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July 1, 2020/Behavioral Health

Taming COVID-19-Inflamed Physician Burnout (Podcast)

How to practice self-care during a healthcare crisis

If you’re a currently practicing specialist in a neurological discipline, you’re at particular risk of experiencing physician burnout. That’s because neurologists report some of the highest rates of physician burnout and because the COVID-19 pandemic has tended to exacerbate burnout.

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So observes clinical health psychologist Amy Sullivan, PsyD, ABPP, Director of Engagement and Well-Being in Cleveland Clinic’s Neurological Institute, in the newest episode of Cleveland Clinic’s Neuro Pathways podcast.

A toxic mix of high work ethic, stress and exhaustion, burnout can compromise a physician’s wellness as well as patient care. In the 20-minute podcast, Dr. Sullivan explains how neurologists and other physicians can build resiliency to burnout, especially during a healthcare crisis. She also discusses:

  • Why burnout is prevalent among healthcare workers
  • The involvement of pre-existing mental health conditions
  • Research on reducing burnout within the Neurological Institute

Click the player below to listen to the podcast, or read on for a short edited excerpt. Check out more Neuro Pathways episodes at clevelandclinic.org/neuropodcast or wherever you get your podcasts.

Excerpt from the podcast

Dr. Sullivan: Resiliency is the capacity to recover from very difficult situations. It’s how one copes in crisis and returns to a pre-crisis state.

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Resiliency develops over time. The first factor is overall stress management. Some of the things that we teach in our practice that are really simple to bring into everyday life are diaphragmatic breathing, visualization and body scanning.

One part of stress management is mindfulness, which is probably one of my favorite skills to teach. It’s based in Eastern culture. The goal is to stay in the present moment — not look ahead to the future where there could be anxiety, fear or uncertainty; and not look into the past where we could see regret or remorse. You can understand how important it is to stay in the present moment, where we are right now.

Another skill I like to teach is gratitude, both internal and external. Internal gratitude means focusing on what you’re thankful for and reframing your thoughts — the tenets of cognitive behavioral therapy. External gratitude means thanking others who are a part of your life, or maybe just somebody who’s doing something that contributes to your life. There are many studies that show if you participate in gratitude and thank other people, both the sender and receiver of the gratitude have positive outcomes.

Another suggestion is to connect with others. It is a very difficult time in our culture and our world because we’re not able to connect as we once did. We have to become creative in terms of how we’re connecting with others in a safe environment.

And then, finally, just having that general wellness approach — movement, nutrition, sleep, spirituality and stress management — can help improve resiliency.

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