Every day, you focus on restoring your patients back to wellbeing with expert chiropractic adjustments. While it’s rewarding, the work can take its toll on you. It’s a strain on your body and also on your mind. After all, when you work as closely with patients as you do, you inevitably may be affected by the stress of these constantly demanding encounters. Sometimes, you are even called upon to become a surrogate psychotherapist.
This strain can lead to burnout. Though it’s a well-documented condition, many practitioners fail to recognize burnout or know what to do about it. Let’s look at the signs and how to avoid burnout as a chiropractor.
Recognize the Signs of Burnout
Burnout has been described as ”the accumulation of unchecked and built up stress over a period of time.” Burnout and stress aren’t the same. You can have a stressful day or even a whole week, but typically, simply getting away from the stressors and doing something you enjoy will relieve it. Burnout on the other hand is a cycle — a buildup of negative emotions that can cause you to withdraw rather than heal yourself.
Do These Symptoms Sound Like You?
Burnout isn’t only the result of patient-facing work. If you own your practice, you also deal with the stress of managing staff, dealing with issues like insurance payouts, concerns over malpractice, growing your patient base, and all the other challenges small business owners face. And in recent years, the pandemic likely put a strain on your practice.
While you may not want to admit feeling the signs of chiropractor burnout, chances are your loved ones are noticing them. It can be helpful (and even a relief) to be open and share what you’re experiencing. Think of it as the first step to healing. The signs of burnout may include:
- Feeling emotionally exhausted at the end of the day
- Being quick to anger when patients don’t follow your advice
- Withdrawing from loved ones as a way of dealing with exhaustion
- Feeling like work is a burden with no reward
- Feeling like you want to escape and there’s no way out
- Pondering changing careers or quitting work altogether
- Obsessing about industry prejudice against your profession
The Consequences of Burnout
Dr. Gene Lockrow, owner of the Healing Arts Center in Lenexa, Kansas, notes that chiropractic burnout is prevalent. He cited a 2013 report in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics which found that 40% of practitioners have experienced issues with high or moderate stress.
In fact, the National Institute of Health coined a term for emotional exhaustion — burnout syndrome — defined as ”a psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among people who work with the general public in some capacity.”
Lockrow himself suffered a cardiac arrest in 2021 and said he’s definitely made some changes to his lifestyle to help avoid burnout as a chiropractor.
”After having a cardiac arrest, I learned to try to live in the present moment — life is too short and you don’t know how much time you really have,” he shared. ”It helps to love what you do. Being a healer is more of a calling than a job or something you do. Surround yourself with good people and compete with yourself only and not others.”
Added Lockrow, ”Don’t overextend yourself financially and maintain unrealistic expectations. Stress and burnout can be destructive to your health. Productive stress/pressure can improve your life and practice. Learn to know the difference.”
How to Avoid Burnout as a Chiropractor
Lockrow’s experience and how he’s worked to overcome stress and prevent burnout is a lesson worth learning. But where do you begin?
If you’ve experienced any signs of burnout, it’s time to focus on your emotional and physical healing. Burnout among chiropractors is real and mustn’t be discounted. Psychologists suggest beginning with rebuilding and maintaining a foundation of basic healthy behaviors including:
- A healthy diet and good hydration
- Adequate sleep and limited screentime
- Time for fun with family and friends
- Time to relax and free your mind
Once your foundation is strong, try these stress relievers to help you avoid burnout:
- Thought exercises: Honestly answering questions like ”what do I want, what don’t I want, and what needs to change?” without worrying about the life and career boundaries you’ve set for yourself. Write down your answers and/or explore with a loved one.
- Anger management: Talk honestly about what ”gets to you” and why to release pent-up feelings instead of holding them in, which can be harmful to your health.
- Transparency: Don’t be ashamed to express your feelings, fears, and dreams to your loved ones. They want to listen and support you.
- Seeking professional help: It’s not a sign of weakness to seek the help of a counselor. Talking to someone not emotionally involved can help you gain the clarity you need.
Adding to this list, Lockrow advises having interests outside of work. ”Hobbies aren’t frivolous, they’re healthy and necessary. Do what makes you happy and helps you disconnect from the office.” By taking time to focus on your own wellbeing, you’ll better serve your patients and yourself. You may find that chiropractic burnout and the healing lead you in a new direction and that’s terrific. But hopefully, it helps you rediscover the reasons you chose your profession in the first place and gives you a fresh perspective on your work.
This document should not be construed as medical or legal advice and should not be construed as rules or establishing a standard of care. Because the facts applicable to your situation may vary, or the laws applicable in your jurisdiction may differ, please contact your attorney or other professional advisors if you have any questions related to your legal or medical obligations or rights, state or federal laws, contract interpretation, or other legal questions.
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