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7 Essential Ways Mental Health Professionals Avoid Burnout

4 minute read

I’ve seen it time and time again; clinicians love what they do and tremendously care for the well-being of their patients. As a result of this, it’s easy to overwork ourselves. Exposed to and absorbing the emotions of others on a daily basis, it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed or exhausted. The term burnout consists of three components:

  1. Loss of empathy
  2. Decreased sense of accomplishment
  3. Feeling emotionally exhausted

The intensity of the feeling can stem from a simple dissatisfaction to a major meltdown that requires professional help. In order to avoid burnout, it’s essential to know the signs, as well as take steps to avoid it.

Signs of Burnout:

  • Feeling relieved when a patient cancels
  • Starting sessions late and ending them early
  • Forcing your treatment plan goals instead of adapting to the patient wishes
  • Feeling a decline in empathy
  • Experiencing disturbed sleep
  • Noticing blurred boundaries with patients

Ethical supervisors understand the importance of self-care and the damages burnout can cause. If you identify with any of these signs, then you should cut back your hours and do things to rest and recharge!

Now that you’re familiar with what burnout is and the common signs associated with it in the mental health field you’re probably wondering … How do I avoid it?! Here are several things you can do to avoid burnout:

1. Don’t take work home.

Leave work at work and go home to enjoy the evening. Constantly looking at your work phone and work emails through out the night? This takes you away from your time off and give you the feeling that you are working all the time. Turn off the cell phone(s) and stop looking at work emails. Keep your home a work-free zone to improve your work-life balance.

2. Ask for help.

If you start to notice those signs of burnout, ask for help before you feel worse. Ask your supervisor or a peer for support. Some areas of the country have groups for professionals in the fields of mental health or addiction that meet monthly to support each other. If you feel you need help outside of work, you can attend a support group for professionals or get your own therapist to work through the burnout.

3. Adjust your schedule.

Constantly working through your lunch break? Don’t remember if you even went to the restroom? Make sure to include more downtime and breaks, and stop working so you can enjoy your lunch. Try to get out of the building and take a walk or call a friend. Leave space to decompress between work and going home so you don’t bring work home with you. This could be listening to a podcast on the way home, reading a book on the train, or calling a loved one.

4. Model self-care.

If you want your patients, coworkers, or staff to follow suit in avoiding burnout, be a leader and model self-care. That means stopping for breaks, taking lunch, and going home on time. You can discuss your work-life balance with others and challenge them if they seem to be overworking. Hydrate often, drinking lots of water. If you spend time with these people outside of work, don’t talk about work. Instead, get to know them!

5. Do something physical.

Working out or going to the gym has tremendous benefits, not only physically but mentally. Making the gym a part of your evening routine before you go home gives you another reason to leave work on time. Doing a workout class in the morning can also get you excited and feeling good for the day. If you don’t have time before or after work, during lunch you can go for a walk and recharge!

6. Pick up a hobby.

Do something completely different that you love that does not involve therapy or helping others. Start crafting, painting, or rebuilding cars. Take advantage of activities or hobbies with friends. Pick up something you used to enjoy but felt that you didn’t have time to do anymore.

7. Go to a happy place.

It doesn’t have to be a luxury vacation to the Caribbean; getting away anywhere can be very restful. Going to visit family, camping, or planning a staycation where you do nothing can help you recharge. Going into nature and grounding yourself can also help. You could do this by visiting a botanical garden or a zoo. Go somewhere you’ve never been before but have always been interested in going. The goal is to disconnect from your busy world and enjoy outside things.

I believe that those of working in the mental health field are blessed. We’re given the opportunity to help change people’s lives for the better and bring about hope. Our days are filled with giving, and based on the clinicians I have known, we wouldn’t want it any other way. What we need to remember is to always give back to ourselves!

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