Preventing Burnout with Self-Care Practices

July 18, 2016

Image of a pale yellow VW bug that has been in an accident and is crumpled up and destroyedBurnout, described by the Mayo Clinic as “a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion, combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work,” is very common not only in the health care profession, but in many different sectors of work.

The health care profession in particular was looked at in an article in Mindful magazine, which showed that nearly half of doctors in the U.S. report symptoms of burnout.  A 2009 study conducted by the Mayo Clinic found that doctors are 3.5-5 times more likely to abuse prescription drugs, and additional research published in JAMA shows, sadly, that 300-400 U.S. doctors commit suicide every year, a rate that is 70 percent higher than other professionals for males, and among female doctors, ranging from 250 to 400 percent higher.

Given this evidence, self-care is of paramount importance for health care professionals. However, it is important for individuals in all professions. Self-care is not a “one-method-fits all” issue. Here are some suggestions for getting started as recommended by motivation researcher Michelle Segar PhD, MPH, and Margaret M. Hansen, Ed.D, professor and Nursing Researcher at the University of San Francisco.

Identify your personal self-care behavior.
Self-care means something different to everyone. It is necessary for you to identify your “non-negotiable self-care behaviors.”  These are the things you need to do on a regular basis to keep yourself happy, healthy, and productive. Another way to answer this question is: What do you need to have enough mental, physical, and emotional energy to accomplish your daily tasks? Once you have identified these things, take some time to plan some concrete ways in which to engage in these behaviors regularly. This may involve assessing approximately how often you will need to engage in these behaviors, setting reminders timers, or keeping a journal.

Plan breaks throughout the day for self-care.
No matter your particular self-care habit, taking a break from work at regular intervals throughout the day can be a great tool to keep calm and increase productivity. This break can be taken while doing something you enjoy, like going for a walk or buying a treat.  However, it can also be spent doing nothing. The simple act not doing anything for a short period of time can make work periods much more productive.

Give yourself permission to make taking care of your daily well-being a real priority.
When we fall behind in our self-care behavior, the typical justification is that we have too much to do, and even sometimes that self-care seems strange, perhaps even selfish.

This notion cannot be further from the truth though, as particularly in the healthcare profession, maintaining your own well-being can likely lead to better maintaining others’ well-beings. To combat feeling self-conscious about your self-care, consciously give yourself permission to create some time in your day to engage in these behaviors. Reassure yourself, “this is necessary for me; I need this just as much as I need to get work done.”

Change the way you think about “exercise”.
It is a well-known fact that exercise is one of the primary methods of relieving stress and promoting healthy living. However, the ideas around how to exercise are not always correct, and can even create less than healthy lifestyles. Instead of trying your best to commit to grueling fitness regimens, remember that everything counts when it comes to moving your body. Any physical activity you can get throughout the day is helpful for physical well-being, whether it is taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking rather than driving, or even taking periodic stretch breaks  — not just going to the gym.

Try to reframe your thinking about exercise and view it as a way to help you feel happy and good.  In this light, try to exercise or move in ways that feel good, not in ways you think are “good for you”, but make you feel bad. Next time you find yourself thinking about exercise you think you should do but dread, try this: Close your eyes and ask yourself, “How can I move my body to feel good right now?”

Lastly, rather than thinking of self-care as something you either have mastered or have not, it can be helpful to view it as a continual learning journey. In a world where perfect body image, diet, and mindset are imposed on us through popular media, we are always at risk for setting ourselves up to fail. In reality, success towards our goals regarding sleep, personal time, exercise, and diet ebb and flow with the normal stresses of life. Next time you get down and start to feel like you are not making progress, be sure to have patience with yourself, take stock of the progress you are making, and enjoy the learning process.

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Super Activity – Life Roles Worksheet

February 2, 2016

Last week, we provided an overview on a relevant career  development theory. Now that you have an understanding of Super’s Life-Span/Life-Space Theory, let’s take a moment to further explore its applicability to real life. We often see individuals dealing with a variety of issues that relate to this theory, including the following:

  • Many fellows have been intensely focused on their role as a “student” or a “trainee” and have a difficult time seeing how their skills and professional identity can transfer to a new role.
  • After a PhD and postdoc, more roles often get added and intensified, sometimes so rapidly that an individual doesn’t recognize that their values around these roles are changing.
  • Even if they do recognize that their values and priorities are changing, they don’t always own them or feel free to acknowledge them. This often happens in part because they have been in environments with less ambiguity and/or complexity.
  • Complexity often comes with additional roles. It can be harder to say what’s important when you are not only considering yourself, but your lab work, your mentor, your partner/spouse/significant other, your child(ren), your ill or aging parents, your leisure pursuits, and the list can go on and on.

Maybe some of these points resonated with you. Combining all of these factors with the need to find another job in a complex and often changing world of work can make things quite challenging to say the least.

As noted, Super’s theory challenges individuals to construct their own identification and understanding of all of their life-space identities. Your life roles will likely change overtime depending on your particular stage of life; however, also remember that not all roles hold the same value to you. Additionally, you might have a co-worker or a boss who highly values a life-space that seems unimportant to you. Given all of this, it can be hard to be introspective and identify what is most meaningful for you, right now in this very moment.

This can also be a useful framework to think about when trying to achieve life balance. A blogger created a Balancing Life Roles Worksheet, where you estimate how much time you currently spend in each role and how much time you would prefer to spend in each role. This can be a good way to keep tally; however, it also often helps to visualize it, so career counselors often recommend a life roles activity.

Draw a large circle on a sheet of paper. Then using this as a pie chart, divide the circle into various “life role wedges” that represent the different “hats” that you wear in your life. The size of the wedges should coincide with the prominence of each role. For example if you feel that a work or family role is how you primarily define yourself, then that role make take up a significant chunk of the circle. See the example below and try it out for yourself.

Image of a pie chart with different colored wedges representing a different life role.


FROM THE ARCHIVE – Families and Science: Can They Mix?

June 10, 2015

stick familyAre you thinking about starting a family? Or, perhaps you have children and know all too well the challenges of finding your own work-life balance.

The OITE Career Blog is reposting a three part series from the archive about having a family during one’s scientific training. In this series, we asked grad students, postdocs, and clinical fellows questions about parenthood in an attempt to compile a list of pros/cons and general advice.

Question #1: Why was this a good time for you to start a family?
https://oitecareersblog.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/families-and-science-can-they-mix/

Question # 2: What were the challenges you faced?
https://oitecareersblog.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/families-and-training-part-2/

Question # 3: Do you have any advice for NIH trainees thinking about starting a family?
https://oitecareersblog.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/families-and-training-finale/

For those of you at the NIH, there is an affinity support group, Mom-Dad-Docs. If interested in learning more about this group, contact Ulli Klenke.

What other questions would you like to see answered on this topic? Comment below and let us know.


Turning Down a Job Offer

May 5, 2014

Part two of a two-part series written by guest blogger Dr. Phil Ryan, Director of Student Services at the Office of Intramural Training and Education.

I mentioned in a previous post that I had used LinkedIn to promote my candidacy for a position that I was offered, but ultimately decided to decline. I wanted to share with you some of the factors I had to consider and how those factors made me change my priorities for my next job. We all have our own priorities — I listed and rank ordered mine. I learned through this experience that my listed professional priorities did not even contain my highest priority.

Throughout the interview process for this particular position, I absolutely loved the people I interacted with. The director of the office seemed like a fantastic boss and mentor. The people in parallel positions would have been fantastic coworkers. The few people that the position would supervise were hardworking and dedicated to the students they served. There was passion from every person that worked in the office. The position itself almost felt tailor-made for me. I left the on-site interview very excited about the position and preparing myself to share the good news with my wife and children.

The job fit all my listed priorities. It would be a great next step in my career and would put me in an institution with lots of opportunities to continue to advance my career. The benefits were outstanding, which is especially important for my family as we have two young boys and a third child due very soon. I felt confident I could negotiate the salary to be fair based on expected cost of living in that area. The job was a pretty standard 40 hours a week with limited travel. This is a must since being home with my family is important to me. Also, it was closer to both my family and my wife’s family and number of our best friends. Based on these critera, I would be a fool to turn down the position.

So why did I turn it down? After my on-site interview, I drove around the city in which the job was located. I realized the city really lacked energy. It was a nice day and yet, there were no people outside talking to one another. Businesses were not busy. Schools were just getting out and children were not playing in the parks. Parents were not talking to each other. I did not detect a sense of community. I am a scientist, so I realize that all this was basically an n of one and thus, I couldn’t make a conclusion based on two hours of observation. Luckily, I had a friend who lived in that city for seven years and had recently moved away. I gave him a call and while he did have nice things to say about the city, he confirmed that my observations were pretty consistent with what he and his family had experienced while they lived there.

There was one more factor that initially seemed like a big advantage. The city was two hours from everything! It was two hours from a major metropolitan area with all the culture, life and experiences that comes with big cities. It was two hours from a renowned national park and other outdoor adventure opportunities. It was two hours from snow skiing, water skiing, fishing, hiking, camping, professional sports teams, etc. It sounded great on paper. However, those two hours were a very lonely two hours. It was that city and then two hours to anything else. I tried to justify that while we may not have the most exciting life and community to live in, we would be two hours from all that excitement and all those friends. But the truth is, when you have small children, two hours is a long time. I realized that we would not be traveling those two hours very often and the city we would live in was the city that would help shape my children as they grow up. It would be the community that would support my wife and me. It would be the atmosphere that we would celebrate in good times and depend on in bad times. I know my wife and my children better than anyone and it turns out that my number one priority is providing the best life possible for and with them. This city was not that. So while the job and the people I would work with were amazing, it turns out my top priority is my family. My list of priorities in a job now reflects that.


How We Learn

June 27, 2013

Post written by Sharon Milgram, Director of The Office of Intramural Training & Education.

Science careers, at or away from the bench, require us to be life-long learners. To be successful, we are always learning – and teaching – new skills. While many of us enjoy this, it also comes with frustrations and challenges. In considering how we learn, I was struck by the excellent and concise explanation of the stages we typically go through as we learn and develop new skills. I found this in a short book entitled “Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager” written by Ken Blanchard. Intramural trainees can find the book in the OITE Career Library, and it is widely available in other libraries and on-line. In this book, Blanchard summarizes the four stages of learning: enthusiastic beginner, disillusioned learner, cautious performer, and high achiever. This summary is helpful to us as life-long learners and as colleagues, mentors and supervisors of others in our work groups.

At the outset, enthusiastic beginners are confident and excited. However, this confidence and the excitement of a new challenge can get in the way as enthusiastic beginners often forget how challenging a task might be. Enthusiastic beginners need a lot of supervision and direction so they stay focused on learning the fundamentals and solidifying the basics. After a short while, and after a few (too many) mistakes, enthusiastic beginners typically become disillusioned learners. We realize how hard it is to truly develop that new skill and doubt starts setting in. In this stage, we need support and encouragement to stick with it. Once we gain some proficiency we enter the cautious learner phase; we are more proficient and more confident and as a result we learn more quickly. In other words, success breeds success — and we are on our way toward becoming a high achiever. At this time, we need the right balance between supervision and independence, as one can only become a high achiever by taking risks and learning from our mistakes.

Whether you are a postbac or summer intern learning how to do PCR for the first time, a grad student preparing for your first committee meeting, a postdoc mentoring your first summer intern, or a senior fellow ready to launch your independent career, remember this simple model of how we learn. Be proactive and find support, encouragement and direction when you need it. If you are the supervisor/mentor, use these strategies to help your employees and mentees learn. It may just keep you going when you get stuck and will help you be compassionate as your colleagues, students and mentees learn new things as well.


Community Provides More Than Support

June 17, 2013

There are many important aspects to having a successful career.  One aspect often overlooked is making sure you have a community of peers.  Communities provide more than just support for everyday life and challenges.  They are great for building networks, developing co-mentoring relationships and gaining leadership experience.  Coming to a large campus, like the NIH or a college campus, can feel like you have landed on a different planet.  Everything is so different.  Finding welcoming and supportive groups and peers can help ease that transition.  But, it can also help you prepare for the next step in your career.

While the resources below are specific to the NIH, all universities have similar groups to make you feel welcome.  Check your campus list of organizations. This is not an exhaustive list of groups available, but is meant to provide an idea of what types of organizations exist.  All of these groups are welcome to everyone in the NIH community.

  • The Graduate Student Council and the postdoc association Felcom both support trainees by providing social events, career networking and communities for intramural trainees.
  • NIH Black Scientists and Friends Network, an informal group dedicated to the mentoring and career enhancement of Black scientists at NIH. For more information, contact Dr. Roland Owens.
  • LGBT-Fellows and Friends helps its members thrive in their professional and personal lives by addressing issues unique to the LGBT community.  Join the LGBT-FF listserv to learn about up-coming LGBT-FF seminars, professional development activities and networking opportunities.
  • The NIH SACNAS (Society for Advancing Hispanics/Chicanos & Native American in Science) chapter provides a trans-NIH resource to provide a forum to network, share successes and strategize about future goals. For more information and to learn about upcoming events, join the NIH-SACNAS listserv.
  • The Women of Color Research Network supports all scientists interested in raising the voice and visibility of Women of Color (WOC) in biomedical and behavioral research.  This new social media site is for women of color and everybody interested in diversity in the scientific workforce.  Visit the Web site to join.
  • MOM-DAD-DOCS seeks to provide mentorship, support, and networking to intramural trainees (basic or clinical) with children.  Contact Lori Conlan (conlanlo AT mail.nih.gov)
  • The Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management plays a lead role in making certain that representatives of all groups feel comfortable and can work optimally on the NIH campus.
  • Visiting Fellows Committee, ~60% of the NIH postdoc population is visiting from other countries.  There are over 20 country groups to connect you with fellows from around the world: https://www.training.nih.gov/country_support_groups

If I Could Do One Thing Differently in My Career…

June 10, 2013

Post written by Sharon Milgram, Director of The Office of Intramural Training & Education.

One of the fun things I get to do as part of my job directing the Office of Intramural Training & Education, is to give talks on the NIH campus and at universities across the United States.  Students ask me all types of questions about my career; how a physical therapist became a cell biologist, what I like about my previous faculty job and my current administrative job, what I don’t like, what I look for when I hire new employees, etc. One question always gets asked– what I would do differently if I could do it all over again. I always give the same response – “I would have learned more about leadership and management earlier in my career”.

Yes, I got my faculty job based on my science — the papers I published, the grants I wrote, and the way I communicated enthusiasm for protein trafficking. But, I was successful in that job because of the hard work and dedication of the many students and staff who worked with me. When I communicated my expectations clearly and dealt with issues calmly and up-front, my lab ran more smoothly and I got more work done. Therefore, my success depended on my science skills AND my management/leadership skills. The same is true now in a completely different setting. My success in the OITE depends on others doing their best work.  It is critical that I work continuously on my management and leadership skills.

There is broad agreement that scientists must develop strong interpersonal skills to do effective team science and to transition from training to management positions (at and away from the bench). Yet, we don’t always find the time to be trained in these areas. Many students, postdocs and mentors find little value in “soft skills” training.  They believe that a successful career in science is determined predominantly by publications, patents, funding, etc. However, the book Lab Dynamics (Cohen and Cohen)* surveyed scientists and found that nearly two-thirds reported that interpersonal conflict had hampered progress on a scientific project between 1-5 times in their career. Furthermore, many of our alumni share that managing and leading a team is one of the earliest challenges they face.

To help you start developing your management and leadership skills, the OITE has developed the “Workplace Dynamics” series. The workshops focus on: 1) increased awareness of self and others using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®; 2) communication styles and influencing others; 3) conflict dynamics; 4) team theory; and 5) diversity training. Our goal is to help you gain greater self-awareness and an appreciation that others may approach conflict and group work differently. We hope that by providing a language to discuss these differences, you will be better able to manage yourself and work across differences in the workplace. We use examples that resonate with scientists and combine didactic material with interactive group work. We know that trainees appreciate the interactive group work, but that they also like helpful resources they can access from home. I have listed some of these resources at the bottom of this post in the hopes that readers not currently at NIH can benefit from the reading the material as they seek similar programs on their campuses. Those of you currently at NIH – summer interns, postbacs, grad students, postdocs, clinical and research fellows – take advantage of these workshops now. The Summer/Fall Workplace Dynamics series starts in June.  Find our more and register here.

References:

Lab Dynamics: Management Skills for Scientists, Cohen and Cohen (2005) New York: Cold Spring Harbor Press

MBTI: http://www.myersbriggs.org/

Type Talk at Work (Revised): How the 16 Personality Types Determine Your Success on the Job by Otto Kroeger, Janet M. Thuesen and Hile Rutledge (2002) Delta

Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (Tuxedo NY: Xicom, 1974) and CPP TKI product page

Eckerd College Center for Conflict Dynamics: http://www.conflictdynamics.org/

Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader: How You and Your Organization Can Manage Conflict Effectively by Craig E. Runde and Tim A. Flanagan (2006) Jossey-Bass

Crucial Confrontations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler (2004) McGraw-Hill

Feedback That Works: How to Build and Deliver Your Message, CCL, 2000

Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition; Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman  (2006), Bantam

Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (2000) Bantam

Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, Third Edition by Maurianne Adams, Warren Blumenfeld, Carmelita Castaneda and Heather W. Hackman (2013) Routledge