Stress and Burnout

Feeling “stressed out”? This catch phrase has become all too common in everyday life—especially at work. Stress can cause more than a little anxiety or discomfort, however. Making time for healthy stress breaks at work can help combat the long-term health and psychological effects of stress, which can include decreasing self-confidence and an increased risk of heart disease and even death. Taking a short break several times a day also can help keep you focused, energized and productive.

Your breaks can last just a few seconds or several minutes, depending on the circumstances. If you feel particularly stressed, you might want to take a few minutes to regroup.

For a quick pick-up

If you just need to catch your breath, a few seconds’ pause could do the trick. To avoid burnout, make sure you take time to recharge when you need it.

For a quick pick-up, take several seconds to change position. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Try thinking about something funny or an activity you enjoy. Repeat this pause at strategic times throughout the day.

A longer break

Taking a few longer breaks of up to about 5 minutes can help overcome mid-morning and mid-afternoon lows. Use these tips to make the most of your break time:

  • Just close your eyes and relax. If you have an office, shut the door and daydream for a couple minutes. If you sit in a cubicle or other work space, turn your chair toward a quiet area.
  • Meditate. If you don’t know how to get started, many websites and books can offer guidance. Or, try 5 minutes of deep relaxation. Concentrate on breathing deeply and rhythmically to release tension.
  • Talk to a friend. Of course, don’t interrupt a co-worker who’s busy. And remember to keep breaks to a reasonable length. But it is important to develop supportive relationships at work. A good support system can help diffuse stress and boost morale.
  • Take snack breaks. Keep healthy snacks such as pretzels or dried fruit on hand to provide extra energy. And stay hydrated. Drink ice water instead of cola or coffee.
  • Massage your pressure points. For example, press the pressure points near your jaw joints in front of your ears.

Check your work environment

Keep the “big picture” in mind as well. What changes can you make in your work environment that could help lower your stress level? Try personalizing your space. A few photographs or colorful posters could brighten your office and make it a place you feel comfortable taking a short break. Also, try arranging your work area so you have to get up and walk to reach your file cabinet or bookshelf. This will help keep you active throughout the day and provide a built-in time for you to pause for a few seconds.

Watch your posture

Posture can play an important role in keeping your stress level under control as well. Sit up straight—don’t slouch! If you catch yourself hunching toward your computer or telephone, take a second to straighten up. If necessary, consider asking for a different chair.

Finally, try to identify your sources of stress at work. Make a list and evaluate each item. Can you eliminate or work around some of those stressors? It could help keep you healthy!

Resources

BMC:
Employee Assistance Office – free, confidential counseling via toll-free phone line or in person for BMC employees and eligible dependents.
Integrative medicine – patients and staff are offered a variety of integrative services at no charge or for a modest fee.
Stress Reduction and Relaxation Training Clinic in the Behavioral Medicine Department, Adult Primary Care, Boston Medical Center. Located in Shapiro 5B. Please call 617-414-5951 for an appointment.
BMC Human Resources – non-confidential services for BMC employees

BU:
Faculty and Staff Assistance Office – free, confidential counseling and referral service for faculty, staff and their families with locations on both Medical and Charles River campuses
Office of the Ombuds – confidential, impartial, problem-solving resource serving faculty, staff, and students on the Charles River and Medical Campus.
BU Human Resources – Human Resources on the Medical Campus is available to prospective, current, and retired employees of Boston University. Their services are not confidential.

Off campus:
Walking tour maps of Boston – Each self-guided walk has a detailed route as well as distances and descriptions of sights and scenes. Included is BMC/BUMC neighborhood tour map.

Online:
Five strategies for physicians to overcome burnout
Doctors have feelings, tooThe New York Times

Publications:
Stress Management: A Comprehensive Guide to Wellness by Edward A. Charlesworth and Ronald G. Nathan. Random House Publishing Group, 2004.
The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook by Martha Davis, Matthew McKay, and Elizabeth R. Eshelman. New Harbinger Pubns Inc, 2008.