Professional Burnout: Symptoms, Causes, and Cures
Updated: Mar 28, 2022
"Part of the reason people feel stressed out is because they have to make a decision. And they don't know what to choose, because they're not in touch with themselves. Or, they feel stressed out because they've already made the decision. But now, it's not aligned with what they need or what they value."
Dr. Sharon Grossman, PhD, author of The 7E Solution to Burnout: Transforming High Achievers From Exhausted to Extraordinary.
Note: transcription provided by Otter.AI, which is a technology company that develops speech-to-text transcription and translation applications using artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Welcome to tonight's episode. We have Dr. Sharon Grossman, who is a professional burnout coach. And tonight she's going to talk to us about professional burnout as an epidemic, the symptoms, what to look out for causes and potential remedies and how to mitigate it. So before we do, we'll welcome Sharon to the stage. How's it going?
Dr. Sharon Grossman, PhD: It's great. Thanks for having me on a Sunday evening and connecting with everybody and just get you guys prepared for the upcoming week.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: And so tell us a little bit more about yourself and how you got started in burnout and coaching and more depth and detail about what you do?
Dr. Sharon Grossman, PhD: Sure. So I am a trained clinical psychologist, and I've been doing therapy for the last 19 years. And as part of that, I've been working with a lot of high achievers, I live in the Bay Area. And so you can imagine I've got people from Silicon Valley, from all the big companies that we're all used to, with regards to social media and everything else, that are highly stressed out. So those are some of my clients over the years. And then from there really working a little bit more niched with my coaching on specific areas, or industries, I should say. So definitely, especially with COVID, a lot more healthcare workers, a lot of physicians and nurses and things of that nature.
And basically what happened over the course of my tenure, is that I really love the arena of coaching so much that I decided to really transition from therapy into the coaching area. And as I was thinking about Who do I really love working with? It really is high achievers. And so many of them happened to be physicians, and I just, I just love working with them because they're just such givers. And they're so dedicated, and they care so much about doing the right thing and taking care of the world. And in the process, I feel like so many of them are struggling and they're burning out and so I want to be able to help them, help themselves. And so this is my kind of platform where I get to give back to all of the caretakers and help you guys really have a more sustainable way of doing the work that you love to do.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: That's a beautiful introduction.I work with physicians as well and I work more on the personal finances and how to teach them how to do diversification of income streams. And you know, we partnered up because burnout is an epidemic, really just I think stress is the number one killer. We're just seeing so many changes, and the world we live in today is just so much different than it was 20 years ago. And so really, we're just seeing a lot of career dissatisfaction and exodus. And there's a need for individuals such as yourself to provide coaching and services, and really people who understand what high achievers, what makes them think and tick, and what they need, especially in terms of pivoting into a coaching situation where you're helping clients really get what they want, and what they need out of life. So I think that's amazing.
Dr. Sharon Grossman, PhD: Yeah, and I think that you're very needed as well, because so much of the time, they're stressed out, not just because of their work, but because of student loans and just other financial debt. And so they're looking for ways to reduce their stress. And one of the ways that they do that is by creating additional streams of income. And I think that's really great. And I also think that there's room for the conversation of how to do your job and not have it be so incredibly stressful.
And oftentimes, this is the part where we're missing the information, because people are often saying my job is like this. And that's why I feel this way. And that's kind of where I come in. And I say, there's actually like a step in between those two things, right? And that's your thoughts, right? So you've got your job, you got your situation, you got your circumstances, and then you have your thoughts about those things. And that's what actually creates the stress and anxiety and the frustration and all the things that you're feeling is the result of your thinking.
So part of what I'm trying to do is really help people see how much power they actually have over their outcomes. And I think actually, sometimes people will come and seek somebody like you out because they're looking for that exit strategy of I love doing this work, but I can't do this anymore. Right? “Help me get the hell out of here! Because I can't, I can't, I can't, it's not sustainable.”
And I'm trying to educate people on how they can because it's fine if you want to leave. But often what I find is that they actually love medicine, they actually love the work that they do. And they're heartbroken about having to leave. Think about how much you put into just becoming a physician. So much, so much that goes into it. And to then find out that you can't do it is really heartbreaking. And so I'm in the job of trying to help you do what you love to do and to have it be sustainable.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah. A lot of it is just when people have their identities really tied up into their jobs and their careers, and how much they make, and what they have and what their plan is.
So, my question for you is, do you think we've always had it or it's just an epidemic that's just happening because of the pandemic? And because of all of this stress and everything?
Dr. Sharon Grossman, PhD: Yeah, well, I'll answer your question with a question. So it's kind of like asking, is stress a new phenomenon? Or is that something that we have only because of COVID?
We all know that stress is something that we've always had. And essentially, burnout is just accumulated stress over time. So when stress is acute, we can be oh today was a really stressful day. And then you wake up the next morning, and you're fine. But when you have burnout, the stress is chronic. And so you wake up tomorrow, the exact same thing as it was yesterday, if not worse, And that's essentially what burnout is. It's chronic stress over time that's accumulated and it doesn't get better from day to day. And so it's really taking a toll on people. And so we have to find ways to change what's happening as it's happening.
And we're often focused externally, like you're saying, both in terms of what we're what we want, like the outcomes that we're going for, and in terms of why we're feeling the way that we are, and they're both problematic, right? So what you're saying is, people are always saying Oh, I'm really interested in the status or I'm interested in how much money I'm making or all these things. And, and that can be problematic, because if you're doing that exclusively, and you're not tuning into what you need, then you're missing something, you're disconnected. You're disconnected.
And the other piece is, if you're not really paying attention to the things that are going on inside of you, whether it's your thoughts or anything else, then it's hard for you to see the connection between what's what's happening inside of you. And you're thinking, it's that thing out there, my job is really stressful. Or it's my kids, or it's my husband, or it's my whatever. And, and then you're not really seeing that there is that thinking that often comes into the mix that creates the negative emotions.
So really, the invitation here is to become more self attuned, to become more aware of all of your inner processes. Because the more aware you are of yourself, the more you understand yourself, the better decisions you get to make, the less stress you actually feel.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: How do clients determine if they're interested in coaching or burnout coaching or career transitions? How do they distinguish between, oh, I'm stressed out about my job, I just need to learn how to say No more. I just need to learn how to mitigate stress more. And where they're actually experiencing physical burnout. How do they feel when they come to you?
Dr. Sharon Grossman, PhD: how do they know they need burnout coaching?
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah, exactly.
Dr. Sharon Grossman, PhD: I think first and foremost, you have to know what burnout is. And I think that's the very first step because oftentimes, people are Yeah, I've heard the term, I know what it is, but that's not me. That's not what's happening here.
And, and we don't really know what it means. It's kind of like this thing that you hear about. And oftentimes, people will understand that about themselves in retrospect, right? oh, yeah, okay, now I get it. That's the thing that happened to me, like two years ago. I realize now, that's what was going on, then. That's why I was feeling that way.
And part of what I see my job as, is to educate people on what's happening in the moment so that you can be Oh, that's me I'm having those symptoms. I didn't realize that was burnout. I thought that was stress. I thought that was just whatever and now I have a name for it, and actually realize that this is what it is. And I have an opportunity to intervene. Tell me more. That's where the coaching conversation can start. Because it's oh, now I know that I have it, I want to do something about it. Tell me what I can do. That's, that's kind of when you know that this is for you.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: That makes sense. Because sometimes it's just stress mitigation. And a lot of times the clients are really burned out. What types of techniques do you offer? How do you coach clients? And how do you help them become more self aware? And what sort of things do you go through, just to give the viewers an understanding?
Dr. Sharon Grossman, PhD: Yeah, so, there's not just one thing. It's kind of like a journey that we go on together where you're building up levels of skills and levels of insight, and just kind of all adds up. So that you've actually transformed in the process. And you wake up in the morning at the end of it, and you start to notice Hey, I'm actually seeing these results that I didn't have before. And I don't feel the way that I used to feel before. It almost seems like an overnight success, but it's not, it's kind of like you're slowly building that up. And then all of a sudden, one day, it's Oh, I've arrived, you know. And that's really the goal is to be able to transition slowly and start to implement some things.
And so to give you an example, mindfulness is a big piece of it. Because oftentimes, as I said, if you're focusing externally on all the things that you need to do on your to-do list, I gotta take care of my kids, and then I'm gonna make dinner and then I gotta clean the house. And then it's where do you fit into this whole equation? And tuning into your energy? And do I have the energy to do that right now? Or do I need to go take a rest? Or do I need to drink some water? Or do I need to have a pause?
Is it like self care and making sure that you're doing the things that continue to replenish you as opposed to constantly just exerting all this energy out? It's about really what we talked about earlier, which is about managing your thoughts. That's a huge part of it. And that's because as we said, it has such a big impact on your outcomes.
If you have negative thoughts, if you're beating yourself up, if you're a perfectionist, if you’ve got imposter syndrome, all of these things, it's like a lot of negative thoughts that create insecurity, that creates anxiety, that creates stress in your life. And from that place, it's harder for you to be the best version of yourself.
And so you're just kind of struggling to do something that, if you didn't have that struggle, mentally, you could do it in less time with less effort, it just wouldn't be as hard, right? So I'm trying to teach people how to feel better, how to make better decisions, how to be more empowered. And you mentioned the word, self awareness. And that's really the foundation of emotional intelligence.
So I wrote a book called The 7E Solution to Burnout: Transforming High Achievers From Exhausted to Extraordinary. And the reason that it's called that is because there are actually like seven steps that kind of come together. And one of them is emotional intelligence. So it's called 7E because they all start with the letter E, it just so happens.
Emotional intelligence is step one. And step one of step one, if you will, is self awareness, right? In order to be more emotionally intelligent, you have to first understand yourself. So if we're saying I feel really stressed out, and I don't understand that it's me that's creating that stress, because of my thoughts, I'm gonna think that it's my job, or I'm gonna think that it's my manager, or I'm gonna think that it's my finances or think whatever it is, and then I'm gonna look out there for the solution.
But if it's my own negative thinking, that's creating the stress, and I'm looking out there, then it's hard for me to ever arrive, because then I'll always be looking once I finish this, and then I'll have the next thing and the next thing, and you're always kind of jumping from one thing to the next. Right? And so this is really an inner work kind of journey, where you're looking inward for the solution.
And, speaking of self awareness, I thought, okay, part of what I'm teaching is how to change your outcome, once you know that you're burned out, as we've talked about. But how can I help people first become more self aware, so that they say, Yes, I need this other thing. Or I'm ready for the next step to really work on myself. And that's where I decided to create this five day challenge, where I'm really taking people on this journey to increase that self awareness day by day.
And it's 100%. Free. So I really encourage people to check it out. And I know people are really busy, and they're always wondering how much time is it gonna take for me? So? No, I'm answering all the questions. I want you to know that it is designed with you in mind, I know that people are super busy. So figure about 15 minutes a day over the course of five days. And then investment in yourself, will allow you by the end of the week, to be in a completely different place, where you know so much more about yourself. All of a sudden, you'll realize how much you need to do things differently, and how much easier, it's now for you to make decisions, because you'll be in a much more informed place. And Christopher, I don’t know if you can relate to this, but one of the things that I like to tell people is that.
Part of the reason people feel stressed out is because they have to make a decision. And they don't know what to choose, because they're not in touch with themselves. Or, they feel stressed out because they've already made the decision. But now, it's not aligned with what they need or what they value.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: So you brought up a lot of great points. And to all the listeners out there, there's a lot of people interested in signing up for the five day challenge. So I put the link down in the show notes. And like Dr. Grossman was saying it's completely free and tries to challenge you to really grow and experience from the challenge. So I really like that. And for your book, for the audience out there, where can they get it?
Dr. Sharon Grossman, PhD: You can find it online, it’s called 7E Solution to Burnout. I also have a page if you want to kind of learn more about the book. You can go to 7ESolution.com and it's got all this information, a couple of videos, and it's also got this bonus Sign Up program that I have for people.
Because oftentimes, as we said, like people don't recognize burnout in themselves, but you might recognize it in your colleagues. And so I really wanted to incentivize people to buy it for others. And so I created this whole rewards program that if you buy it for others, I will gift you free coaching.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: That's so awesome, providing and giving it back. The other thing is, we work a lot with just the type of perfectionist type. And what's interesting is that I've seen it, and I'm sure you've seen it is that a lot of, especially healthcare workers and caretakers, and people in the healing professions, they experience a lot of what's called compassion fatigue, moral injury, burnout. And a lot it's, for example, an inability to say no, and like you were saying, it's, it's really dependent upon self awareness. Because just saying yes to everything and saying yes to everybody, and just not having any boundaries and not being able to participate in getting enough rest, self care, just basic things. So I'm sure you've seen that in your practice. What sort of results have you seen with your clients that sign up with you and enroll in your coaching programs, just give us examples of success stories?
Dr. Sharon Grossman, PhD: For sure. So, what's so interesting you asked me before, some of the skills that people learn, and I teach a whole slew of things. And you know, if you read the book so much of that is in there. And so, what's been really interesting is that, everybody comes out of the program with a different nugget that they've kind of that they hold on to, if that makes sense.
So some people really love the idea of focusing on their energy, and what is something that drains my energy versus something that gives me more energy. And I had one client that really took to this idea. And it just made this whole world of difference, because he was able to make more informed decisions about everything in his life. So for him, that was like the one thing of the 100 things that he just liked, took home and made so many, so many changes.
For somebody else, it was this idea of, I can have a cut off time, right? So I had this one client. She had a 40 minute commute home after work. And she was working in this business where, I don't know, if you're familiar with, kind of like One Medical, it's like a private clinic where people can sign up for free for our membership. And then they get additional services.
So people are constantly sending messages to their physicians, and they're saying hey I’ve got this, and what about this and asking questions. And so she would be on her drive home, and all these messages would be coming in. And she had so much anxiety.
It was Oh, my God, I gotta answer all these people. And it's all coming in. And she's driving home, like making it to [her house]. And then she couldn't fall asleep at night. Because she's thinking, Oh, my God, I have all this stuff to do. And everybody wants a piece of me and I don't know. Yeah. And it's you're giving it all away. And it's still not enough. It feels like and then there's so much anxiety of what am I gonna do? Right?
And so we worked on this concept of, it's okay for you to not answer them right away. And then she was Wait, but what's gonna happen? Because she had all this anxiety. But she was able to work on it to the point where she just got this whole download of it's gonna still be there. When I'm done with my ride, and when I'm done with my whatever, all those messages will still be there. And if I answered them, tomorrow morning, like it's totally fine. And anyway, whatever it was that finally helped her have that mindset shift.
As a result, because that's what you're asking him about, was much less anxious, first of all, during her commute, but then, because she didn't have all this anxiety after work. She was able to fall asleep faster. And she got an extra hour of sleep a night, which, as you know, if you know anything about sleep. That is the one thing that's gonna make the biggest impact on you. Because it determines everything. It's like your energy, everything right? So having an extra night of sleep every night. From that one change that she made.
For everybody. It's a little bit different. And that's because everybody's struggle, even though we all might be under that burnout umbrella. Everybody's version of burnout is different, everybody's reasons for being under that umbrella is also different, right? And so different pieces are going to speak to different people. And that's why you have to have all the different pieces. And that's what I'm teaching is, take what really feels good for you and your situation and try to apply it and see kind of where you come out.
So I think what's nice is that I've got you covered, no matter what's happening. And then in addition to what I'm teaching, I'm also coaching people so that they can think about specifics about their situation and how to apply things and making sure that they're getting the results that they're looking for.
So yeah, I mean, there's, there's a lot of skills that you learn. And these are the skills that help people be successful in the world, but they don't teach you in medical school. Right? We don't really teach you this in any school. This is where coaching comes in. And that's where you learn emotional intelligence, and you're learning mindfulness, and you're learning ways of changing your thinking and taking control over your mind. And that's so incredibly powerful. Because mindset is the crux of everything to do with your success, and your happiness. And you talked about satisfaction and all the things, And so it's, it's monumental, it really is, and I can't overemphasize that.
And so I would say, if you're, if you're listening to this, and you're relating to some of this you're noticing, you're kind of shaking your head and be Yeah, that's me. Join the challenge. That's what I would say to you, it's absolutely free. It starts tomorrow. And really, I've created all this amazing material for you guys. So that you can walk away at the end of the week, really better understanding yourself, and is going to reduce your stress levels just by knowing more about yourself and what you value. What you need, how to pay attention to the things that are important, is going to make a massive difference in how you're making decisions, how you're showing up, and how you feel, ultimately.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: You said a lot of great pearls of wisdom in there. And I really like the idea of everybody's different. So everybody, in the end, it's going to be a stimulus and response. And in between, there's the gap. And that's what you're coaching and what you're teaching, and it really depends on how you manage your thoughts and what those thoughts make you feel and the stories that you tell yourself about those thoughts. And so it's really great that we have coaches trying to address a lot of these things, because, right now, we're on the cutting edge of a lot of us for these educational programs, and really trying to help others to achieve a better life. And like you said, we don't get taught this in any way, these are real world life skills. And I think the world needs it now more than ever, just because people are so - the anxiety, the stress, the uncertainty. It's gonna get worse and worse as you know, with technology and advancement.
So, and then you also mentioned, so you have the day to day, the real time monitoring of your thoughts in the tools and techniques, and you also have your book as well, and you have resources that people can go to both paid and free as well. So to all the people that are listening, check out Dr. Grossman. How do people get in contact with you? Is it your website or email?
Dr. Sharon Grossman, PhD: Yeah, so I've got most of the stuff that you need to know right on my website. So go to DrSharongrossman.com. You have access to my mindset mastery starter kit, which is a free download that's got a bunch of articles and videos on topics related to stress, anxiety, burnout, imposter syndrome, self sabotage, like all the things. So that's free. And that's a great place for people to just get started and have that.
I've also created a burnout meter. So if people are interested to find out how burned out they actually are, they can go and click on that and take the assessment and then book a call in with me and we'll give you some feedback and let you know about what would be good next steps.
And there's a link to the book, you can go right to Amazon or you can go from my website and the link to there. And so there's just like a whole bunch of stuff. I also have a webinar right on my website as well. So lots of good stuff all in one place.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Oh, excellent. We have one question from the audience: How long do you work with a client? Is it one session? Is it a week? What is your approach?
Dr. Sharon Grossman, PhD: Yeah, so my program is called Exhausted to Extraordinary. And it's actually a 90 day program. And so I'm really taking you through the entire process from A to Z. And you know, anybody who's interested in learning more, I'm happy to talk to you. So you can find a link to sign up for a session with me through my website. So again, going to DrSharonGrossman.com, there's a link to the book in a call. And I am happy to talk to you about your situation, what's happening for you, and what would be a good next step if it's that program or something else.
But in general, yeah, I don't think one session is going to do it. Because as we said, burnout is a result of chronic stress, it's something that is happening over and over again, for a long duration of time. And so we really need to be strategic, we need to do some revamping in terms of how you think about things and how you engage with things. As you know, we have habits and habits take time to create, and they also take time to change. And if I did one session, it would just basically be enough to tell you, Okay, this is your pattern, right? Being able to identify it for you. And I'm happy to do that for people and just say Okay, this is what I'm noticing. And that's what I do during these free breakthrough sessions that I have with people. But it's not enough to be aware of the problem, you need to actually work to change it. And that takes a little bit of time. And that's why it's a 90 day program to really give you enough time to help you really see that transformation happen. But not so long that it feels overwhelming.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah, 90 days you get to the core of the issue, and then you work with the client. And from the success stories that you've had, it sounds like a lot of clients get a lot of satisfaction and a lot of benefits from the program.
Dr. Sharon Grossman, PhD: Yeah, and I'm and I'm measuring, I'm having people take, like a self assessment before and after. So we can say over the course of these 90 days, you started here, and you ended up here, and I can tell them, hey, you may not remember what it was like three months ago, but you know, your satisfaction has gone up by 50%, or your energies boosted up by 80%, or whatever the case may be. I'm able to then have some data to share with them.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Well, excellent. Well, it sounds like a great program. Thanks for being on the show.
Dr. Sharon Grossman, PhD: Thanks for having me.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Many thanks again for being here. If you’re new, you can find me online at Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD, where I have links to other episodes or links to online resources that will support you on your financial literacy journey. I’ll see you there in on next week’s show. While I bring you thoroughly vetted information on this show regarding a variety of financial topics, I cannot promise you a one size fits all solution. This is why I caution you to continue to learn. Educate yourself and seek professional advice unique to your situation. If you want to talk to me, I welcome it. Please reach out via my website or email at Chris@drchrisloomdphd.com. I read and personally respond to all of my emails. Talk soon!
Editor's note: This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.