Short-term medical leave can help you get back on your feet when you are exhausted, but only if you do what you need to do.
Several of the clients I work with in my private practice as a psychologist take short-term medical leave from work because of burnout. Taking medical leave is sometimes warranted, but only if what you are doing is more important than being at your desk.
A list of posts you may want to review, either before or after reading this post, provide information about burnout, including:
- What is burnout?
- Am I heading for burnout?
- Warning signs of burnout
- Motivation to end burnout
- What should I do if I am experiencing burnout?
- Burnout is a continuum
- When to take medical leave for burnout
The period spent away from work can be disappointing when you do not understand the type of work you need to do to get better. This post contains information to help you better navigate the process.
Your new full-time job is to focus on recovering when you are on short-term medical leave for burnout.
All too often, a physician will put a person on short-term medical leave for burnout, but they will not recover. Instead, they will return to their physician, saying they are not feeling better and cannot return to their job.
The person may be having panic attacks, suffering from depression, or unable to sleep, for example, and not be getting adequate help. They may also be experiencing pressure from a boss, work colleague or spouse, or may have too heavy a workload. These issues need to be addressed before they will be able to perform in their job again.
Whatever it is that has led you to burnout, you need to focus on recovering.
Work closely with your physician.
I suggest that a person on medical leave check-in with their physician if they are depressed and might benefit from trialling an antidepressant to help regulate their mood.
You may want to learn how to differentiate whether you are depressed or in burnout before you decide to take an antidepressant.
Create a good relationship with the case manager at your insurance provider.
Many of my clients have reported that their relationship with the case manager assigned to them by their insurance provider is stressful. Be as honest as you can with your case manager about your situation. Return their phone calls within 48 hours.
It may help you to see these interactions as part of your new job while you are on leave. Often, what you will be asked to do will take up to four hours a week. For example, you may be asked to attend appointments or complete paperwork.
Rather than seeing these interruptions as annoying, you might see them as a routine aspect of being on medical leave, and as something to be anticipated rather than avoided or feared.
Submit an appeal if your medical leave application is denied.
Don’t panic if your medical leave application is denied by your insurance provider. You may be able to appeal the company’s decision.
The solution may be straight forward, and your physician or psychologist may be able to help. Both have likely dealt with situations like yours in the past and will be able to help you appeal of the decision. Often, the solution is to provide information that was not filled out on the original application form.
Establish and maintain healthy habits that will sustain you over the long-term.
Several of the healthy habits you will want to establish while on medical leave and then maintain will either be new to you or will have been lost. To help you get started, you may want to read How to make and maintain effective lifestyle changes.
Virtually everyone on medical leave for burnout has lost a regular exercise habit if they ever had one. The same goes for getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet.
Practice good sleep hygiene.
It makes no sense to try to return to work without being rested. Throughout your medical leave, as well as after you have returned to your job, you will benefit if you can focus on establishing and then maintaining good sleep hygiene.
Restore your energy level.
You need to allow yourself to sleep as much you need to to put gas back into your tank when you are exhausted. If you like this analogy, you can read about how to put gas back in your tank.
You may also want to read:
You need to establish healthy eating habits, especially because you have neglected your eating habits, which has contributed to your burnout. You do not need to make huge efforts in this department, but you do need to stop fueling your body with poor food choices and expecting your mind and body to perform.
Almost immediately after you begin a medical leave, you will help yourself to recover if you establish a regular exercise program. Read about how you need to exercise regularly to recover from, and stay out of, burnout.
Address underlying physical issues.
Most of the clients I work with in burnout are experiencing a physical problem when we meet. This is because they have neglected their physical and psychological healthy for so long. The problems range from shoulder problems to back problems, to unaddressed sleep apnea, to the need for non-urgent surgeries. If this describes you, you may want to read about how you have to take care of your body.
I encourage my clients to work with a sports medicine doctor, chiropractor, physiotherapist or other specialist as soon as they begin medical leave. Whatever the issue, the time to address these problems is when you are medical leave, in part because you have the time available to attend appointments and do the exercises.
Commit to practicing good self-care.
Good self-care skills can be learned. A list of posts you may want to review, either now or after you have finished reading this post, includes:
- Things you can do to improve your self-care skills
- Take regularly scheduled vacations to help you maintain your energy reserves
- Learning from difficult experiences
- Stop before you are exhausted
- Hire people to help you when you are overwhelmed, such as a house cleaner or a dog walker
Learn to pace your activities.
I recommend to my clients on medical leave for burnout that they learn how to pace themselves. They often have not learned how not to take on too much, and lack the skill. Read about how to pace your activities if you are in burnout.
Commit to not working at more than 65% of your capacity.
My clients initially tell me they didn’t believe they could work at only 65% of their capacity when I raised the topic with them. But burnout is the result of giving too much to your work and neglecting the other components of a healthy life. You may want to read about how to work smarter, not harder.
Set effective personal boundaries.
Many people on medical leave for burnout do not know how to set effective personal boundaries, but learning to say no to requests that will overwhelm you is a necessary skill if you want to recover from, and then stay out of, burnout. You may want to read overcommitted and overwhelmed.
You may also want to read:
Know the stigma of taking medical leave.
There is a stigma attached to taking medical leave. However, when you are exhausted and need time away from work to recover, you may not have any choice. You may also benefit from challenging the societal stigma.
Address underlying psychologist issues.
Most of my clients in burnout have been able to return to work and to live fuller, more rewarding personal lives once we started to address the causes of their burnout.
You may benefit from working with a psychologist if you are on medical leave for burnout and would like a partner to help you get back on your feet, especially if this is not your first go round.
Issues that often co-exist with burnout include:
- Developmental trauma during childhood
- Panic Attacks
- Sexual harassment at work
- Problems with the boss
If you are uncomfortable contacting a psychologist for help, read stigma attached to seeing a psychologist.
Know when you are ready to return to work.
I use several parameters to help determine when my clients are ready to return to work after being on medical leave for burnout. These include being able to being able to consistently sleep through the night, to wake-up feeling rested, to have a consistently high energy level through the day, and to be able to concentrate on reading a book for at least three hours.
For more information, read about when to return to work after medical leave.
Don’t return to work too soon.
Many people believe they are ready to return to work when their energy level begins to rise. Be careful not to jump the gun, however, and return too soon. A small percentage of my clients choose to do this, and it’s their decision to make. However, based on experience, I have seen that it’s better to return to work only after you are sure you can handle the workload and can function in the environment.
For additional information, read don’t return to work from medical leave too soon.
If you are on medical leave and have tried the ideas shared in this article but are not getting better, now might be the time to reach out to a psychologist for help.
— Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta