Burn out. Most of us have been there, but don’t even realise it. The symptoms of burnout are insidious. They creep up on you without you realising they’re even there, like little black shadows nipping at our heels. For some of us, burnout will culminate in a serious wake up call. For me, it was a heart attack when I was just 34-years-old. For others, it might manifest in another physical way, or present as an emotional breakdown or a professional disaster. The key is to catch it at the initial warning bells – not when you wake up in Intensive Care.
While prolonged stress can cause burnout, burnout isn’t the same thing as stress. We can be stressed and still feel capable, if anxious. Stress can make us feel hyperactive and trigger physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating. However, when experiencing burnout, you’re mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted and may experience feelings of disengagement and beyond caring. Sometimes, burnout feels like nothing matters and you can feel listless or hopeless. Burnout looks different for every person but there are a few recognised initial symptoms. Emotional exhaustion, fatigue, trouble sleeping, decreased job satisfaction, stomach problems like IBS and upped booze and drug use are all red flags, which is turn cause inefficiencies at work, inattention to duties, isolation and feeling pissed off, resentful and withdrawn. These symptoms not only affect your work life, but can spill over into your home life too, affecting the ones you love the most.
Workplace burnout is on the rise. Busy lives combined with large workloads and stress create a veritable pressure cooker for the average worker. According to Beyond Blue, nearly 25 per cent of Aussies, equating to one in five, have taken time off work in the past year because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy. Furthermore, according to an Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) study, 45 per cent of Australians between the ages of 16-85 will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, with untreated mental health conditions estimated to cost Australian workplaces around $10.9 billion per year. That’s a lot of moolah!
Looking more closely at the pharmacy industry, the statistics show that a high stress environment and heavy workloads aren’t working wonders for Australian Pharmacists and their mental state. According to Monash University’s National Stress and Wellbeing Survey of Pharmacists, Intern Pharmacists and Pharmacy Students, half of Australia’s pharmacists are dissatisfied with their work-life balance – and those under 30-years-old or new to the profession are the most stressed.
Below are seven signs of burnout that you might not realise are triggers for a catastrophe around the corner. If any of these resonate with you, take a moment to look at how you might be able to cut down on your stress.
A nagging feeling of failure
Momentary loss of confidence in your abilities is normal, especially when you’re new to pharmacy and you’re just getting started. However, if these emotions persist, or you’re an established pharmacist with plenty of experience, this could be burnout talking. Negative thoughts about self-worth and value are signs of a flagging emotional resilience.
Pain in weird or unexplained places
When stress and tension reach a boiling point, the physical body tells us what we simply won’t acknowledge. Consider it the universe telling you it’s time to take a break – even if you don’t feel like you need it. Lower back pain or pelvic pain can often be symptomatic of holding a lot of stress in the body, as can sore or tight jaws or shoulders. Gastrointestinal issues can often be traced to anxiety and stress, leading to irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, constipation, reflux and heartburn to name a few.
A lack of motivation
Feeling bored or uninspired, despite a long to-do list or a heavy workload, is a real sign of exhaustion. When feeling fatigued or flat it’s easy to catastrophise or feel pessimistic, and hard to muster any feelings of keenness for your work. If you honestly feel like you just can’t be fucked for an extended period of time in any line of your life – be it seeing mates, enjoying your normal hobbies or your day-to-day tasks in the dispensary – then you may be suffering from burnout and its mental ramifications.
A compromised immune system
Do you always feel like you’re getting sick? Can’t seem to kick your head cold? Feel like you’ve caught every damn bug this year? Want to wear a mask near every coughing patient that walks through the door? If you’re generally a pretty healthy person, this could be burnout talking. Research shows that our immune system is connected to our emotional state. If you feel like you’ve been operating entirely from your sympathetic nervous system (also known as fight or flight) your energy sources will be depleted and you’re far more likely to be susceptible to illness.
Snappiness when others don’t deserve it
Yelled at the dog for being a dog? Snapped at an employee, colleague or your mum? Irritability is a classic sign of burnout. We don’t mean to be hurtful but burnout can manifest as criticising, crabby or moody behaviour. If you’ve sent a workmate in tears to the bathroom or feel guilty for being a shit to your partner, you’re not alone. However, these signs are a perfect opportunity to reassess how you’re actually feeling and what changes you could bring into your life to avoid them.
Making silly mistakes
When you’re in a rush it’s easy to make silly mistakes – putting your glasses in the fridge, the baby in the pantry. Wait, what? Many pharmacists believe dispensing for up to 10 hours at a time in a noisy, busy environment is normal. However, as a pharmacist you have a duty of care to safeguard the wellbeing of your patients and careless mistakes can have bigger consequences than wrongly addressed mail. Our greatest fear is dispensing the wrong medication, and when operating in the fog of burnout, the stakes in your pharmacy are high and careless mistakes are dangerous. If you catch yourself repeatedly making small mistakes in your work, it’s your moral obligation to stop and self-assess before any potentially lasting damage is done.
Feeling tired despite a 7-hour night
The symptoms of burnout and chronic fatigue is persistent, even if you’re getting decent zzz’s. Any prolonged, lasting changes in your life could be attributed to burnout. Used to be a heavy sleeper but now wide-eyed at 4am? Sleeping too little, or too much? Find it hard to drag yourself out of bed in the morning, even more than usual? If your symptoms persist beyond three-months, then it’s time to make some changes.
Where you can turn
- The Pharmacists’ Support Service is a network of trained pharmacists, pharmacy students and interns who are trained in peer support and telephone counselling. Established in 1995, the group offers support related to the many demands of being a pharmacist in Australia. Available 365 days a year from 8am-11pm, you can contact this amazing organisation on 1300 244 910.
- Your General Practitioner. As a healthcare professional, it can be easy to self-assess, or you can be too busy helping others to concentrate on your own wellbeing. Your GP has many resources and can prescribe a mental health care plan, entitling you to Medicare rebates for up to 10 individual and 10 group appointments with some allied mental health services in a single year.
- Mindful exercise. Joining a yoga or pilates studio, participating in a tai chi practise or engaging in regular, gentle exercise is a wonderful, restorative way to build up your stores of energy and focus on your breath.
- Meditation and mindfulness. This practise doesn’t have to be long – a five-minute inward period of reflection or focus on your breath can offer huge mental and physical benefits. Apps like Calm, Headspace and 1 Giant mind offer intuitive and easy to follow steps to starting your practise today.
- Confiding in a loved one or a support network. Simple expressing how you feel can lift a real weight off your shoulders.
- Learn to say no. Burning the candle at both ends is a sure-fire way to light the flame under burnout. Prioritising rest and self-care may feel unusual at first, especially if you have a family and are used to being a caregiver as well as the breadwinner. But as they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
How do you keep track of when you’re feeling burnt out? Do you do anything about it?! See what others are saying in our discussion forum here