Ask Your Family for Help with Burnout

January 16, 2018

Burnout is a problem for physicians at work, but the solution might be found at home.

Burnout is a career issue and many physicians may believe that the best way to deal with it is to keep work problems at work. That might not be the best approach, experts say. Often the solution to your burnout problem - or at least a source of tremendous help - is sitting across from you at the dinner table (when, of course, you make it home for dinner). Your family might not understand the particulars of your job stress, but they understand you. Partners, parents, siblings, and even grown children can be excellent sources of solace and support. They might also be able to come up with some creative solutions to work problems if you ask them for input.

There are plenty of reasons people don’t turn to family when dealing with work stresses. Often, they don’t want to worry their families or they’re afraid their families won’t understand. “My hunch is,” says Michael Myers, professor of clinical psychiatry at SUNY-Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY, and specialist in physician health, “they’ve noticed.”

Keeping career in one box and family in another could end up damaging both. Sharing your work stresses with family gives them a chance to give you a little loving care, and gives you a chance to get things off your chest. More importantly, it gives your loved ones a sense of being a part of your life. No one wants to hear you grumble and grouse all evening about problems at work. But neither do they want to feel shut out of what amounts to more than half your waking hours. “Sharing,” says Myers, “strengthens the family.”

Family Is the Best Medicine

Whether you confide the particulars of job stress or not, a happy family life is probably the best antidote to the stresses of the medical profession, says John Cullen, President Elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians and family medicine physician in Valdez, Alaska. He has drawn on his family for support throughout his career. He and his wife make it a priority.

For overworked physicians who find it hard just to make it home in time for dinner, making family a priority may sound like a worthless cliché. But carving out a few hours a week to spend alone with your partner, or a few hours playing with the kids is worth the effort. The relief you get from burnout might translate into a happier, more efficient work life.

Be creative when you try to figure out how to work in that family time. When the Cullen children were growing up, the entire family always joined John on trips to medical conferences. That created more opportunities for family time, but helped in other ways, too.

Reaching out to your family for help doesn’t have to mean dumping all your woes at their feet. Simply sharing each other's lives can be enormously therapeutic.