The holidays are in full swing. Everywhere you turn are colored lights, advertisements, glittering tinsel, shopping, delightful holiday get-togethers and dreaded holiday parties. This time of year is the perfect storm of joy and stress that can cause burnout in anyone.

Most of us enjoy the time with family and friends. Seeing the excitement of the children makes even the most cynical smile. Christmas music is upbeat and happy. Crackling fires, warm drinks, the smell of special treats baking in the kitchen all bring a sense of nostalgia. But for all the warm, fuzzy are only part of the story.

For physicians we face a flood of patients wanting to get their procedures, work-ups and surgeries done before their deductible starts over in January. People come down with colds and flu, and they want to be squeezed into our already overflowing schedule right away. Our staff get sick too and want time off for their vacations, meaning we may be short-handed at a time when we really need all hands on deck.

On top of that, we have our own challenges with getting all of our administrative work done by the end of the year. There are charts, charges, reports, and piles of other paperwork that need addressed. There are meetings and strategic planning sessions. Our calendars are overflowing even more than usual.

Of course we have family commitments and personal responsibilities too. None of that changes just because we are busy. Christmas programs and recitals seem to be every week. Then we have to squeeze in time for shopping and sending cards.

All of these responsibilities can create an overwhelming level of stress. It is important to be aware of our own stress levels and monitor how it is affecting us. Our stress also affects our interactions with staff, the care we provide and our relationships with family. So what should you look for?

Signs & Symptoms:
Dreading going to work or social events

Getting frustrated by things that normally wouldn’t bother you

Feeling fatigued all the time

Being disinterested in your patients

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms then take some time to refocus and recalibrate. You may simply need to create some free space in your calendar, or if burnout is becoming more intrusive consider seeking out additional help. Some large institutions are developing programs for physicians suffering from burnout. Coaching can also help overcome some of the challenges that lead to increased stress and burnout

Awareness of burnout and actively taking steps to prevent it can help all physicians. Enjoy this holiday season. Don’t let stress and burnout ruin the joy you should be experiencing.