Fighting Burnout

Listen 50:04
Tired exhausted nurse wears face mask blue uniform

Tired exhausted nurse wears face mask blue uniform

The pandemic hasn’t just changed how we live — it’s changed how we work, and how we feel about our jobs. One of the major ripple effects: burnout. Over the past couple years, people in all different jobs — from doctors to teachers, students to hospital workers — have found themselves exhausted and struggling, questioning if it’s them or their workplaces, and if they belong in their jobs at all.

Burnout can lead to serious problems — depression and insomnia, the feeling that your work, or even your life, has no meaning. It can affect job performance too, leading to mistakes that, in some cases, could cost lives. But burnout can also mark a fresh start — a breaking point that leads you onto a new path.

On this episode, we look at what’s fueling widespread burnout, why so many people report feeling pushed to their absolute limits, and what can be done to stop it. We talk with a psychologist about the signs of burnout and how to avoid it, a teacher who was forced to choose between his health and his profession, and a former ER doctor who coaches physicians on how to avoid that sinking feeling.

Also heard on this week’s episode:

  • We talk with psychologist and burnout expert Brad Johnson about the signs of burnout, how it begins, why it’s more common among women and people of color, and how to deal with it. Johnson is a clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
  • Teachers have always had a high burnout rate — but according to a survey from the National Education Association, that rate has reached crisis proportions. Reporter Jad Sleiman tells the story of how one Philadelphia teacher reached his limit, and was forced to choose between his career and his health. A version of this story was featured on the WHYY podcast series “Schooled.” 
  • We hear from teenagers about what’s stressing them out and how adults sometimes don’t take them seriously. This piece was produced by student reporters at WHYY’s Pathways to Media Careers Youth Employment project.
  • Rob Orman spent years working as an ER doctor before burnout sent him looking for new opportunities. Now he coaches other physicians on how to avoid the same fate. He tells us about the systemic problems fueling doctors’ high burnout rates, and the compromises that are needed to save America’s stressed-out health care workers.
  • We talk with Amelia Nogoski about how her PhD program drove her to the edge, and how she walked herself back. Nogoski is an associate professor and music coordinator at Western New England University. Her book is called “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle.”

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