Whether you’re a counsellor, teacher, social worker or psychotherapist, you are dedicating much of your life to looking after others. Whilst this can be extremely rewarding, it can also be very stressful and emotionally draining. Especially if you are also a parent or caring for a family member. It’s therefore easy to ignore the signs and symptoms of burnout. It can, in particular, be very hard to maintain a healthy work-life balance and to keep some energy for ourselves. In fact, those of us working in the caring professions are uniquely vulnerable to experiencing burnout.
Job stress doesn’t happen overnight. We can manage (or seem to manage) for years before there is a straw that breaks the camel’s back
So, how do we stop that happening? Too much stress can have serious consequences on your physical and mental health. Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. In particular, It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.
The negative effects of job burnout can also affect your personal and professional relationships and cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu. It’s therefore important to identify the warning signs of job stress and take steps to look after yourself. It is all too easy to just keep going to the point where stress becomes a part of who we are as people and we are no longer able to see that we are trying to do too much. In addition, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to ‘save’ or ‘fix’ our clients. Sometimes, we need to put ourselves first and to accept our limitations in order to be able to keep going.
What are the signs and symptoms of burnout?
Spotting physical signs
- Feeling exhausted and lacking in energy
- Lowered immunity, feeling sick a lot
- Frequent headaches, back pain, muscle aches
- Change in appetite or sleeping habits
- Sense of failure and self-doubt
- Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
- Detachment, feeling alone in the world
- Loss of motivation
- Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
- Emotional exhaustion
- Withdrawing from responsibilities
- Isolating yourself
- Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
- Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
- Taking out your frustrations on others
If some of these signs of burnout sound familiar, it should be a wake-up call that you may be on a dangerous path. Take some time out to assess the amount of chronic stress in your life and find ways to reduce it before it’s too late. Can you do anything to get a better work-life balance? Can you ask for help from others around you? Are you getting enough supervision at work or support at home? Would you be urging your client to make changes if they were telling you about the symptoms you are experiencing?
Burnout isn’t like the flu – it doesn’t go away after a few weeks unless you make some changes to your life. So, here are some simple things you can do to reduce the risk of burnout and regain some work-life balance:
Start the day with a relaxing ritual
Rather than jumping out of bed as soon as you wake up, spend fifteen minutes meditating, doing gentle stretches, or reading something that inspires you. Use this time to set positive intentions for the day.
Adopt healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits
When you eat well, engage in regular physical activity, and get plenty of rest, you have the energy to deal with life’s demands and stresses. If you’re feeling run down, it’s time to focus on self-care, by overhauling your diet and exercise regime. Yoga, Pilates and Mindfulness meditation are all great ways to calm the mind while working out the body.
Don’t overextend yourself, even if you feel guilty. Learn how to say “no” to requests on your time and resources. If you find this difficult, remind yourself that saying “no” allows you to say “yes” to the things you truly want to do. There is no shame in taking a break from what can be a very demanding job in order to come back to ourselves. We are not letting anyone down by not being always available: looking after ourselves is a really good way to model self-care both to our clients and our families.
Nourish your creative side
Creativity and play are a powerful antidote to burnout, as is anything that nourishes and invigorates you. In the meantime. try something new, start a fun project, or take up a new hobby. Choose activities that have nothing to do with your work environment, so that you feel good. Sing. Paint. Dance. Explore the world of creative arts!
Spotted signs and symptoms of burnout? Get some support
If you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, there are stress management and support networks in place to help. Our sandplay training courses provide a nourishing confidential space to look after yourself. We also offer supportive supervision groups to help us avoid stress and burnout. It’s an opportunity to unburden yourself in a supportive community, restore your sense of purpose and be looked after. Being able to confidentially talk to others who are in a similar situation can be a really important way of releasing stress and feeling both seen and heard.
Finally, burnout can be avoided if you learn to recognise the signs and take action. So, what are your stress triggers and your coping mechanisms for dealing with them? Please share your experiences below!