• Article
  • March 22, 2017

3 Minutes Can Help Health Care Professionals Move From Burned Out to Resilient

To turn around your thinking, take time at the end of your day to reflect on what went well.

You're focused on providing the best patient care. But if you're not practicing the best self-care to manage the stressful situations you face at work, it can have a serious effect on your health—and ultimately, the quality of care at your hospital. Reducing stress and burnout among health care workers is critical. J. Bryan Sexton, Ph.D., featured keynote at the 2017 Quality and Safety in Children's Health Conference, started his presentation by asking the audience six questions:

  • Have you skipped a meal?
  • Worked an entire shift without any breaks?
  • Changed personal or family plans because of work? 
  • Arrived home late from work?
  • Felt frustrated by technology?
  • Drank too much coffee?

He says these are work-life balance problems that may be the result of burnout.

Burnout—from a clinical view—is associated with lower patient satisfaction, higher infection rates, medication errors and higher mortality rates. For health care professionals, it equates to a shorter lifespan (10 to 13 years shorter), a low quality of relationships, a decrease in immune system function, an increase in personal injuries, more traffic violations and accidents, and work-life balance issues, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide.

"In our research, this theme came up again and again—when doing quality improvement, you can actually do more harm when you have people who aren't ready to take on one more change," Sexton says.

A quick quiz: Am I burned out?

Saying "yes" to just one of these questions may signal that you are burned out or approaching burnout. You can also ask these questions to predict where burnout will be show up within your workforce in the next year.

  • Do you try to be everything to everyone?
  • Do you get to the end of a hard day of work and feel like you have not made a meaningful difference?
  • Do you feel like the work you are doing is not recognized?
  • Do you identify so strongly with work that you lack a reasonable balance between work and your personal life?
  • Does your job vary between monotony and chaos?
  • Do you feel you have little or no control over your work?
  • Do you work in health care?

What do you do from here? You tap into tools built for the busy, stressed professionals who deserve having easy ways to change.

A few minutes and an intervention

Think of burnout as a social contagion. "We know that attitudes are contagious," Sexton says. "Someone's drama becomes the anchor that begins to weigh your boat down. So if you're surrounded by people who are really struggling, how do you maintain your own positive way of thinking?"

The intervention, 3 Good Things, is simple and based on these ideas:

  1. We are hardwired to remember the negative—that's what keeps the human race going. It's survival mode. You have to pull a different lever, like joy or gratitude, to manage positive emotion.
  2. We have enhanced recall of material that's reviewed during last two wakeful hours of your day.
  3. With practice (by day four or five), reflecting on the positive leads to noticing more positive—so you'll notice benefits quickly. 

Starting at bedtime, write down three things that went well during the day. It should only take two to three minutes. If you make these notes every night, you're statistically significantly happier and less depressed. It's easy, and Sexton says it's slightly more effective than taking depression medications (specifically, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), but not nearly as intense as learning an entirely new skill, such as meditation.

"The hallmark of truly resilient health care worker is not that they are pathologically positive; it's being able to recalibrate and adjust your current mood to the current situation accurately. And it's completely doable with the right tools," Sexton says.

CHA members are invited to be part of Sexton's latest research study. Text 73940, type in @3gt and send to learn more about the study.

Send questions or comments to magazine@childrenshospitals.org.