3 Lies That May Be Leading You To Burnout

Medical school is stressful.  That is an understatement.

The question isn’t whether or not you’ll experience stress, but rather what do you when you are stressed.  Stress isn’t necessarily negative though it becomes an issue when you allow your stress to move from making you motivated and focused to fatigue, exhaustion and ultimately burnout. As a therapist working with medical students and physicians, I often hear common phrases surrounding stress and have listed a few below.

“I have a high tolerance for stress.”

As you know, when you are in a high-pressured season of life, you can be in “ fight or flight” in which you become more alert.  It is the adrenaline run when you are taking your MCAT, the intense push to study when you could be playing video games or going out for pizza, and the drive to do what needs to be done to go the extra mile in your studies.  This helps you be alert when the stakes are high as well as adaptive and alert during a crisis.  However, if you are consistently experiencing acute levels of stress, it can negatively impact your productivity and even accuracy when working with patients.

“It works well for my personality.  I like intense situations where I’m being challenged because I’d be bored otherwise.”

Anxiety is often linked to people who are highly conscientious, detail oriented, performance driven, socially responsible, and successful individuals. This isn’t a coincidence that these traits are found in individuals with high anxiety.  There is often a correlation. While certain careers offer greater opportunities to strike a healthy work-life balance but self-care and balance are challenging to maintain in the field of medicine.  When balance ceases to exist, physicians become susceptible to burnout. The very traits and qualities that serve you well in school can become your greatest liability when not treated.

“If I ignore my stress, it will go away.  I don’t have time to deal with my own issues right now.”

Medical school students and physicians have dedicated their lives to help their patients and it is a very noble work.  Some seasons are faster paced than others so self-care might look different when the margins are thinnest.  However, there is a big difference between having intense seasons and an intense life.  Sometimes you won’t have much time to seek professional help, reach out to those in the body of Christ for support, or take some down time for yourself.  However, this cannot be an excuse for neglecting your own self-care when life is less hectic. When unattended to, something very manageable like anxiety can become life debilitating.  It is all about prevention.  You have the opportunity to do for yourself what you tell your patients and thus model it for them as well.  

If you related to some or all of the phrases, I encourage you to consider taking some next steps to decrease your stress levels.  These are some simple steps that over time can make a significant impact. 

  • Decreasing current stressors (Create boundaries with outside stressors, say “no” to unnecessary commitments, and limit time with draining people and environments.)

  • Increase support resources (Spend time with family and friends, talk with a professional, ask for prayer, join a CMDA bible study, and seek support from peers.)

  • Prioritize (Focus on what is in your control and not in your control. Focus on what is in your control and then delegate what is not in your control.)

  • Stress management techniques (Exercise, pray, serve others, write gratitude lists.)

  • Self-monitoring (Use a mood tracking app to “check in” with your anxiety and utilize coping skills when the stress level increases.  You can’t change what you aren’t aware of so doing this will help you monitor it before it gets too high.)

Guest post by Dr. Emily Shupert is on the leadership Council for CMDA Atlanta and is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in the state of Georgia, Emily earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Development and Family Studies with a Child Life Therapy Concentration from Samford University. Emily earned her Masters of Arts from Dallas Theological Seminary in Counseling in Dallas, Texas and her PhD in Christian Counseling from International University. These programs provided a theological and psychological integration model as many people’s understanding of God impacts how they makes sense of challenges and learn to cope during times of difficulty. Visit {Simplified} Life Solutions to learn more.