‘You’ve Lost Your Sparkle’: What to Do When Burnout Hits

‘You’ve Lost Your Sparkle’: What to Do When Burnout Hits

2021-05-08 18:10:57
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– Yumiko Kadota, the author of "Emotional Female"


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Most young girls don't worry about burnout at work, but by the time they reach adulthood and are fully entrenched in careers, many will experience it. More than half of the women surveyed In a survey by CNBC and SurveyMonkey in 2021, they said their mental health at work was suffering to the point of burnout.

For women of color, the numbers are worse. Black women's experience accelerated “biological agingIn response to the repeated encounter with stress. While 9.8 million working mothers in America experience workplace burnout, this is more pronounced for black, Latin and Asian mothers, according to the largest study on working parents to date.

Of course, weathering a pandemic also takes a huge toll on mental health. The Centers for Disease Control found that 40 percent of American adults struggled with mental health or substance abuse problems due to the pandemic, although mental health concerns were already growing prepandemic. Add work to the mix and it can feel unsustainable. Nearly three million women have left the American workforce because of the pandemic, and many of them have quit due to a lack of childcare opportunities.

And racial tensions make it worse. The dual pillars of the pandemic and systemic racism were in particular challenging for black employees while anti-Asian hate crimes are up nearly 150 percent in 2020.

It is a recipe for burnout that psychologist Christina Maslach defines as “A psychological syndrome that emerges as a long-lasting response to chronic interpersonal stressors at work. The three main aspects of this response are overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from work, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of performance. "

Two friends from childhood, Dr. Yumiko Kadota, a surgeon in Sydney, Australia, and the author of "Emotional woman, "And Ruchika Tulshyan, a Seattle journalist and the author of"The benefit of diversity, ”Discuss how complicated stress leads to burnout, and how to get through it.

Their conversation – their first since classmates in Singapore 20 years ago – is concise and lightly edited.


Ruchika: You were 13 when you left Singapore to move first to the UK and then to Australia. I remember you already wanted to be a doctor, even though I don't remember that we knew many female doctors.

Yumiko: Yes, and I was very determined to have surgery. By the time I reached medical school, I saw a clear path in medicine.

Ruchika: Have you ever doubted yourself?

Yumiko: I knew it would be stressful and high pressure, but I never doubted myself. I remember you telling me I was fiery when we were 8 years old. Do you remember that?

Ruchika: Wow, not me! But I have also been mentioned that word.

Yumiko: I've always been very ardent, so please! I think many of these personality traits develop when you are young.

Ruchika: What does it mean to be ardent as an Asian woman … as a Japanese woman in Australia?

Yumiko: There is this trope of the submissive, meek and mild Asian woman. People don't know how to react when they meet an Asian woman who stands up for herself and wants to lead. I don't know if it is inconvenience or surprise. Women like us experience both the glass ceiling and the bamboo ceiling because there are so many stereotypes about us.

Ruchika: It is extremely difficult to see the anti-Asian hatred and violence in the US. How are things in Australia?

Yumiko: I grew up with a lot of feeling anti-Asian hatred here in Australia. And racist comments from politicians have escalated anti-Asian hatred over the past year. I remember feeling self-conscious on public transportation at the start of the pandemic, when masks were not yet mandatory. I chose to wear one but was worried I looked like I had the virus.

Ruchika: That's so difficult. I find that different color communities in the US are strongly linked in the way they experience racism, even if the exact words and ways may differ. Is that the case in Australia?

Yumiko: We had our own Black Lives Matter is protesting here because we have a huge problem with discrimination against Indigenous Australians, including the high number of deaths while in police custody. It's not too different from the police brutality against black people in the US

Ruchika: I'm writing a book about women of color at work. Every woman I interviewed shared how she felt invisible and visible at the same time. This gets even stronger as you progress – you don't want to disturb feathers by being to ambitious. What is your opinion?

Yumiko: I enjoyed most of my medical internship, but when I became a resident I realized that there were other types of power dynamics at work. I was told I was acting too confident. I don't know if I got that feedback because I'm an Asian woman or because I was in a subordinate position and someone in a position of power was trying to take me down.

Ruchika: Your book describes perfectionism in a way that feels very familiar to me as an Asian woman working in the U.S. You wrote about obsessively practicing and mastering hand straps (surgical knots) long before your predominantly white peers in medical school did. When I started out as a journalist, I put this immense pressure on myself to deliver breaking news stories so that I wouldn't be seen as "less than" the male journalists. Have you ever seen men wrestle in medical school?

Yumiko: You know, I don't think I saw anyone wrestle. Some of them were lucky enough to have women at home to support them. I lived alone, I was single and it was much more difficult to do everything on my own.

Ruchika: In your book you describe your chronic fatigue. When did you know it was time to tell your bosses you were overworked?

Yumiko: My intestines broke in the car, so I literally pooped all over the place. And then I thought, oh, this is not normal – a young healthy person shouldn't lose their abstinence.

Ruchika: Oh dear! & # 39; Continence & # 39; is the way a doctor puts it, but it must have been traumatizing.

Yumiko: Yes! The bowels never lie, and when my bowels gave out, that's when I thought could be something's wrong. Until then, I didn't stop, I just kept going because I learned to ignore the signs of stress.

Ruchika: Research shows that health workers are at risk for increased burnout, stress and depression. And you yourself call your former workplace a toxic environment. You ran ten 24-hour shifts every two weeks and worked more than 100 hours a week. You described that – after a 24-hour service – you received a call at 3 a.m. for a non-urgent matter and that you were (understandably!) Upset about it. Then the man on the other end called you an "emotional woman". I frothy when I read that because we all know no one would be called that! There was also the part where a patient thought you were a nurse just as you were getting ready to operate on them! When you brought up how toxic everything was to your managers, they told you to be stronger. Do you think you would have been treated differently if you were white?

Yumiko: Usually I forget that I am an Asian woman. I think I am just myself. But there are often memories. I was hassled with Kung Fu sounds while attending high school in England. I swept away the incidents, but over time those little things add up.

After I left medical school, my self-confidence slowly dropped.

Ruchika: I wrote an article with the writer Jodi-Ann Burey about how imposter syndrome is not inherently a "women's issue", but a side effect of sexism and racism. I've always thought of myself as confident and strong, but when I experience overworked cultures, sexism, or racism, I see myself shrinking to fit in.

Yumiko: I remember catching up with a friend when I was in medical school. She said, "You've lost your sparkle." Those were her exact words. I definitely became quieter and more inferior to my bosses and to healthcare. Until I stopped.

Ruchika: I remember looking at you the Australian news after reading your viral blog post that revealed how poorly young doctors were treated by the medical system and the challenges you faced as a woman in medicine. At that point, it sounded like you were planning to leave surgery forever.

Yumiko: Well, I was burned out. I was diagnosed with depression and was hospitalized that year, and my health continued to deteriorate. I had terrible insomnia; it took 18 months to get back to sleep. Overtime disrupts your brain so terribly.

Ruchika: How did you get through it?

Yumiko: I cannot talk about recovery without talking about therapy. We have to normalize it. I was faced with such acute trauma that every memory of my medical past put me in a really bad situation for a while. So it was very important to learn to deal with this through therapy. But exercise and the outdoors have also helped me enormously.

Ruchika: I am glad that you are now performing surgeries again at a more manageable pace, while also having a life outside of & # 39; the knife & # 39 ;. What else contributed to your recovery?

Yumiko: When we experience burnout, we must take a holistic approach to healing. I studied yoga and read yoga philosophy that helped me reformulate how I thought about my identity. When you are a workaholic, your job becomes your identity. And now I am learning to further define myself.


Burnout is a serious problem in the workplace, said the World Health Organisation. Ellen Keithline Byrne cites Maslach's research and suggests asking yourself three questions to assess whether you are suffering from burnout:

  • Are you regularly physically and emotionally drained?

  • Are you more cynical and distant than usual?

  • Do you feel like you are not contributing anything meaningful where you once were?

Work cultures that reward overtime are often the biggest culprits that keep women from making professional progress, not work-life balance, the report said. researchers Robin J. Ely and Irene Padavic.

Mayo Clinic has one list of sources about burnout at work and warnings that ignoring a burnout at work can lead to many consequences, such as excessive stress, fatigue, sadness, anger or irritability. It suggests discussing concerns with a supervisor, seeking support from colleagues or loved ones, and practicing mindfulness.


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