By Melody Huang, OD
March 13, 2019
You’re conscientious in how you care for your patients and staff, but how conscientious are you in how you care for yourself? Just as we try our best to care for patients, many of us have to do better in providing self-care. When we aren’t setting aside time to refresh and reinvigorate ourselves, we lack the personal resources to be the best doctor we can be.
How Much Are You Juggling?
As optometrists who have loans to pay off, families to support and a desirable lifestyle to maintain, it’s easy to feel like we always need to work and earn more. I know colleagues who work six or seven days a week, hardly take vacations and commute hours in traffic every week. I feel exhausted just hearing their work schedules!
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If you have the energy of the Energizer bunny, and are so incredibly passionate about optometry that you can’t stay away from it, kudos to you. I think for the rest of us, we need to find a way to make optometry work for us, rather than having it just be the other way around. Burnout is something we may all face at some point in our careers. So, it’s important to make work-life balance a priority.
Like most new graduates from optometry school, I started out full-time working five days a week. I’ve worked at a variety of practices over the past several years. Some involved sitting in traffic for an hour each way during my commute, and some had extremely high exam volumes that left me exhausted each day.
I found myself in a bad mood after a terrible commute, or after a particularly busy and stressful day at work. This started to happen more frequently, and I didn’t like feeling irritable and tired all the time. I’m sure the people I spent time around didn’t like it either. I knew sooner or later the effects on my health and my relationships would catch up with me. I wanted to do something about it.
Developing a Personal Solution
I realized I shouldn’t run away from what was tiring me out, but rather, find another way to approach it. First, I decided to cut my schedule back to four days a week. I decided I would use the extra day to figure out a side hustle I really enjoyed to help replace the lost income. I knew I wanted something that allowed me to work from home and on a flexible schedule.
I ended up starting a freelance writing business, which I really enjoy. I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid, so I’m fulfilling a lifelong dream! I’ve gotten the chance to work with awesome bloggers and editors, and it’s fulfilling to exercise my creative side.
Another change I made was becoming a freelance optometrist. I realized part of the reason I felt burnt out was because I crave variety, and working the same schedule day in and day out tired me out. I arranged my schedule so that I now work at a few different offices every week, and pick up additional work at other offices when needed.
The flexibility gives me a peace of mind, which is important because avoiding burnout also requires a change in mindset. If you can find more ways to think positively about your career, and your life in general, you’ll feel much more at peace (even if the situation itself hasn’t changed).
I know not everyone is ready to run off and become part-time/freelance optometrists. But there are other changes you can make to avoid burnout. Here are five key tips:
Improve your commute. I’m from Los Angeles, and traffic is a constant headache among many of my colleagues here. You may not realize how much time you are spending sitting in your car, and that can zap your energy further after an already busy work day. Consider finding a practice that’s closer to home, or relocate if that’s a possibility for you.
Alter your schedule. If you feel burnt out because you’re seeing so many patients that you don’t even have time for lunch, and get off late every day, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Ask to set up a staff meeting, and work together to find a schedule that works for you and the practice.
Share Feelings. If you are burnt out, remember that your colleagues may feel the same! I know some of us adopt a passive attitude because we don’t want to make a fuss. But I encourage you not to deal with burnout silently, and to talk about it with others. You might be surprised at how far a little honesty gets you.
Change your mindset. It’s easy to let a bad mood spoil your day, especially when you’re already feeling burnt out. It’s especially important in these moments to relax your mind. If you have a few minutes at work, or during lunch, try a quick meditation. A relaxation app is an easy way to get started. I’ve used Calm and Simple Habit, and there are many other meditation apps available for free or a minimal cost.
Another tip is to come up with your own personal mantra. It can be a simple positive phrase that reminds you where you want to be in life. Here’s information on how to build your own mantra. It may sound cheesy to some, but I believe that changing your mindset, and being positive, really does make a difference. Just give it a try!
Be mindful of your health and fitness. We all know that regular exercise can help reduce stress levels, so don’t neglect this part of your routine. It might be tempting if you’re feeling burnt out to flop on the couch after work and do nothing, but think how much better you’ll feel if you squeeze in a few minutes of exercise!
You may also be tempted to eat junk food after a long day of work, but there are foods you can eat that will help you feel better, not worse after eating them. Check out this list of foods for stress reduction.
Take up fulfilling hobbies. Do you have a guitar that you haven’t dusted off in years, a cooking class you’ve been eyeing, or a woodworking project left unfinished in your garage? Be intentional about setting aside time for your hobbies. You can even mark it on your calendar. That way, you have something to look forward to during your work week.
Doing something you enjoy outside of work is a great reminder that there’s more to life than your career. If you’re saving up to buy fancy new road bikes to take your wife on her dream bike tour, keep a picture of the bike in your office. That way, you’ll remember why you’re working and what you’re working toward. To me, that is what work-life balance is all about.
Are you struggling with doctor burnout? What has helped you the most in minimizing stress, and increasing professional fulfillment?
Melody Huang, OD, is a freelance optometrist and writer practicing in Los Angeles, Calif. To contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org