September 28, 2022

Don’t Overtrain: Avoiding Career & Leadership Burnout

Clinician Leadership | Leadership Development

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Leaders are corporate athletes. 

Elite leadership performance requires considerable physical and emotional endurance, mental focus, and determination. The demands that a leader places on their body are substantial. However, few leaders take the time to remember that they have a body, let alone pay close attention to caring for it. Over time, many healthcare leaders succumb to mediocre physical and emotional health. 

Peak leadership performance mandates holistic wellness, and as research published in the National Library of Medicine shows, when your health and wellness deteriorate, your output at work often plummets as well. Protecting your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health with sustainable habits is imperative to reinforce a strong foundation for a productive career.

Findings on energy management in Harvard Business Review cite Jim Loehr’s seminal work on athletes as a reference point for optimizing corporate results.

“On the playing field or in the boardroom, high performance depends as much on how people renew and recover energy as on how they expend it,” said Loehr. “[It depends] on how they manage their lives as much as on how they manage their work.” 

The most common error leaders make that leads to burnout: avoiding rest and recovery.   

Overtraining Syndrome

Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) is recognized in endurance athletes as a devastating physical result of excessive stress in those who ignore adequate rest and recovery, according to research published in the National Library of Medicine.

OTS represents a maladaptive response to overtraining and is sometimes career-ending. Elite healthcare leaders experience a similar maladaptive syndrome — we just call it “burnout.” 

The physiological and psychological signs and symptoms of burnout and OTS are nearly identical.

Symptoms of overtraining and burnout include the following:

Overtraining Symptoms
  • Debilitating fatigue and poor performance
  • Sense of failure and self doubt
  • Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
  • Detachment; feeling alone in the world
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increasingly cynical and negative outlook
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
Burnout Symptoms
  • Prolonged general fatigue
  • Growing tension, depression, anger or confusion
  • Inability to relax
  • Poor sleep
  • Lack of energy, decreased motivation, moodiness
  • Not feeling joy from things that were once enjoyable
Overtraining Audit: Five Categories To Evaluate

If you’ve spotted symptoms above that mirror your current experience, you will be glad to know there are meaningful actions to mitigate burnout.

The following five categories significantly contribute to overall wellness and help combat burnout:

brain uses about 30% of what we eat and can’t store for later, so being hungry impacts decision-making abilities. A healthy diet of whole foods positively impacts brain health.

brain is 78% water and a deficit can negatively impact focus. People who drank a pint of water before carrying out a mental task had reaction times 14% faster than others.

Regular exercise oxygenates cells, making your brain more agile. Movement improves learning and memory, emotional control, increases oxytocin, and
decreases risk of dementia by 30%.

Deprivation of adequate rest results in lower IQ, suboptimal decision-making, and a greater risk of dementia. Lack of sleep is
damaging to the lymphatic system as it does not have adequate time to flush toxins from the brain. 

Deep relationships:
Social interactions and connectedness improve health and wellness. Investing in and sustaining
meaningful personal relationships help improve physical health.

As a healthcare leader, you are responsible for setting an example for your teams to establish healthy habits.

“When people feel strong and resilient physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, they perform better, with more passion, for longer,” said Jim Loehr in his book, “The Power of Full Engagement.” “They win, their families win, and the corporations that employ them win.”

Just like elite athletes, corporate leaders can train to win. Which of the above categories will you prioritize strengthening first?

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About the author

Michael S. Hein, MD, MHCM, ACC

Michael S. Hein, MD, MHCM, ACC has over 20 years of healthcare leadership experience in multi-specialty practice, large integrated health systems, academic medicine, and start-up companies. He has extensive clinical leadership experience and deep knowledge in transformational change.

William M. Barnes, Ph.D., MBA, PCC

William M. Barnes, Ph.D., MBA, PCC is a multi-faceted healthcare executive who brings diverse perspectives from successful leadership and clinical responsibilities. As a clinical psychologist, William spent more than 20 years simultaneously providing direct service and executive leadership at Children’s National Health Systems, where he served as Director of Community Based Adolescent HIV Research and Director of HIV Support Services.

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