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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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Burned Out
July 2000

Q. I am 38-year-old RN, in medical sales for the last 2 years. Lately, I have been feeling like work isn't fun anymore. I feel fatigued, and mentally and emotionally down. At first I loved my job, but for some reason I don't anymore. I am constantly on the phone, voice mail, faxes, etc. It always feels like there are loose ends and the work never gets done. The money and benefits are great, but I don't know if I should quit or if I am just burned out. There are personal aggravators in my life that aren't helping. If you have any ideas or suggestions that may help me out I would appreciate it.

A. While I empathize with your situation, I must laugh a bit when I read your final sentence. That is because you ask for assistance to help sort out the problem. However, the paragraph describing the problem does such an excellent job.

Basically, you're an educated person who is in a challenging field, and you are feeling incredibly overwhelmed. I particularly appreciate the statement "I feel nothing is in my control." This is a good lesson for all of us because you state that the money and benefits are great, but you don't know if it's all worthwhile. In addition, there are "personal little aggravators in my life" that aren't helping.

Certainly, if you are in a job that you like the "personal little aggravators" can mount. However, in this case it appears that your job is the primary stressor, and not your personal life. The decision that must be made is, as you said, whether to leave your job or find some help.

One thing that I don't like doing is making important decisions (such as career decisions) when stressed. This means that it appears as though you have three options. First, you can quit and kind of get control of your life again, and then move forward. As I said, this would not be my first option, but if you're feeling as though things are ready to crack that is a possibility. Second, you can take a temporary leave of absence and see if this helps you sort through things. Again, as you stated, this is not necessarily good because of all the work that piles up while you're gone. Finally, you can seek professional help. This is not because you are "crazy;" oftentimes because of a forest-trees phenomenon it is difficult for a person who is feeling overwhelmed to see how simple it is to make the changes to get control back in their life. As you might gather, it is this third option that I prefer. Many employers have an employee assistance program where help is available free of charge. However, many employees don't feel comfortable using this type of program when the primary stress is work. Other options are to use your health insurance to get the care you need.

You didn't specifically mention whether you had family, and whether your family is a source of support or stress. If you have family, no matter what the relationship, it may be important to share your concerns and your plan with them.

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