Playtime, rediscovery antidotes for burnout

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One of the workshops presented Jan. 6 during the four-day AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference in Chicago, "Break Through Your Burnout: Turning Stress into Playing Bolder," wasn't for the faint of heart. Presenter Jessica Rector challenged attendees to rediscover the fun that must be part of their lives and why they chose their career.

Attendees were diverse in age, gender, and practice experience.

First, Rector addressed preventing burnout.

"It's all about how we can light, ignite, and excite our passions. Sometimes we do the same thing over and over. When you feel defeated and depleted, that's when you feel burned out. So, what is your strategy when you play a game, or the game of life?"

Over time, people forget to set boundaries or become too flexible with them because of their desire to be liked, she said. "Transition over to saying ‘No' and sticking with it," she said. Start small. Create one boundary in one area, whether in communication or leadership, at home or work.

Growth happens only outside one's comfort zone, Rector said. Some of the ways attendees said they'd like to step outside their comfort zone were to skydive, cannonball, open a restaurant, work with snakes, and travel "somewhere that's not particularly safe, like Egypt or outer space."

Keeping things fun in her session on burnout, Jessica Rector invited attendees to blow up a balloon and insert a slip of paper saying whom they needed support from and how they would seek it. Then the balloons were sent sailing, and those who caught them read each intention aloud. One veterinary student planned to create opportunities with classmates to talk about things other than school. Another attendee opened up to accepting the support her mother had proffered.

Another attendee wanted to step outside her comfort zone by doing the high dive. Rector said take small steps; don't go all the way to the top at first. Jump into the shallow end before you do the high dive.

"Who gets excited about vulnerability?" she asked. "It connects us heart to heart with other people. With your clients, it connects with them on a different level and builds a relationship." If you acknowledge a mistake, for example, it may create a bond of trust that keeps them a loyal client.

"Fun is one of my core values," Rector declared. "When we get busy, fun is the first thing we take out of our lives. How can you add more fun in your life to balance out your (routines)?"

She distributed a balance wheel with 10 sections attendees could rate on a scale of 1 to 10 to get a picture of how balanced their lives were in the areas of family, career/work, finances, physical health, personal growth/mental health, community/giving back, spiritual, fun/play, friends/social life, and relationships/love.

She asked how many do something for themselves every single day, whether it's practicing yoga, going to a spa, or reading. "It's called self-love. We tend to care for and give more to others than ourselves," she said.

Rector said in their work, people tend to compare themselves with others. "Stay in your own lane. Focus on your strengths," she said. "What are your opportunities for improvement? Ask for help from people who do it well. Look at your support system, in your work and home life."

While people need interaction with those in the same field, they also need outsiders in their lives, because without that "escape," one can get burned out.

Burnout is a major factor in suicide. One may not be alone but be afraid to reach out for fear of what people will think of him or her. "This goes back to loving yourself, and being brave and courageous," said Rector, who herself attempted suicide as a teenager and lost a brother to it.

When in the midst of burnout, how can one reignite passion? Rector said, "Go back to your ‘why'—why did you get into this profession?"

"I believe in a new resiliency," she said. "What's something you keep doing over and over that you need to change? Doing the same thing the same way is a prime reason for hitting burnout, and it becomes worse each time." Her advice: "Expand your thinking, find new ways to do things." At home, for example, free some time for yourself by teaching your children to do tasks and taking turns with a friend watching each other's children. At work, implement something within your team to make work more fun.

If burnout resurfaces, Rector suggests charting the last bout. Ideally, what do you want your life to look like? What is one action you can take to ensure that this year is better?

Related JAVMA content:

AAHA to foster well-being through workplace culture (Nov. 15, 2017)

Fixing the patchwork that is veterinary wellness support (Oct. 1, 2017)

Wellness as an everyday affair (Jan. 15, 2017)