Healthy Living in the North

Workplace burnout: How to avoid that stressful, sinking feeling

Raina Fumerton and her son posing outside.Physician burnout is a relatively common experience in BC and elsewhere. Life at work, and outside of work can be busy, chaotic, and stressful. It can, at times, feel overwhelming. I won’t pretend that I’ve got everything “figured out” or that I don’t have episodes of regression/remission to unhealthy habits, but I can share some strategies that have helped me to move in a healthier direction. As a physician, these help me – but can be just as beneficial for anyone!

As much as possible, stay positive. I know this sounds corny, but it’s true. It’s also hard to do and takes active effort (for me anyway). There are times, usually when I’m tired, when I tend to move to a negative outlook instead of a positive one. However, in my experience, cynicism can be very destructive and can lead to even more feelings of disempowerment and frustration, and can also be quite contagious. It’s been helpful to me to be aware of this tendency towards negativity, actively acknowledge it without judgment, and then trying to take a more compassionate and positive approach. Trying to see things from a different point of view and finding new opportunities from what might initially have felt like a failure can also be helpful.

Make realistic goals every day. Accomplishing small but realistic goals each day gives me the energy and motivation to stick with some of the longer term goals and projects I have on the go.

Be kind to myself and to others. A safe and respectful workplace is a culture that allows me to thrive. No matter the setting, saying thank you and showing gratitude to others for the many things that they do is a great way to ensure that I contribute to a positive and healthy environment that enables myself (and others) to thrive, both in the workplace and beyond. As a public health physician, I work on issues that can be quite controversial and divisive. As such, not having an expectation of myself to make everybody happy is also helpful. I take positions and make decisions based on public health ethics and on evidence; I have learned to accept that while people may disagree with me, I hope that they can respect and appreciate my process.

Posture. Sit up straight or stand up! I spend a lot of time at a desk and in front of a computer and am fortunate to have a sit-stand desk, which allows me some diversity/flexibility. I find when I pay attention to my posture, it has positive effects on me, both physically and mentally.

Exercise. I am not a morning person, and quite frankly I am not easily pulled away from the comfort of my home in the evenings either! However, I am lucky to have a workplace that is within walking distance from my home and a fabulous local fitness studio that hosts lunchtime exercise classes. I find incorporating exercise into my daily commute (e.g. walking to work) and/or daily lunchtime regime is far more effective than trying to find time in the early mornings or evenings, particularly now that I have children. The lunchtime classes really energize me at a critical juncture in the day which enables me to be more productive in the afternoon.

Spend time with my son (and soon to arrive baby daughter). Admittedly this can go both ways (there are definitely times where one’s children can affect one’s life balance in a negative way as well!). However, in general and overall, I experience a lot of joy in allowing myself to engage in his playful and curious ways and exploring the world through his eyes. He has the absolute best and most infectious (and therapeutic) laugh I’ve ever heard.

Spend time in nature. Living in beautiful northwestern BC, there is no shortage of highly accessible, stunning outdoor adventures and escapes to be enjoyed. I am fortunate to have a wide range of options at my fingertips for all four seasons. I try to make a purposeful effort to get outdoors every day, even if it’s just for a short walk, on my own, or with friends or family.

Raina Fumerton

About Raina Fumerton

Dr. Raina Fumerton is a public health physician and a Medical Health Officer in the northwest.


Tigers, tight timelines, and toddlers

This month, we want to know how you are preparing for the future by investing in your health! Tell us (or show us) what you do to invest in your body, your mind, and your relationships for your chance to win great weekly prizes and a $150 grand prize! To inspire you, we’ll be featuring regular healthy aging content on the Northern Health Matters blog all month long!

Forest path

Physical activity and quieting your mind – like by going for a walk in the woods – are great ways to manage stress. What tools do you use to manage stress?

I have a question for you.

What do battling a sabre-toothed tiger, juggling multiple responsibilities at work, and dealing with a house full of screaming toddlers have in common? If your answer is that they all cause a bit of stress, you’d be right! However, there’s more at play here.

Fight or flight

You’ve probably heard the term “fight or flight” associated with stress at one time or another. The more technical term for this is the stress response. The stress response came about a long time ago when humans, more often than not, faced situations (like bumping into a sabre-toothed tiger) that required fighting or running away. It helped our bodies “find another gear” that got us out of dangerous situations.

It’s really all about how we see things

Today’s world is much different and most of life’s problems require a cool head and thinking, not running or flailing away with a wooden club. Often, stress can be a result of your perception of situations. When you perceive a situation as being more than you can handle or as being threatening, the stress response kicks in.

In the modern world, stress usually results from situations that have to do with work, family life or finances as opposed to truly life-threatening situations (no sabre-toothed tigers in Terrace!). However, human beings take time to evolve and the stress response is still activated in times of perceived threat. Sometimes these situations aren’t resolved quickly and it results in stress lingering.

Being “in another gear” for an extended period takes a toll on your health. Even mild levels of stress can have a negative impact on your health if they persist long enough. Sleeping problems, headaches, and an increased likelihood of getting sick are associated with stress.

Wooden hiking path

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in today’s world of deadlines and responsibilities. Remember to take time to quiet your mind!

Managing stress

Learning to manage stress is an important part of healthy aging. Here are some suggestions for dealing with stress:

  • Get to the root cause of your stress. Make sure you’re working on the real cause of stress.
  • Be proactive, be organized, and don’t let small things build up or multiply. Take care of small problems before they become too big to handle or so many that they become overwhelming.
  • Talk about things. Talking to someone you trust can help take the weight off your shoulders and could lead to a solution. If stress is having a negative impact on your life, don’t be afraid to seek professional help.
  • Have hobbies and activities that take you away from stress for a while and let you focus on something enjoyable.
  • Learn to quiet your mind. Solving the problems of today usually requires thinking. However, that can be hard to do when you’re stressed. Try techniques such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness or breathing techniques to quiet the noise and focus on finding a solution to what is causing you stress.
  • Don’t forget the physical connection. Getting regular physical activity and eating well help in managing stress and promoting overall wellness.
  • Monitor what you tell yourself. How you think about things has an effect on your response to them. Focus on solutions and watch out for negative self-talk. Look for the bright side!
  • Simplify your life. It’s easy to get overwhelmed in today’s world of deadlines and responsibilities. Learn to say no when you’re overwhelmed. Make your to-do list reasonable.

At the end of the day, everyone experiences stress. It’s part of life. However, it can be managed and it doesn’t need to impact our health in a negative way. Moreover, not all stress is bad. Stress can be a good thing if it motivates you to focus on a task or solve a problem.

So, what will you do this week to invest in your mind and deal with those annoying sabre-toothed tigers? Remember to send us a picture or quick line about how you kept your brain engaged for your chance to win!

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a licensing officer with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace as well as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out, and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.


The Grizzly Truth: A good laugh for good health

Nick, with a goatee, holds his cat in a Christmas picture.

Nick’s photo entry into the Northern Health Mr. Movember contest.

“Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is.”

I have seen this quote attributed to both Francis Bacon and to Oscar Wilde. To be honest, I don’t have the citation to prove who said what when (if you know, feel free to comment and share as I wasn’t able to find firm evidence for either party). This quote carries a lot of meaning to me, both in my professional life and my personal life. I feel that I have a pretty good sense of humor and that has lent itself to some rich experiences with practical jokes and certain Mr. Movember contests (pictured right).

Wellness research shows that people who laugh regularly are healthier than those who do not. I’m not just referring to mental health either. One study actually found that people who laugh regularly have a lower risk for heart attack and an increased pain threshold! In work environments, the appropriate use of humor can de-escalate tense situations and increase the rapport between staff and clients.

There have been a number of circumstances in which laughing about myself, or my situation, has helped me move past unhelpful and unproductive feelings of stress or frustration. For instance, my hair started thinning at the age of 21. I’m 26 now and that trend is continuing, despite my protests. I will admit that the first time my “bald spot” was pointed out, I didn’t laugh and say “thanks for bringing that to my attention!” In fact, a couple of threats were exchanged before I made my way to the nearest mirror. At first, having a sense of humor about the situation wasn’t easy, but, over time, it made me feel better to have a laugh about it, even cracking a joke or two at my own expense. Humour has helped me come to terms with something that’s completely out of my control.

On a more serious note, I recently read about a nurse who had been struggling with significant depression. He received support to enroll in a stand-up comedy course and, since beginning the course, has found that his outlook, self-esteem, and mood have greatly improved. You don’t have to get on the stand-up comedy stage like the nurse, but, to improve your health, it is important to practise allowing yourself to laugh and to put yourself in an environment where laughter is common practise!

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

Nick Rempel is the clinical educator for Mental Health and Addictions, northwest B.C. Nick has lived in northern B.C. his entire life and received his education from the University of Northern BC with a degree in nursing. He enjoys playing music, going to the gym, and watching movies in his spare time.