Staving off burnout

Already singed? Use these strategies to find new energy and tackle your work feeling renewed and refreshed.
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May 01, 2005


Dr. W. Bradford Swift, DVM
I'd wanted to be a veterinarian since I was 7 years old, but after 12 years in practice, I didn't know if I could stand another day. I was frustrated, tired, and worn out by the constant stresses of practice, including staffing headaches, client turnover, and financial strains. And those stresses were having a profoundly negative influence on my personal life, too.

I felt disjointed and disconnected from those I cared about most. My life was out of balance and nearly out of control. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, I was exhausted.

The pain of burnout became so intense that I started abusing alcohol and drugs in an effort to make it through another day. I even contemplated suicide before I finally realized veterinary practice didn't need to be so hard and unrewarding. In fact, life itself didn't need to be such a struggle. I finally sought help and turned my practice—and my life—around.


The facets of burnout
The clouds didn't part overnight, though. Recovering from burnout was a process that took years. I hired a business coach to help me get on track and, eventually, sell the business. As I started to transform, professionally and personally, I realized I still loved veterinary medicine. Yet in the end, I found the calling to write was even stronger, and I changed my life.

Of course, the choices you make to realign your life may be different. Think through your options with these strategies.

STOP the cycle of stress Step back, Think, Organize your thoughts, and then Proceed. Taking such STOPs regularly gives you an opportunity to recover from stresses that build up at work. Unfortunately, as Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz point out in their book The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal (Free Press, 2005), most of us approach our work and lives like a marathon runner rather than a sprinter. Many people just keep running, instead of running and then resting, so it's no wonder many of us burnout before we reach the finish line.


Get some perspective
Start by adding short STOP periods of 10 to 15 minutes every couple of hours throughout the day. Then, add longer STOPs, such as regular organizational meetings that give you time to look at the big picture. Your team benefits from time-outs, too, so consider hosting an occasional company picnic or brainstorm other ways to recharge and rejuvenate your staff members.

Finally, make sure you build in vacation time. A vacation lets you truly get away from work for rest and relaxation. Trust me, it's worth the hassle to organize that time away.

Try doing less Many practitioners aren't naturally gifted at delegation, so they end up trying to do everything, including paperwork, scheduling, and payroll. While these detail-oriented tasks need to be done, you don't necessarily need to do them yourself. Someone who enjoys the work—and is therefore better equipped to do the tasks—would be a better choice.