I’m encountering more and more chiropractors in my one-hour consultations who are, or are on the verge of, burnout. Income is down. Savings are dwindling. Documentation is too much of a bother. Patients are problems rather than opportunities. The joy is gone.
With these and related circumstances, some chiropractors are questioning their career choice. Disguising their disdain for patients and their unhappiness in practice has become an increasingly difficult acting job. Many think they’re able to successfully hide their frustration and feelings of being trapped or stuck in a practice that produces less and less joy and satisfaction. (Take this burnout quiz.)
When I work with these chiropractors, many of them are surprised to learn what underlying emotion is producing their lethargic, take-me-out-of-my-misery pity party.
Based on my personal experience and extensive reading, it surprises many to learn that the fundamental emotion that produces burnout is anger. This anger often results from not being able to control something that they think they should (what patients do). Or imagining that they’d be “further ahead by now” (able to retire comfortably). In other words, the anger results from the world not lining up the way they think it should or thought it would.
This produces an “emotional leak” from investing your life spirit in something that you thought would reciprocate, but doesn’t. Sometimes money will be an adequate salve for a season. But all too often, the lack of financial resources seems to be a contributing factor to the growing sense of hopelessness.
Getting through burnout and emerging on the other side stronger, wiser and more powerful requires some long overdue introspection. (We regularly do this during the course of The Conversation.) If you find yourself a little crispy around the edges, or know someone who is, here are some techniques that others and I have found helpful.
De-mediafy. Television and other distractions are convenient ways to divert oneself from facing circumstances. This drug, administered through the eyes, not only fills the time, but also successfully occupies your time so you don’t have to have difficult conversations with yourself or others. I’ve explored the benefits of a media fast elsewhere.
Exercise. With all the time you free up from cutting the cord from your high-def television, start exercising. You must increase your emotional tolerance to stress, and one of the best ways of doing that is to embark on an aggressive exercise routine. Start getting adjusted regularly. Clean up your diet. In other words, start doing what you tell patients to do.
Journal. The benefits of writing to yourself, recording your feelings, exploring your reactions, expressing your frustrations is a time-honored technique for problem-solving. As issues come up, write about them. Why did I respond that way? Why did that make me angry? What are some other ways I could have responded? This conversation with yourself is just the introspection you need to emerge centered, grounded and stronger.
Set boundaries. Where have you invested your energy in which you can’t control the outcome? Where have you “stolen” the responsibility of others? What is the basis of your unwillingness to accept reality? Why do you want to be God? It’s time to align your fences with the property lines of your neighbors.
Remember. Why you became a chiropractor. Sure, you’re older and wiser, but the world still needs the truth. If anything, more so. And if you have the misfortune of not having had some significant personal crusade that brought you to a career in chiropractic, you’re going to need a purpose larger than your own survival to provide the fuel you need. What are you passionate about? Pediatrics? Athletic performance? Headaches? Research? What? Just remember your purpose is not to adjust or see as many people as possible. Doing so may help advance your purpose, but I promise it’s not your purpose.
Confess. This is the one that many find the most difficult, yet therapeutic, of these suggestions. There are people in your life, especially your support team, who have tried to reverse engineer your burnout-driven behaviors. “Am I going to have a job?” “Is it something that I did?” “Why should I care if he doesn’t?” In short, try as you may, your detachment has infected your team and actually worsens an already unhelpful situation. So fess up. If you’re determined to emerge from the charred remains of burnout, you need all the help you can get. Apologize. Ask for forgiveness.
Emerging from burnout takes time. The first step is to acknowledge you’re within its grasp. Because you can’t leave someplace you’ve never admitted to having been.
(Enrollment for the next Conversation concludes on Friday, April 13 when the journaling assignments begin, concluding with the Denver Debrief on May 12-13, 2012. See you at the table?)