Skip main navigation

Military Health System

Clear Your Browser Cache

This website has recently undergone changes. Users finding unexpected concerns may care to clear their browser's cache to ensure a seamless experience.

Key to Beating Burnout: Prioritizing Self-Care

Image of Key to Beating Burnout: Prioritizing Self-Care. U.S. Army soldiers load a simulated patient on to a New Jersey National Guard UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter during a combat lifesaver course run by the Medical Simulation Training Center on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, April 14, 2022. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht)

Many service members work in high stress high intensity environments. The demands of the mission and challenges posed by military life can lead to a risk of burnout for even the strongest among us.

"No one is immune to burnout," said U.S. Air Force Reserve psychologist Lt. Col. Jennifer Gillette.

What is Burnout?

Gillette, who supports the director of psychological health at the Air Force Medical Readiness Agency, says common symptoms of burnout include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Stomach distress
  • Poor sleep
  • Over-eating
  • Heavy drinking

Lesser-known symptoms involve emotional disconnection, insensitivity, sarcasm, and cynicism, leading to a lack of empathy or feelings of incompetence.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Daniel Gross, flight commander at the 633rd Medical Group at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, in Hampton, Virginia, says burnout is "a syndrome that results in response to running out of energy and emptying the tank." Burnout occurs when an individual has an imbalance between "responsibility and task compared to the opportunity to rest and recharge".

Service members face a higher risk of burnout when individual or unit "op-tempo" intensifies. Nancy Skopp, a clinical psychologist at the Defense Health Agency Psychological Health Center of Excellence, said "When a person begins to notice fatigue, physical and mental exhaustion, poor motivation, and emotional withdrawal, these are signs to seek guidance from a mentor or mental health professional."

Diagnosing burnout involves identifying reduced stress tolerance, increased irritability, decreased job performance, or relationship stress resulting from exhaustion.

Battling Burnout

"We must take care of ourselves if we want to prevent burnout. We can’t expect our cars to keep running if we don’t fill them up with gas and take them in for regular maintenance,” said Gillette. “If we just keep driving without taking care of our cars or ourselves, we will find ourselves broken down on the side of the road calling for help”.

Self-care tips include:

  • Eating well
  • Prioritizing time for relaxation and fun
  • Exercising regularly
  • Developing good sleep habits
  • Establishing strong work-life boundaries
  • Separating work and personal life
  • Nurturing a sense of humor
  • Building strong relationships with co-workers
  • Recognizing distress signs and seeking help

If you or someone you care about experiences burnout, talk to your doctor or a trusted individual for assistance.

According to U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Catherine Callendar, deputy director of psychological health for the U.S. Air Force, “We want to make sure we’re looking for social support. This may sound simple, but the reality is, there’s so much research that tells us when we talk to somebody who is supportive of us, there are positive neurochemical changes that take place in the brain.”

Gillette says one key to prevention is self-awareness. “Practicing mindfulness can help us learn to tune into ourselves more, takes us off autopilot, and become more aware of the present moment.”

Gillette characterizes positive coping strategies as a “psychological first aid kit.” They offer reminders to use positive coping mechanisms, like calling a friend who makes you laugh, going for a run, or listening to motivational speakers.

"And we really do feel better for very tangible reasons. So, seeking social support, and talking to friends, and family can prove very beneficial to us."

All service members, especially health care providers, must take time to support their colleagues and seek support when necessary.

Resources

You also may be interested in...

Article Around MHS
May 26, 2023

Walter Reed Expert Shares Five Ways to Prioritize Mental Health

Dr. Diaz discusses the importance of mental fitness with U.S. Army Pvt. 2 Kaliyah Rowan at the Mental Fitness Information table during Staff Resiliency Week at Walter Reed. Diaz says prioritizing mental health is key to building resilience, and shared five ways staff members can do just that in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. (Photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jesse Sharpe, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center)

In today's fast-paced health care environment, it's more important than ever to prioritize mental health to build resilience, and in honor of National Mental Health Awareness Month and Staff Resiliency Week at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Dr. Kristine Diaz, a personnel psychologist, shares five ways staff members can prioritize their ...

Article Around MHS
May 22, 2023

New Mental Health Care Initiative Improves Access to Care and Readiness

A room plaque for the 341st Operational Medical Readiness Squadron mental health flight is pictured inside the base clinic June 23, 2021, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana. The mental health flight offers mental health services to active duty members and manages the Family Advocacy and Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment programs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Heather Heiney)

For more than a year, the Air Force Medical Service has been rolling out Mental Health Targeted Care, an initiative that helps Airmen and Guardians understand all of the available options for support and connects them to the right resource either in a mental health clinic or outside the military hospital with another supporting agency that best meets ...

Article Around MHS
May 5, 2023

Brandon Act Aims to Improve Mental Health Support

The Brandon Act

Gilbert R. Cisneros Jr., undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, signed a policy today to initiate implementation of the Brandon Act and improve the process for service members seeking mental health support.

Article Around MHS
Apr 17, 2023

Defense Public Health Psychologist Offers Tips to Help Children Cope With Change

Defense Public Health experts say it’s important for parents to maintain a healthy and active attachment with their children by spending at least 20 minutes a day together. This can help military kids and families cope with life changes, like military moves. (Graphic illustration by Graham Snodgrass)

While military kids get to experience many unique and exciting things, they also face many challenges as a result of their parents' service. We've got some expert advice for military parents whose children are adjusting to new schools, separations during their deployments, and other coping skills for military kids to thrive.

Article Around MHS
Mar 8, 2023

Physician Says DOD Focused on Improving Mental Health of Force

Emergency trauma nurses, treat a simulated patient during the Tactical Trauma Reaction and Evacuation Crossover Course at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, Texas, Feb. 23, 2023. (Credit: Jason W. Edwards, DOD)

Defense Department health leaders provided testimony today at a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Lester Martinez-Lopez said the department is committing resources with a focus on preventing suicides of military and family members.

Article Around MHS
Feb 15, 2023

Army Restoration and Reconditioning Centers Help Soldiers with Deployment Stress and Optimize Unit Readiness

Military personnel during mindfulness training

Yoga and mindfulness for the warfighter? We take a look inside an Army program's "whole person" approach to help soldiers cope with stressful or traumatic events in combat and other military operations.

Article Around MHS
Feb 10, 2023

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Continues Expanding Mental Health Options in Pilot Program’s Second Year

Naval Branch Health Clinic Bahrain sign at Naval Support Activity Bahrain

A two-year pilot program expanding mental health treatment options for military and family members hit its halfway mark. Find out how it's been successful so far, and what's next in advancing services to warfighters and their families experiencing acute mental health problems.

Article Around MHS
Jan 17, 2023

There's No Excuse to Not Be Living Your Full Potential

Military personnel healing in hospital bed

Retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Armando Mejia was severely injured due to an explosion and firefight in Mosul, Iraq, in 2004. Staying in a medical hold while recovering, Mejia was eventually one of the first to experience the Army Recovery Care Program when it was stood up as Warrior Care and Transition.

Skip subpage navigation
Refine your search
Last Updated: September 28, 2023
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on X Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery