For most therapists in the field, feeling “run-down” can be a real hazard of the job. It may be hard to tell the difference between healthy or toxic stress and, beyond that, to gauge if you are handling it well.
If you find yourself asking questions like, “Am I making any difference?” or “Did I choose the right career?,” you may be experiencing signs of burnout.
It’s likely that we may experience one or all of these symptoms from time to time, but what are the factors that lead to full-on burnout syndrome? A recent Gallup survey showed that certain work environments pose a larger risk for burnout than others. The most common aspects of these environments are: having an overwhelming workload, unfair treatment, role confusion, lack of support from a manager and unreasonable expectations.
For more information about the signs of burnout, check out this great resource from PsychologyToday.
For therapists and others in the helping professions, there is an additional factor at play. Laura van Dernoot Lipsky identifies this as “trauma exposure response.” Trauma exposure response is defined as “the transformation that takes place within us as a result of exposure to the suffering of other living beings or the planet.”
For those of us interacting with human suffering on a daily basis, a trauma exposure response can start to consist of:
So what can you do to mitigate these factors? Bessel van Der Kolk, a leading trauma expert, identified four factors in his book Psychological Trauma (1987, 2003) that are common in “stress resistant persons.” We’ll flesh them out below and add our tips for putting them into practice.
This means believing in your ability to influence the course of your life. It can be so easy, especially with the daunting task of licensure and job search, to feel helpless. Personally, I had a Clinical Supervisor that repeated to me “you can do anything you want” in a way that helped me realize I was not stuck. Let yourself dream about your future, whether by non-dominant hand journaling, the use of a personal mantra, seeking an inspiring Clinical Supervisor or traveling to experience new opportunities.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Whether at work or in your personal life, pursuing tasks you find important furthers your ability to be present and engaged in your life, giving you more of a sense of control. Practice present moment awareness through meditation and grounding exercises.
“There are a number of reasons why being the present moment is helpful…One is that until we slow down long enough to honestly feel how we are doing, we can’t assess our current state and what we need.”
-Laura Vandernoot Lipsky
van der Kolk makes this one simple. He says this involves decreasing the use of “known dietary stimulants of refined white sugar, caffeine and nicotine; …multiple periods of hard exercise each week; and…time each day for a period of relaxation”.
Many times, socializing is the first to go when we are overwhelmed. But for numerous reasons, connection with others is the source of our greatest strength. If you feel like you can’t possibly engage one more human, try going to a coffee shop, mall or park to be in the presence of others without having to expend social energy. Being around nature earns you similar benefits.
“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much”
What do you notice are your personal signs of burnout? What kinds of things do you do to help yourself? We’d love to hear from you on Twitter @WeAreMotivo.
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