Whether you are a speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, board certified behavior analyst or anyone else working in a helping profession, you know first-hand that your work has many rewards. However, if we are being honest, we can agree that it also can be mentally draining at times. And while feelings of heightened stress can happen from time to time in the workplace, lingering stress can be a sign of burnout.
Am I Experiencing Burnout or Stress?
It is important to understand the difference between stress and burnout, as many people commonly confuse stress as being burnt out. Stress is a common emotion of physical or emotional tension that can from work, family or even life events and is expected from time to time. The biggest differentiating factor between stress and burnout however is the duration of the emotion, as burnout typically lingers for 2-weeks or more.
When one experiences stress, they know that there is an end in sight. Unlike stress, burnout involves a cycle of negative emotions. Burnout makes it challenging for people to cope with stress and handle day to day responsibilities. People experiencing burnout often feel like they have nothing left to give and may dread getting out of bed each morning. They may even adopt a pessimistic outlook towards life and feel hopeless. As such people that are experiencing burnout at work are typically investing too much into something emotionally or intellectually, while not doing anything to restore themselves.
Common Signs of Burnout:
Loss of passion for work
One of the most common signs of burnout is a loss of passion for the work that you do. If you notice that tasks or responsibilities that have previously provided you with a feeling of being fulfilled in the work that you do, and no longer provides the same emotion, it can be a sign you are experiencing burnout. It becomes particularly apparent if the feelings of indifference begins to impact your personal life.
Another common sign of burnout is having a negative attitude towards the work that you do. For example, if you find yourself thinking about how to do the minimum amount of effort to get the work done without consideration of the quality of your work, it is a sign of burnout. People who experience burnout are often high achievers, and when they start to show signs of apathy in their work, it's often a sharp contrast to their usual performance and quickly apparent to those around them.
An apathetic attitude often leads to a decrease in workplace performance. If you've always been someone who was meticulous about your work and you find yourself letting paying less attention to deadlines or your work quality, it can be an indicator that you're experiencing burnout.
Burnout can cause people to lose their temper with friends, co-workers, and family members more easily. Coping with normal stressors like preparing for a work meeting, driving kids to school, and tending to household tasks also may start to feel insurmountable, especially when things don’t go as planned.
Burnout, like other long-term stress, can lower your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds, the flu, and insomnia. Burnout can also lead to mental health concerns like depression and anxiety.
Oftentimes when people start to experience feelings of burnout, they focus on solutions like taking time away from work. However, while this can help offer relief, it's only a short-term solution. You need to focus on strategies that can create lasting change to help you prevent burnout in the future. Here are some things that you may want to consider.
Re-Discover Your Work Purpose
Re-discovering your purpose at work can have a significant ability on how you manage stress and avoid burnout. Think about the impact that your role has on others and even within the organization in which you work as a whole. Remember the ways in which your work makes life better for your clients and their families and the value that you bring others.
Improve your stress management skills
While there is a difference between stress and burnout, stress, even when only experienced short-term, can lead or contribute to burnout. To help you better cope with stress and prevent burnout, learn and use stress management strategies like deep breathing and relaxation techniques, journaling and meditation. Consider adding these activities into your workday so that you can check in with yourself and evaluate how you're feeling throughout the day.
Take Time for Self-Care
People in helping professions typically fall into the role of caring for those around them while not tending to their own needs. However, it is important to take of yourself because the quality of your work is simply better when you take care of yourself. Your brain and body need a break each day. So, give yourself permission to take a break. Take your lunch, make a cup of tea or talk to a colleague. If you are a road worrier, take a moment to park your car, listen to a favorite song or podcast in between clients. Take time to exercise, eat healthy, read, talk to a friend and get a good night’s sleep. And, take your vacation! Your PTO is there for a reason, and I promise you, your work will still be there when you return.
Look for opportunities to take greater responsibility for your work projects, tasks and deadlines. Also look for ways you can take control in the work you currently do. For example, maintain organization on your desk, eliminating clutter and filing important paperwork. Organize your virtual workspace, cleaning out your email inbox so you feel more in-control each time you open your email.
Prioritize your work each day and use to-do lists to keep track of everything you need to accomplish. Use your calendar to track your big objectives and then put milestones in your calendar so you know where you need to be with those projects at specific points. By taking control of all areas of your work and maintaining high levels of organization, you can eliminate unnecessary stress and reduce the likelihood of experiencing burnout.
Burnout can be avoided by making self-care part of your daily routine. Even if you’re working long hours, studying for exams, or taking care of young children, remember to sprinkle some joy into each day.