It’s been over a month since I took a break from my full-time job as a physician after burning out. What have I been doing? Basically nothing. Although I haven’t accomplished anything over the past month and a half, I’ve come to a lot of realizations about life.
I know I’m not alone in going through this, which helps me cope. A recent survey by Indeed found that over half (52%) of survey respondents were experiencing burnout in 2021—up from 43% pre-Covid-19. Although the burnout rate is rising, not everyone is daring enough to just leave their job for an unspecified amount of time to allow a full recovery, but it might just be the best thing you do for yourself.
Here’s how my break has been going so far.
How To Recognize Burnout
The months leading up to my leave were when I slowly came to the realization that I needed a long break. Most days, my mind was mostly a blank slate. I couldn’t come up with any creative ideas like I used to. All I thought about all day was what I needed to do now and what I needed to do next. I felt empty and emotionless. I often wondered “What am I doing to myself?” and “Why am I doing this?” I noticed I was getting more frequent migraines, and I was constantly tired too. I never felt like doing anything after I got home from work. My last day of work finally came and actually felt bittersweet. I felt a sense of relief wash over me as I was leaving, and I knew it was the right thing to do for myself.
Taking A Step Back
I spent the past month mostly doing nothing all day other than working on my side hustle. It seems like I can only manage one task a day before I’m overwhelmed and out of energy. (Just opening my laptop was too much of a task for me to do. So much that I ended up writing the majority of this on my phone.) I just didn’t have the energy to do anything else. I did spend a few days working on a huge jigsaw puzzle, which was something I hadn’t done in a long time and helped me take my mind off of life. Did I feel guilty about doing nothing? Absolutely. But I also knew I needed to learn how to relax.
I tried my best to make myself take care of my skin and go to bed before midnight every day and eat healthier. My husband urged me to go out a few times and I begrudgingly agreed to try some new restaurants and we did some window-shopping. Even then, it took a lot of energy for me to get ready. I’ve also been spending more time playing with my dogs and just enjoying their presence.
I developed a routine of asking myself three questions every morning:
– What do I feel like doing today? Most of these days, the answer is still nothing.
– What do I need to do? Things like paying bills, keeping up with continuing education, keeping up with licensing.
– What should I do to improve my life or myself? These are mostly things that I should be doing to prevent burnout in the future, such as exercising, figuring out a skincare routine, cleaning, seeing a therapist, networking, learning to say no/setting boundaries. Unfortunately, I have yet to get started on any of these things and I’m telling myself that that’s okay.
How Burnout Changed My Perspective
Since I went on break, I’ve thought a lot about the meaning of life, what I want out of life, and how I want to live my life. I realized I didn’t have a clear vision of this in the past. My vision was simply becoming a doctor and helping others. I thought that would be enough to lead a fulfilling life for me. But now I realize there’s more to life than my career. You matter too. Your emotions, wants, and needs are important aspects of your life too. I sacrificed so much of my life over the past 10 years and neglected myself. Now it’s time to repair those damages.
My whole perspective on life has changed. I no longer want to be solely career focused. We only have one life to live, and what is life if you don’t enjoy it? I’ve always placed all sorts of restrictions on myself in the past such as not allowing myself to read for fun, watch TV shows, try high-end fancy restaurants (because student loans), go on expensive vacations, etc. I realized I can’t keep putting off living my own life. Backpacking or hiking in a foreign country is not going to be the same when I’m 65. And who knows if I’ll even live to 65. So I’m learning to let myself enjoy life and live. My husband always complains, “You haven’t lived!” And I finally know what he means.
I’m on my seventh week of leave now and the weight of burnout is slowly lifting. I’m noticing I have a bit more energy these days. I’m feeling like I’m ready to go out some days and be social. I’m still not back to 100% and definitely not ready to go back to work. I have no idea how long this break will last. Only time will tell. I’m not going to concern myself with that right now. I’m just focusing on living for now.
My takeaway advice is: Life is not a race. Recovery from burnout takes time. Start small and take baby steps. The best thing you can do for yourself is to take action now and prevent burnout by being more mindful, scheduling self-care on a regular basis, finding work-life balance, and rethinking your priorities in life.