To avoid burnout, take a long-term mental health perspective

To avoid burnout, take a long-term mental health perspective

Owning your time and scheduling automated check-ins can help students avoid burnout.

In the second episode of the Pharmacy Focus: Study Break podcast, Jessica Louie, PharmD, CEO and founder of The Burnout Doctor Podcast, sat down with us to discuss how students can manage burnout. Although words are often used interchangeably, there are fundamental differences between them. In particular, stress is often the precursor to Burnout, so managing the former can help prevent the latter.

Burnout is characterized by exhaustion, cynicism, and decreased self-efficacy, Louie explained. Exhaustion can be both emotional and physical and include chronic fatigue. Cynicism often follows exhaustion and can manifest itself as depersonalization or having a more negative perception of one’s work. Feeling disconnected from colleagues or patients can be a sign of cynicism. In the final stage of burnout, as self-efficacy wanes, individuals have a low sense of personal achievement and may begin to wonder if they really impact their workplace or their patients.

People under stress, on the other hand, typically appear to be overly busy (hyperactive), but as burnout starts to manifest, they tend to become more disengaged (underactive). While stress and burnout are so common, many students and pharmacists are unaware of the differences between the two, Louie pointed out. “Burnout is definitely something I didn’t know … when I was a student or a new pharmacist,” she said. “I actually experienced burnout … in 2014 and 2015.”

Burnout can also have a significant impact on mental health in a broader sense, and Louie urged students who may be having emotional difficulties to seek appropriate care from a licensed practitioner. Mental health and well-being go hand in hand, she said, and students in particular should remember that education isn’t the only important part of their life. Allowing your identity to do so
being attached to a single thing, like school, can quickly lead to burnout if students stop paying attention to their health, time with friends, and other meaningful experiences.

To maintain a balance between responsibilities, Louie recommends that students do a “joy check” every week to make sure their physical, social, educational, spiritual, and other needs are being met. “We want to feel aligned, so that we don’t feel like school or work is our whole life,” she said.

This balancing act can be particularly challenging for students, who may be involved in academic and professional organizations, as well as being subject to the daily stress that courses and their personal lives can generate. Louie urges students to block out time periods for different activities on a planner. That way they can be in control, instead of just reacting to outside demands and rushing from one activity to another.

Likewise, setting boundaries can be especially important when students juggle professional and personal responsibilities. While some are inevitable, anything students agree to do should bring joy and add value to their lives, Louie said.

Finally, when feeling exhausted, everyone should take a day as CEO, a day dedicated solely to tasks that will advance them personally and professionally. During that day, students can think about the goals they want to set and plan how to achieve them.

“So if you’re a first year and planning to set goals in the next 3 years, or if you’re a fourth year and planning to set goals in the next two years, you can start brainstorming on your own,” said Louie. . “And then once you have goals … you can start breaking them down into how you’ll get something in 3 years by breaking it down into an annual goal, and then decoding it into a quarterly goal.”

This approach can help students prepare for the future without being overwhelmed by the big picture. Not all goals should be pursued at the same time, and it may be helpful to recognize that some may be more urgent at different times. For example, employment may be more important than school work during the gap between semesters, while academics will have priority during the semester.

Louie added that burnout is more likely to occur during life transitions, such as between graduating from college and becoming a full-time pharmacy employee. While students may not always be in control of these transitions, they do
have control over whether or not stressors are added to a given situation.

“Maybe that means if you’ve just graduated from college and are starting a new job, you don’t even add taking additional board exams at the same time, or making a big purchase at the same time,” said Louie. “You push them back a couple of months so that you can focus on that one transition, instead of having 2 or 3 or 4 transitions going on at exactly the same time.”

Finally, pharmacy students should view mental health care as an investment in themselves. Blocking free time every day or every week to relax and check in with yourself can be effective, and writing it down on your calendar can help turn it into a routine.

“I only encourage students to take some time for this and invest in yourself, whether that’s putting 5 minutes on your calendar or putting 30 minutes on your calendar,” said Louie. “Take some time for yourself and don’t break that appointment once it’s on your calendar.”

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