But let me duck first!
Your saliva may predict whether or not you might be at high risk for burnout, according to researchers in Montreal, as reported in Psychoneuroendocrinology.
By analyzing a sample of spit, abnormally low levels of the stress hormone cortisol can be detected – a red flag for impending burnout.
Dr. Robert-Paul Juster, one of the investigators said, “This could have very strong implications in terms of helping to prevent burnout.”
Under acute stress, elevated levels of cortisol can be detected in the saliva. However, during chronic stress, which can precipitate burnout, cortisol levels actually drop significantly.
And what if you are confused about whether you have depression or burnout?
Cortisol tends to be high in those with depression, and low in individuals suffering from burnout. The saliva test may help to differentiate these two conditions, which can have overlapping symptoms.
If an individual with burnout is treated with antidepressants, this can be a therapeutic mistake, Juster said, since one of the effects of antidepressants is to lower cortisol levels.
“Great!” You may be thinking. “A test to predict those at risk for burnout. Use that for medical students; I’m already burned out.”
I find that a lot of doctors feel burned out, but have not been given much, if any, information on burnout and what can be done. Because burnout occurs in stages, and has a variety of symptoms and causes, there are no simple “one-size fits all” explanations or pat remedies.
But there are some fundamentals we can begin with.
In a nutshell, burnout is the experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest.
Burnout has 3 main components:
- Emotional Exhaustion – those in the helping professions who deal with illness and death are especially at risk. No surprises here.
- Depersonalization – people are seen more as objects; cynicism develops, and there is a tendency to isolate.
- Decreased Personal Accomplishment – work becomes less satisfying; there is joyless striving.
If you are feeling emotionally drained, have difficulty being empathetic towards your patients, and dread going to work, you may be on the road to burnout.
Dr. Tait Shanafelt, director of Mayo Clinic’s Physician Well-Being program, has reported that at any given time, 1 in 3 physicians is experiencing burnout.
Do you feel like you might be that 1 in 3 with burnout? Here is a 1 minute online survey you can take to assess your degree of burnout. Please note that this is a non-validated assessment. The gold standard for assessing burnout is the Maslach Burnout Inventory, which is used in most of the studies on burnout.
In my next blog I will be discussing some of the causes of burnout. Feel free to post a comment on your own experience with burnout.
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