A little over 6 years ago, I was a burnt out SLP. It was my 3rd year in the field and I had been lied to by a supervisor, laid off, hated my new job, was bitter, tired and completely dispassionate about my work. Every night I would start to feel an overwhelming sense of dread, because I knew that the next day would arrive too soon, too early, with too much I wasn’t looking forward to. My schedule didn’t work for me, I didn’t really feel like I was making a difference and, honestly, I just didn’t care about my work. I was miserable with every moment of my work day, and felt like a fraud trying to hide it.
I was also miserable in other parts of my life, because that burn out seeped through to things that had nothing to do with work. It was one of the loneliest points in my life and I felt like I was losing myself a little more each day to my burn out.
Burn out is no joke and is actually a recognized diagnosis by the World Health Organization. It is defined as exhaustion of physical or emotional strength usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration. The Mayo Clinic defines job specific burn out as a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work. This means burn out, especially from work, is a real condition that can absolutely affect all aspects of your daily life. It can exhaust you, physically and mentally, due to long term stress and lead to a host of other health ailments. It can lead to insomnia, depression, anxiety, obesity, heart disease and stroke, just to name a few.
The SLP world is filled with many people who feel they have or are nearing burn out. If you have ever hopped on an SLP FB group , you have likely seen at least one post about someone who is starting to feel dispassionate about the career they once loved, or a grad student who is terrified they spent all their savings on a degree they don’t want to use. Unfortunately, this seems to be the norm, more than people discussing how much they love their current position and job. “Helping” professions in general are more prone to burn out, and SLPs, with the high demands from caseloads and often lower recognition, are almost set up for burn out.
When I was going through this 6 years ago, I didn’t know burn out was a thing. I thought I was just unable to handle stress or that I had made a terrible career choice for myself. I didn’t know that so many other SLPs felt the same way. My co-workers really seemed to love their job, or seemed to thrive off of the constant stress and high demands. I, however, felt like I was losing a piece of myself more and more every day that I was working in the field until I finally decided to quit.
At the time, I had no idea what I was doing, but I was actually taking steps to treat and heal my burn out. I thought I hated being an SLP, but I really just needed to figure out how to deal with the stress I was experiencing and find fulfillment again. It took me a long time, but if I had started when I first suspected I was getting burnt out, things might have been very different.
If you feel like you might be heading that way, here are 3 things to do before burn out begins:
- Its no surprise that you might need more sleep, but are you actually taking steps to get more? Sleep helps you to restore you body and mind, aiding in recovery after a long and trying day. According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep not only aids in your physical health, but also your emotional health. When you sleep, your brain builds new pathways and restores tired ones. This helps you to problem solve, make decisions and even control your emotions. All of these will help improve your well-being and efficiency during your work day.
- Burn out can cause you to feel exhausted mentally and physically, and it can also lead to insomnia. All of this means you can feel like you aren’t getting enough sleep. But it can still be hard to get 7-8 hours a night. To make sure you are getting enough sleep, try setting an alarm 20 minutes before you need to be asleep, have a nighttime routine that you follow each evening and set the mood for your room (make it cooler, turn off devices, play white noise, etc). Don’t aim for perfection, that can cause stress and less sleep, just try to get a few more minutes of sleep each night.
- Gratitude Journal:
- According to Positive Psychology, it takes 3 positive moments to balance out 1 negative moment in our day. Our brains are also hardwired to recall the negative things or “dangers” from our day, instead of the positive things that happened. It’s part of our survival mode. This can make it really hard to remember and feel like there was any good to your day. If you had a day packed with a difficult caseload, mountains of paperwork and tense IEP meetings, you might be feeling really negative about your work. Writing down some of the good things, even small moments like a smile from a student or an email from a co-worker. It could even be something like a really good latte or no traffic on the commute. This practice can help you to feel more uplifted about your day and remember the positive moments that happened.
- It also helps to end on a high note. We tend to categorize moments from your day based on how they ended, no matter how great they were overall. If it ends on a bad note, we’ll remember it. If it ends on a great note, we’ll remember it as being better than it was.
- Try to do this right before bed, so you end your entire day on a positive note. Take about 2-5 minutes for this practice and keep it simple.
- Meditate : And perhaps take a few really good, deep breaths.
- In the past, meditation was seen as something that was for the woo-woo’s of the world, the new age or old school, or the hippy-dippy, but in recent years, meditation, along with yoga and deep breathing, has gone mainstream. Research has shown that meditation is not only great for creating a few moments of calm in an otherwise hectic day, but it actually rewires your brain to handle stress better, improve your memory and perhaps even prevent diseases of the mind. This done by helping your brain function better. According to Mindful Magazine, a study from University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds shows meditation can increase your gray matter thickness, which can help you with everyday functions like problem solving, attention and memory. It also helps decrease activity in the amygdala, which houses our “fight or flight” response and be triggered from stress and anxiety.
- It has also been shown to help you focus better, which plays a huge part in feeling like you are working more efficiently and making decisions with ease.
- Getting into the relaxation zone also helps you to reduce cortisol, the hormone that releases when you are feeling stressed and burnt out, and is also a contributor to weight gain around your middle, increased anxiety, decreased digestion, sleep problems, heart issues and memory problems, to name a few. Meditating can help reduce and regulate your cortisol release, to help bring balance back into your body and mind.
- Take just 5-10 minutes a day to meditate. FInd a quiet, comfortabel seat and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths and repeat a mantra (quote or saying), count down from 50 or 100, or pay attention to your inhales and exhales. You can also try one of these downloadable meditation practices from UVA.
*A few other things that might help are exercising and eating well. Preventing (and often treating ) burn out is all about treating yourself with a little more care. Fill up your cup, so you have enough to share during your day.
Managing stress and preventing (or sometimes even treating) burn out is all about taking care of yourself. These tips might seem so simple, but if you take a moment to think, you might realize you are not doing them as often as you need to. You might be surprised to find out that you know to do them, but aren’t making it happen. When we are feeling overworked and overwhelmed, it is often because we have put everyone else before ourselves, letting our cup empty and dry up until we have absolutely nothing left to give. Try adding on one of these exercises at a time. If they don;t seem right for yo, simply make time to do something just for you each day. A cup of tea, a yoga class, a few moments with a good book. Try and find ways to connect with what you really want and need from your work and life, not just that is going wrong. It might make all the difference.
If you feel that you are not just heading in that direction, but are already there, you might want to reach out to a coach or to get some help moving beyond it. Here are a few resources to get help: Burn out. Depression.
Have you ever dealt with burn out or feel that stress is starting to creep in more and more at work? Leave a comment below or share what you did to help it on someone else’s comment. I’d love to hear from you and see how we can support each other. Remember, you are not alone.
If you need more support, please email me to schedule a consultation and talk about starting The Balanced Life Coaching program. firstname.lastname@example.org
PS As always, this is not medical advice. Please consult a medical professional if you are experiencing burn out, depression or anxiety, or as needed.