, which is known as the “stress hormone.” A deficit in cortisol may disinhibit immune function, leading to hyperactivity of innate immune inflammatory responses.

Impact on Lifestyle

In our experience, the connection also comes from the impact of burnout on lifestyle. Stressed and busy clinicians are apt to grab an unhealthy meal, skip a meal or opt for comfort food. Exhausted and fatigued after work, they are less likely to engage in physical exercise. A recent Medscape Lifestyle survey indicated 47% of physicians want to lose weight and 32% exercise once a week or less.

One of the most difficult aspects of stress management is stress and burnout symptoms act as a barrier to taking restorative actions, like hopping on the treadmill, engaging in social interactions, fixing a healthy meal or meditating when you are emotionally exhausted or physically fatigued. Yet practicing self-care is essential to reducing stress and combating burnout.

4 Healthy Solutions

1. Use a Peer Coach or Accountability Partner to Support a Healthy Lifestyle

First, you may want to engage a coach or accountability partner to provide support and guidance as you work towards a changing lifestyle. Our peer coaches are available to assist you in this pursuit. A colleague at work can fill the bill as well. One of our clients reported engaging a coworker in regular lunch time walks. He found the regularity of the activity led to greater follow through, as well as having someone counting on his participation. It also had the secondary benefit of social interaction and a vehicle for talking through work strains.

2. Set Goals

Second, setting goals makes it more likely you will make change, even if you don’t fully reach your goal. Physician Well Being Resources members can set health-related goals using our VITAL WorkLife App. Create goals, merge them with the calendar on your phone and set alerts to remind you of action steps. If you are not a member, a quick search in the app store will populate numerous apps available to help you set and track goals.

3. Start Small

Third, remember to start small. Positive reinforcement found by practicing daily gratitude, identifying “three good things” from each day and taking five minutes a day to appreciate surrounding nature can have a positive impact on well being and restore your mental energy.

4. Use Fitness Trackers

Fourth, don’t hesitate to use tools for lifestyle improvement such as a fitness tracker to count steps and monitor sleep habits, or finding an app where you can enter daily food intake.

Whatever you choose to do, the most important thing is to decide to do something. Your self-commitment offers momentum and will help you stick with it.

We Can Help

Meet with a peer coach to help enhance your physical well being! Connect with us through your VITAL WorkLife App or call 877.731.3949 to access your Physician Well Being Resources. 


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