Last Tuesday we videoed a Mental Health Essentials Masterclass. One of the attendees asked, “How can we take care of ourselves when we seem to cop so many complaints within such a short time?”. She was concerned about being able to withstand the pressure. She was afraid of professional burnout.
Her concerns are well founded. No matter how much you enjoy your job, there are times when pressure or stress can start to take an emotional toll on you. It is important to be able to spot the symptoms associated with professional burnout.
Burnout occurs after a prolonged period of stress under which a person feels that their emotional resources are not good enough to endure or overcome the obstacle. This can lead to a feeling of helplessness and a host of emotional and physical symptoms.
Let’s take a look at Jim, for example. Jim is a healthcare professional who is very committed to his job and genuinely cares for the patients he sees on a daily basis. His job is rewarding but he is also often witness to pain, confusion and sadness as his patients are often ill or dying. Jim works long hours and often takes work home with him or comes in on days off just to check in. Over time the emotional strain begins to build up until eventually Jim starts to feel exhausted, unmotivated, and helpless. He starts to experience sleepless nights, jaw clenching, and elevated blood pressure. His family and friends worry that he “isn’t his usually happy self.”
Jim is experiencing burnout caused by prolonged stress that he did not take the time to deal with properly. There are two important actions Jim needs to take: a) review his work and look for improvements where possible, and b) make sure he obtains relief from the pressure on a regular basis. There are several self-care actions that you can put into place before letting burnout take hold. Self-care is the practice of activities that individuals perform on their own behalf to maintain life, health and well-being. Jim was dedicated to his career and to his patients, but he neglected to take care of his own personal needs.
You can start by taking the first few minutes of each day and making them about you. Most people rise from their beds at the sound of an alarm clock and immediately start to “work.” They might get dressed, check e-mail, care for a spouse or child and rush out the door quickly. Instead, take the first ten or fifteen minutes of each day for meditation, or reflection. Spend time mentally preparing yourself for the day by focusing on positive thoughts.
Another way to practice self-care is to be mindful of your diet and exercise. Proper nourishment gives us energy and stamina to get through our day. Building a healthy body through wholesome foods and physical activity decreases the chance of sickness, improves sleep and makes us feel happier.
Limit the burdens you place on yourself. Do not take on more than you can reasonably do in a day and enlist the help of people that care about you when you feel overwhelmed. Do not stay connected to your technology all day long, occasionally take a break. It’s alright to be “unreachable” from time to time. Remember that by not focusing on your own needs and your own health you could be impacting your ability to do your job or take care of your loved ones. By practicing self-care you will become healthier, more positive and more focused than ever before.