Podcast: Find Your Way Back From Burnout
Jenn talks to Dr. Lisa Coyne about identifying and addressing burnout. Lisa provides tips on how to detect early signs of being exhausted by both work and life, offers ways to lower daily stressors for ourselves, our colleagues, and our loved ones, and answers audience questions about how to fight back from feeling burned out.
Lisa W. Coyne, PhD, is an assistant professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry, part-time, at Harvard Medical School, and is a senior clinical consultant at the Child and Adolescent OCD Institute (OCDI Jr.) at McLean Hospital. Dr. Coyne is the author of “The Joy of Parenting: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Guide to Effective Parenting in the Early Years,” a book for parents of young children.
Jenn: Welcome to Mindful Things.
The Mindful Things podcast is brought to you by the Deconstructing Stigma team at McLean Hospital. You can help us change attitudes about mental health by visiting deconstructingstigma.org. Now on to the show.
Good morning, good afternoon, good evening. Wherever you’re joining us, whatever time you’re joining us, thanks for joining. I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Jenn Kearney, I’m a digital communications manager for McLean Hospital, and today’s session is all about burnout.
And if we’re talking about feeling burnt out, chances are we’ve all felt a little crispy before, I’m sure. But, a lot of us try to sweep that feeling under the rug and chalk it up to resiliency, mental fortitude, et cetera.
But at the end of it all, that can actually lead us to being burnt out. And it turns out that we are much less alone than we think, but we’re not really talking about it with each other.
So, over the last few years, there’s been a bunch of polls and surveys that have happened about this. And I do a little digging. Several Gallup polls have identified approximately two-thirds of employees across multiple industries say they’re burnt out.
And there was a survey done last month by Flex Jobs, that identified 75% of those who participated as being burnt out. And of those who said that you experienced burnout at work, 40% of them said that COVID was the cause of that burnout.
As if that’s not enough evidence, the World Health Organization actually identifies it as a crisis, and they’ve identified it as being an occupational phenomenon in their international classification of diseases. So, yeah, it’s real but-
Lisa: It certainly is.
Jenn: But why aren’t we talking about it more? So, that’s why Lisa and I are here. Because over the next hour, we are going to talk all about it. Ways to identify it, ways to overcome it, how to break the ice over discussing it.
Because, like I said earlier, the best way to de-stigmatize the topic, is to start speaking up about it. So, if you were unfamiliar with Lisa, Dr. Coyne is amazing and super easy to talk to, if you trying to speak for-
Lisa: I feel weird when you say that.
Jenn: She and I have been going back and forth. I think you’re a delight. She’s also a psychologist, and senior clinical consultant at the Child and Adolescents OCD Institute at McLean Hospital, which we lovingly refer to as those OCDI Jr.
So, Lisa, hi, I’m super excited for you to join me again today. So, thanks for joining. Let’s get started with this question. What the heck is burnout, and what are some of the symptoms of burnout?
Lisa: So, the symptoms of burnout are many, and burnout in general is basically, it’s a condition that you can experience when you are experiencing chronic enduring stressors, that feel that they are beyond your control, okay?
It’s really hard. And so, you can feel burned out at work, you can experience burnout as a parent. And I think that a lot of us are experiencing pandemic burnout at this point.
So, some of the things that you experience when you are having burnout are feeling down or depressed, feelings of hopelessness, feelings of not looking forward to the future, what we call anhedonia, which just means you’re not finding pleasure in things necessarily that you normally would.
You’re not enjoying your work, if you did before, right? Sometimes when people are feeling burnout, they can engage in unhelpful coping strategies like substance use. And we do know that during the pandemic, substance use rates have shot up for many in our community.
Disrupted sleep, sleep can be difficult when you are experiencing burnout. It’s also associated with things like family conflict. If you’re burned out, if you’re a parent, couples conflicts, things like that.
And so, I guess we can just start there to just think about that, but it’s definitely something that is a result of exposure to chronic stress, whether that stress comes from work or other places, and you just are tired. It can just start to feel really tired about this.
Jenn: How do we know if we are burnt out to the point where we need to worry about becoming depressed?
Lisa: So, I think that that is a great question. And I think if you’re asking it, it’s probably something to look at, right?
And the first step, we’re used to, as an if this is... I don’t know who listens to these webinars, if it’s people just in the US, I think there’s actually people internationally that also listened to them.
But I know in our culture in the US, we have this culture of work, work, work, work, have to be productive all the time, et cetera. And we are very skilled as a culture in just powering through it and muscling through it.
When you think about the structure of families and households, where really the economy makes it such that you almost need two people to be working in order to just get by, and in many families, given the economy and given income disparities, you can be working and have one or two people working, and still not be getting by.
So, the very first thing is to slow down and just check in with yourself, stop trying to just muscle through it and get yourself to do that stuff. This is hard.
And so, the very first thing you can do to answer that question, are you at risk for depression, or should you seek help? Is to check in and see how are you really doing.
And think about yourself maybe a year ago, think about your pre pandemic self, and see if you notice any differences. ‘Cause it can be subtle when this comes on, and it can be hard to tell that this is happening.
And suddenly all of this, over time, you just feel like you’re in a grind, things feel so burdensome and hard. So, if you have access to help, I think it’s so important. Reach out, because you also don’t need to be the person that answers that question about whether you need help.
That’s a great question for a mental health provider who can tell you, and who can guide you, and give you some resources that might be helpful at coping with it. So, I think everyone on the side of... Reach out. See if you can get some support if you need it.
Jenn: Do you have any advice that you would give to providers or soon to be healthcare providers about how they can continue to help others without letting their own mental health fall by the wayside?
Lisa: I feel like that is such a good and a very personal question, because I feel like I personally am dealing with that.
Jenn: I mean, I want to say that it’s like asking for a friend.
Lisa: Asking for a friend. So, for a friend, yeah. I think that one of the, really... Again, for clinicians, I think that personally, like I started to feel maybe a few months ago, maybe two or three months ago, really worn out.
And if I could describe it sort of feeling like I’m all output and I’m not really like taking anything in for myself, I’m not engaging in my own self-care. So, I started to really notice that.
And I started to really think about what are some of the things that I need as a clinician that will help me. Things like a little bit of exercise every day. Even if it’s a 20 minute walk, can be so helpful.
Staying away from those glasses of wine or whatever substances people might be engaging in. That can disrupt your sleep, it can also start to spiral down into abuse. And that’s really important, whether you’re a clinician, or whether you’re just a lay person, this does not discriminate.
Eating well, taking care of yourself, making sure that your connecting as a clinician, with your people in your life who can support you. Making space and making time.
It can be really hard as clinicians, especially since we’re all most of us cooped up in our homes, doing our work, to remember we don’t have those natural breaks, like the drive to work, or the cycle to work, or the walk to work, lunch, et cetera, that staff meeting where you’re not actually seeing clients.
And so, making sure that you put those natural breaks in your day, and, during those breaks, do something for yourself. Get away from the screen, take a walk, or read a book, or listen to some music, do some yoga.
There’s so many different things that you could do. Call a friend, call that friend that you haven’t spoken to in a while, see how they’re doing.
So, I think we need to remember to take care of ourselves as clinicians, as well as we’re really striving to take care of as many people as we possibly can.
Jenn: Actually, I saw an article on LinkedIn a couple of weeks ago where people are adding in their own commute when they’re working from home.
And they’re getting in the car for 25 minutes at the beginning of their day, and at the end of their day, because they’re like, I need something to signify, I’ve started work, I’ve ended work, and I need that like hour-ish of my own time.
Lisa: For me, I’ve been doing the treadmill and listening to a book on tape while I’m trying very hard to get back to my faster miles that I used to be able to run, going very slow. But, it doesn’t matter, I’m doing it.
And then in the mornings I’m doing a little bit of creative writing. Just writing in some books that I’m working on for academic stuff. because that feels good, even if it’s 20 minutes, just doing something like that, as a book end to your day, I think that’s a great idea. A great idea.
Jenn: Yeah, I’ve been trying to-
Lisa: Are you doing anything Jenn?
Jenn: I’ve been trying to do that with exercise. So, like 5:30 PM, get on the spin bike or do some yoga or do something, and then I had been working a little bit after dinner anyway.
So, picking up what I needed to do later on in the day, but having that signification that like it’s over, I’m done with the day, that’s been really, really helpful.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah, definitely. And working in breaks too. If you need a vacation day, take a vacation day. I think that’s really, really important. And really take it.
Don’t take it and work during it. That’s my big downfall. As my staff can tell you, when they’re getting emails from me on like the holidays, I’m like I have to work on that.
Jenn: And even if you can’t take a full day, I know that there’s the Pomodoro method, is actually like working in breaks throughout your day.
So, you do 25 minutes of solid work and then five minutes of break. And that actually is like, it’s based on the tomato timer. That’s like a 60 minute timer-
Lisa: I’m just wondering why it was called that. I’m like, is this about making sauce?
Jenn: I wish, but it’s actually, it’s based on the kitchen timer that’s shaped like a tomato. So, you break it up into chunks, then I think after a very...
It’s like three or four hours of doing it, you take like 30 minutes to an hour as a break. So, it ends up being like an eight hour work day with a lunch.
Lisa: That’s great. Great idea.
Jenn: Can you explain a little of the difference between fatigue and burnout?
Lisa: Yes, certainly. So, fatigue, and it’s not like these are real things. These are things that we try to put words around. So, it’s not like you can carve this out hard and fast, but fatigue is feeling tired. Specifically feeling weary.
Burnout is fatigue and more. It’s feeling overwhelmed with tasks that are not previously overwhelming. It’s feeling like you no longer find joy in your work, in your parenting, in your children, in other things. It’s feeling like you add depression to the mix there.
Feeling hopelessness, having sort of a sense of the future as something you’re not looking forward to, not feeling rewarded by engaging in things that you once were rewarded for, okay?
So, it is more, it is fatigue plus supercharged fatigue. And fatigue is not linked to any specific thing. Anybody can feel fatigued, and certainly, certain things make us feel fatigued.
But burnout is because of, or it happens in the context of being asked to cope with or deal with a chronic unremitting stressor.
And there are some other things that are risk factors for it. Feeling like you have to do things perfectly is a big predictor of stress, feeling like you need to do things in a certain way, feeling like you’re not great at stress management.
Stress management can be the things that Jenn and I have been talking about. Like structuring your time such that you’re having social support, that you’re making breaks, that you’re doing things for yourself, and that you’re kind of really listening to your body about what do you need in this moment.
‘Cause if you think about it, we’ve all been asked to self-manage. We don’t have those structures now in our days necessarily that we had at work. And so, some of us are more skilled at that than others. And so, noticing stuff like that.
And if you feel like you’re not supported in your work, whether you’re at work or whether you’re a parent, those are predictors of burnout. So, all of those things, yes they can certainly contribute to fatigue, but burnout is specific to those things.
Jenn: So, you teed me up beautifully for my next couple of questions.
So, I know a lot of times when you’re living with your partner and either they have to go into work, or you have to go into work, or there’s kids at home, or all of this, it’s in this day and age, you’re probably living two very separate lives as opposed to normal.
So, how can we accurately convey the feeling of burnout to a partner who might not fully understand what you’re going through? And conversely, how can we support our partner who might be experiencing burnout?
Lisa: Right, so, how do you communicate it? I think the first step is sitting down and just slowing down. Timing is everything. Pick a time of the day when you have a few moments, you don’t have 10 things to do, no one’s...
If you’re a parent, the kids are in bed or occupied with whatever it is that they’re doing, make a space. And I’m sure we can put some resources on burnout up after this webinar, so you can get some information about what does this look like, okay?
And just have an honest conversation with your partner about how you’re feeling and that it’s different, and that it’s actually a real thing. And then I would ask how they are doing themselves.
Do they notice this? Do they notice any changes in you? And probably they have. And you may not be aware of what they’re picking up.
Now, if your partner’s struggling with burnout, if you think they are, they may not notice, because as we talked about before, it can be really subtle. It’s something that we kind of find as a place we find ourselves in and you’re like, oh, yeah, I remember life actually felt a whole lot better before this.
So, gently, in a non-judgmental way, make observations to your partner. So, for example if I were going to do this to my partner, I would say, honey I’m noticing that sometimes you seem really kind of tired. I’m noticing you’re missing some spark. I’m noticing that you seem a little irritable lately.
Maybe I’m reading into it, but you’re snapping at the kids, or you’re snapping at me. And it’s just... I’m just noticing it. Have you noticed that yourself?
And gentle, not like you’re doing this, but, I am noticing you, I am observing you doing this, in a really gentle way. And then asking, is there anything I could do to help?
What can I do to support you? Would it be helpful to have brief check-ins like this at the end of the day? Can I help you do the dishes? Do you want to take turns at stuff, so that maybe I do some stuff and you do some stuff?
So, first, observe and make it behavioral, or use I statements, not evaluative judgmental language, even if you’re frustrated. And then ask. Don’t make assumptions about what people need, even if you know them really well. Because maybe you have it right, but maybe you don’t.
And lastly, I think it’s really important to de-stigmatize asking for help. And I can’t emphasize this enough. What we’re being asked to do as a community in the middle of this pandemic is something that happens once every hundred years.
We do not know how to do it. We are learning as we go. And if there was ever a time that people needed to ask for help, now is it. Now is it. And there’s all sorts of online therapy resources. They’re stuff you can read, there’s therapists you can talk to online.
And there’s plenty of data illustrating that therapy online is as effective has therapy in person. And the cool thing about it is, you don’t even have to leave your house.
So, if you’re worried and if it feels like a drag to get out and go see a therapist, you don’t have to, you can sit in your bedroom. You don’t even have to put on pants, please put on pants. But you don’t have to really, okay?
So, and use humor by the way. I don’t think we’re going to get through this if you don’t use a little bit of humor, but you get my point. So, now is the time. Go get help, go talk to someone.
Jenn: There even therapy options that are just texting, which is great too, because there’s some people who want to be a little bit more discreet about it, or there’s teens who find that texting is their favorite way to communicate.
Lisa: And in different communities, there’s lots and lots of support groups and resources. So, for example, in the OCD community, which I know really well, there is game changers, which is, Chrissie Hodges is an OCD advocate, there is Natasha Daniels who runs The Anxious Toddlers Parenting Community.
And it’s this really... Both of them are incredible women. They have lived experience. Chrissie is an advocate, Natasha is also a mental health provider and an advocate, and they’ve created these incredible networks of help for people who are parenting.
And as we all know, if you have children who have emotional or behavioral difficulties, you are certainly being asked to do more. You’re more likely to feel stressed, you’re more likely to be depressed.
So, there are lots of things that people have done during the pandemic to really, really make communities where you can go and dip in and get some support. So important. McLean has many, many support groups that are running for many different things. Avail yourself of those too.
Jenn: So, I want to talk a little bit about healthcare professionals specifically. I know so many of us are working in stressful work environments where we might not be able to change every situation.
And my heart goes out to people who are ICU nurses, or anesthesiologists, but how can we as healthcare professionals help improve the stressors in our work environments?
Lisa: Hmm, that’s a really good one because, some of those stressors are not going to be changeable, especially if you are in healthcare and you are working with COVID, if you’re working in an ICU, if you’re working in an ER.
And for those folks, one of the things that we want to really watch out for is trauma. The trauma of what you’re seeing, the trauma of what you’re taking home. I think that’s really important.
For other folks, talk to your managers talk to your supervisors about how you’re doing, ask for what resources are available in your workplace.
Many companies have employee assistance programs which are free services usually, that are short-term counseling, where you can just call and it’s covered. And you can get support at work and you can get some resources.
Know yourself. And if you need a break, if you need to take some time, see if that’s possible or feasible in your work place. But mostly, I think that one of the biggest things really is to make sure that you are checking in with yourself and you are noticing how you feel, even if you slow down.
And noticing if you’re just asking yourself to power through with the way we all do and pushing away how hard it is. That’s something that we can all do in short bursts, and it’s appropriate sometimes in short bursts, there’s nothing wrong with it.
But if that is the only way you cope with something like this, that is a huge risk factor for burnout. And so, making sure you’re checking in with yourself again, and then seeing what things you can change in your workplace, and letting go and making space for those things that you can’t, and asking support around them.
Jenn: So, you did mention addressing burnout with your manager or supervisor. Do you have any tips or ways to break the ice around that? ‘Cause a lot of times we all get so worked up about like, oh God, how are they going to react? How do I start this? Any tips?
Lisa: I would... I’m feeling like I don’t have this at my fingertips, but there’s so many really terrific pieces out there on burnout.
We’ve written one for parents that I’m sure Jenn can put up, but like, journals like the Harvard Business Review, et cetera, I’m sure have written about it, print something off, go into your boss’s office and say, I found this, have you seen it?
I thought this was really, really insightful. I’m wondering if people are... I feel a little burned out. Have you noticed? Have other people have been talking to you about it? And I would just be very upfront about it. What resources do we have for this? What would you recommend, ‘cause it’s really hard? And I want to...
And the other thing too is, if you’re going in to talk to a supervisor or an employer about it, you’re being proactive, right? That’s really important. And so, the sooner you can do it, the better, in a preventative way.
And maybe you organize, quarterly or biweekly or whatever, little zoom fun hangouts with other folks in your workplace so that you can just kind of chat and hang out together. Now for some people, that might feel like a burden, don’t do that.
Maybe it’s just, you know, hey, every third Friday we leave an hour early. Something like that or anything at all. Little things that you can talk about or plan on, or see if you can innovate in your workplace with your boss’s permission, I think could be helpful.
Jenn: So, if you were a boss or manager or supervisor would you advise the same behavior in trying to break the ice with your employees?
Lisa: Me? Oh yeah. We’re very open actually where I work, which is the New England Center for OCD and Anxiety in Boston, in addition to McLean. So, I want to model for my employees.
So, as a boss, I want to model by talking about, that when I’m experiencing things that are difficult, and I’m going to use that data, if I’m finding it difficult, then almost definitely, my guess is my employees are finding it difficult too.
And so, I want to break the ice myself by modeling, and by showing a little bit of vulnerability around this, and genuineness to make a space for this. Because as a boss, it’s really important to me to know how my people are doing, and make them feel safe, so that they know they can come to me with issues.
And this is with trainees on up, we have to do this for each other. And I think that that can be a very powerful way to help encourage your employees to do this.
Jenn: So, we had somebody write in that he’s an employee at a counseling center who said, “I’ve been witnessing so much burnout at the center that I work at. Are there are strategies to address burnout on a more systemic level, when our messaging has constantly been, get the work done?”
Lisa: Right, I think one of the things that can be... There’s several things I think that are helpful with this. And the first thing is, talk about it. Don’t ignore it, and don’t...
If there’s a culture of “Just get the work done, and, I don’t want to hear it,” see if you can band together somehow and say, “I think it’d be helpful if we had even a brief 10 minute check-in every week with the staff meeting, how’s everybody doing?”
And maybe people talk about it and maybe they don’t, but there’s a little tiny pressure release valve right in that 10 minutes. So, that’s thing one.
Thing two is, be gentle with yourself. And if it’s possible, see if there are ways that you can organize your schedule such that it’s a little bit easier. Like Jenn had some great ideas earlier about building in breaks.
Can you work with that last 10 minutes, If you’re doing a 15 minute therapy hour, can you do a really brief little meditation or mindfulness practice? Can you get up and stretch your legs? Something really small, healthy snacks throughout the day, a cup of tea throughout the day, little things.
And also, there’s a piece here about... When we talk about noticing burnout and noticing the symptoms of it and noticing this quality of it, it’s important to make a space for it. Because the pandemic is going to continue for a while. We’re going to be in this for a while.
And so, the idea of acceptance, not enduring, but making a space for how hard this is, and really focusing on, are there things I can change in my day to give me little windows of respite? And what can I not?
And letting go of the struggle around those things. Just noticing it, seeing if you can say yes to it. I think that that’s really, really important. Make a safe harbor at your work too. If you know other people, your friends, your colleagues, if they’re feeling stressed out, organize something outside of work.
Say, do you guys want to meet Friday for even if it’s half an hour on the way home and we just chat, would that help? I think that’s really important. And then systemically, using your EAP.
I know some employers have been doing like daily mindfulness, little things in the morning, or in the afternoons. Seeing if you can create even an online hangout space, where people can hang out and connect and talk about things. I think that all of those things are really, really important.
Jenn: You couldn’t help, but think that when you mentioned healthy snacking throughout the day, that it makes me think of one of my favorite sayings that stressed spelled backwards is desserts, and that’s all I could think about.
Lisa: And when by, by healthy snacking, I mean fruits and baby carrots not like bonbons. Oh no, I get a bonbons every day.
Jenn: Oh you don’t mean half a container of-
Lisa: I get a little caramel every single day.
Jenn: Do you eat the Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups?
Lisa: They are so good.
Jenn: Those are very good. And they’re tiny, so with a little moderation.
Lisa: And dark chocolate is full of antioxidants that are really good for you.
Jenn: Whatever it takes to justify peanut butter cups every day to myself, I’m totally fine with it.
Lisa: That’s awesome.
Jenn: Do you have any advice for students in health professions who are already feeling academically burnt out and are worried about developing professional burnout once they actually enter the profession?
Lisa: Yes, you guys are a high-risk, so I’m glad that, whoever asked that question, thank you for asking it. And I know how hard it can be. I think it’s incredibly important to talk to your mentors if you have them. Talk to your academic advisors. Let them know what’s going on.
And yes, I know that there are so many things that you can’t change, especially if you’re a medical student, and the incredible amount of work that you’re being asked to do. But one of the things...
So, we train lots and lots of students in our clinic and we always have, and one of the things I look for is change. Is there something changing in performance or behavior, or openness about things? And then I stretch to zero in and notice, okay, is something going on here?
So, as a supervisor of students I think it’s really important to notice that and then see what’s going on. But for students, advocate for yourselves.
If it’s hard, see if you can get some support around how to do that. That’d be a great thing to talk to a therapist about. How do you advocate for your own self-care?
Because one of the things you have to learn as a student, as when you’re becoming a professional is, competence doesn’t mean looking like you’re doing a good job or presenting as such.
I know it can feel like that, and I know that people don’t like to be seen as vulnerable. But true competence, as a healthcare professional, is knowing your limits. As a psychologist, we have an ethical code that we are not supposed to work outside of the area of our competence.
That doesn’t just mean subject area, that means outside of stuff that’s within our ability to cope with it.
So, our job as clinicians, as psychologists, then, is to make sure we’re in touch with what our needs are, so that we can make sure we’re staying in our lane, so we can best serve the people that we work with.
And that is something that I think is a huge professional development piece that you should absolutely talk to your mentors about, or your supervisors, or your clinical supervisors, whoever you can, to get some support around that.
Jenn: Do you have any suggestions specifically for healthcare grad students who are actively trying to combat burnout, specifically regarding when they don’t really have an end to the workday?
Lisa: Yeah, I would say that is when you should talk to a therapist and get some support, and get some guidance on what to do. Because it can be hard, and this happens sometimes too, where you actually might need a break.
And if it’s really bad, if you’re really struggling, thinking about a leave of absence. And I know that that can feel so daunting and so, oh God, I can’t do that, but if it’s in the service of you becoming the best professional, best provider you can be, that might be a decision to make some space for.
And getting guidance and support around making a decision like that is very, very helpful. So, I highly encourage you to do that at that point.
Jenn: I wish somebody had given me that advice when I was myself a healthcare graduate student, and my thesis advisor suggested that I take a leave of absence and I treated it like it was the end of the world.
Because I viewed it as a failure until she talked me into actually understanding that it would be a failure to myself if I didn’t actually take the steps that was needed for me to get better.
Lisa: Exactly right. That is exactly right, yeah.
Jenn: So, this is, I swear, this is not asking for a friend. Some of us are people-pleasers, or willing to take on more work than is reasonable. How do we manage boundaries and burnout?
Lisa: That’s a great, great, and very important question. Again, I think that, for folks who are asking these questions, part of you knows the answer already.
People pleasing can be difficult because it’s so hard not to do, it’s socially reinforced, it feels good to make the people around you happy with your work and your performance.
At the same time, if that’s the only thing folks are focusing on, you are going to lose touch with what your needs are as a human, and what you really want in your career, in your work. So, I think one of the first things I would suggest is noticing what your intention is when you are taking on extra things at work.
Is it about you and feeling inspired and stuff that lights you on fire during your day that you’re so excited about doing? Or is it about maybe avoiding the displeasure of someone by not doing it? Is it about people pleasing in the sense that you really, really like care about what this person thinks even if it’s at your own expense?
So, the first thing is, notice your intention. And then the second thing I would say, is notice how that works when you do that. ‘Cause people pleasing, while on the face of it, seems like a good idea, sometimes it can really backfire, and sometimes it can really lead you to places that are not where you want to be.
And so, the third thing is, think about, why do you do what you do in the first place? What’s really important? What led you to this job? And for some of us, I know, it’s a job. It’s just what we do. This is our talent, so you do it.
And for other people, it’s something you’ve really chosen. What was that thing that was important or exciting or enticing about doing that job, and see if you can kind of spend a little time to remember what it is that you love about it.
What is it that you enjoy? What’s fulfilling about it? And then see if you can your intention to that, instead of people pleasing. If people pleasing is not working for you. There’s no rules here that people pleasing is good or bad, but it’s worth noticing how it works. And does it do for you what you needed to do or does it get in your way?
Jenn: So, I know previously you had mentioned people having a short fuse is something that might signal that you or someone is experiencing burnout. Are there any other typical signs or symptoms that somebody is experiencing burnout?
Lisa: Yeah, when you don’t want to get up in the morning and go to work. That’s probably the biggest one. Meaning, getting up, rolling out of bed, and then going to your desk in the other room.
But that’s a big one. Not feeling joyful, not feeling fulfilled, feeling like you’re going through the motions. It’s a really joyless place to feel burned out, where you’re no longer inspired.
And actually, just personally, two or three months ago, I started noticing that this work that I love, that I feel like is a calling for me, did not feel like that.
And I thought, what is going on here? And it snuck up on me too. And I had to... And that was actually... And that, waking up and noticing that, is actually the first step.
And it’s a really good step, because that’s when you’re awake. That’s when you start to notice there’s something I need to do differently here. I need to pay attention to this.
And lucky for me, I did, and I found my way through it, which is really wonderful. So, I think noticing, again, this checking in with yourself, checking in with your partner, very, very helpful.
Jenn: And I have to say from personal experience, also knowing if your behaviors are changing and you can’t figure out why. So, a good example for what I’ve experienced burnout is, that I find myself going to bed later and later, even though I’m exhausted, because I know-
Lisa: That’s a good one.
Jenn: I know that if I go to bed at 2:00 AM, I’m doing things that I enjoy between 8:00 PM and 2:00 AM, and I am setting the inevitable of what’s going to happen the next day when I have to go back to my desk and do the thing.
Lisa: Yep, for me, it’s like longer and longer like, oh, I’ll just have another five minutes. I’ll just set the alarm again, hit the snooze button again on my alarm. So, there’s that piece too.
Jenn: So, I know we’ve talked about burnout with partners. So, how can we gently encourage our partner, who might be a little resistant to talking to a therapist? How do we encourage them to start talking to somebody about burnout?
Lisa: So, usually when I have hard conversations, or when I’m teaching people how to have hard conversations, there are two ingredients to how to do this that can help you be heard.
And we like to call this, in the Acceptance And Commitment Therapy community, The values and vulnerabilities conversation. And those are the two ingredients that you really want to include and having a chat like this, that can be helpful.
So, the values piece, is framing your discussion around what is most important here. So, if you are... I’m just imagining approaching a partner that you’re concerned about. It might be, I love you.
What I care about most is your wellbeing, our wellbeing as a couple, that we have really good communication, and that we can support each other as needed, whatever it is for you. A value is something that can be like a beacon or a compass for you in your life. It’s the stuff that you really, really care about.
Like, so for example, for me, one of mine is to be of service. It’s just baked in. I don’t know, I just came like this from the factory. Who knew? But it’s important. And in order to be of service, I need to also take care of myself. And being of service also means being supportive to my family.
It’s not just a work value, it’s a life value. So, notice, it’s not a goal, a value. It’s something else. It’s something that underlies goals, and you can line up goals that are consistent with that value. So, think about for you, with your partner, what is the value there? What’s really important?
Now, ingredient number two, is the vulnerability piece. This is important because it’s kind of like, if you want to make a space for someone else to open up, you got to go first. You got to go first. It’s just how it works.
If you’re going to come at that person in a very defensive, evaluative way, a blaming way, a critical way, they’re going to shut down. And this is not to say that those are not, I mean, you might have those thoughts, and you might have those feelings, 100% valid. It’s just the how of this conversation that’s important.
So, to share a vulnerability might be something like, I’m a little nervous, I’m hesitant to say this, because I feel it’s so important and I don’t want to get it wrong. Would you be willing to listen to me?
It can be something as simple as that, or it could be something like, you know, I am noticing, I feel not so great these days. Work’s been very hard, I’m having a hard time getting out of bed, and do you know what? I’m seeing some of this stuff in too, and I’m scared.
So, it could be something like that too. So, those two pieces, values and vulnerabilities, when you have those in the conversation, and you start it and you open like that, it’s going to be something that’s going to ease that conversation and make it more likely for you to be heard.
Jenn: Now, another approach I’ve taken with friends and family is that because I work in mental health, I’m not a PhD, but people go, “Oh, you know all about this stuff, can you help me with this?”
And I say, I care so much about you that I think my expertise stops here. And I’m worried that if you keep coming to me for advice, I’m not going to be able to help you in the way that I want to help you.
Lisa: That is a values and vulnerability statement. You just did it. It has those two pieces. I care about you. Here’s my limit. I’m worried. Beautiful, that’s a great example, Jenn, love it.
Jenn: I learned it all from you, please. I’ve spent a year of talking to you by weekly. Couldn’t have done it without you.
Lisa: Well, I’m glad. And I have to use these things too, and it’s definitely useful. So, give it a shot guys. See how that goes. Not that this is clinical advice, this is just kind of some guidance on how to talk to each other.
Jenn: So, in the way that we’re talking about burnout for adults professionals, can teens experience that in a similar way? Because there’s so many kids that are online learning--
Lisa: And I was just thinking of teachers. That’s the immediate group that pops into my head was teachers. But yeah, go ahead.
Jenn: I know teachers and I know parents of teens and younger, who their kids are, they’re done. They’re over it, they’re not engaging anymore. Are they burnt out?
Lisa: The kids or the teachers or the parents? Probably all of them
Jenn: Let’s start with the kids, and then maybe work our way from there.
Lisa: Yes, I’m sure that they are, and kids... I don’t actually know offhand research on burnout in children, but can I surmise as a child psychologist that this is happening for them? Absolutely.
And I’m sure that you’ll see things like it’s harder and harder to get them to stay in front of the screen. They’re getting more irritable, they’re getting more resistant, they’re spending more time on their own. It’s a drag.
And like, I hear this story over and over again, like in our practice, but also in the media. Like the New York Times has a wonderful parenting ongoing kind of section that they do, where they keep revisiting this, because this is a really big deal.
And one of the earliest things that we did in the pandemic, myself and my colleagues was, we were like we have to get some help to parents. We just have to. Because the kids are burned out and they’re burned out.
Teachers are also burned out. And teachers are stressed. Being asked to be with, a room full of kids that may or may not have COVID, that we don’t really know about contacts. This is hard. This is really hard. So, I think making a space for things.
So, one of the predictors of burnout in parenting, and this is relevant to child behavior, is feeling that you have to parent perfectly. Like there’s a right way to do this, otherwise it’s a disaster. That’s just not true.
And I am going to encourage people to really think about letting go of that, and good enough is what we want to do. The kids are going to bounce back from this. They are. It will take time and it will take work.
I mean, we know kids are experiencing a higher level of emotional and behavioral difficulties, and thankfully, we are adaptive, flexible humans. And so, encouraging flexibility, encouraging... Picking your battles, right? Letting go of the stuff you can let go of, focus on the big picture items.
Are they safe? Are they eating? Are they doing a little bit of school? Can they chat with a friend once in a while? Can you have a few laughs as a family? Can you do some family activities together and connect?
Those are the basics and those are the necessities. But getting straight A’s and being online every single moment they’re supposed to, not going to happen. And let it go. That would be my advice about that.
Jenn: Couple more questions, because I know you have to jump off really soon. So, number one, is there an official diagnosis for burnout?
Lisa: That’s a good question actually. Didn’t you mention that earlier, Jenn, that you found something on that? Do you want to speak about that?
Jenn: Yeah, the World Health Organization does actually identify it in the international classification of diseases. So, I would say yes, identifiable as... You can be diagnosed with burnout, but definitely something that you would want to talk to your own provider about.
Lisa: Exactly, yeah, it’s not in the DSM five, but it may be in future additions of that. And I’m not sure if it’s in the ICD 10 yet either, but if the WHO thinks it’s a thing, I mean, it’s certainly something that’s getting more and more attention, and more and more research.
Jenn: And I know I would be remiss to not have a session with you and not talk about digital habits in some way, shape, or form. So, last but not least is how do we get ourselves off of social media before we go to bed?
Lisa: She asks on the webinar that’s digital.
Jenn: The irony is not lost on me.
Lisa: I know, so, this is very, very important. And being on screens at or around bedtime can really disrupt sleep, especially in young people, but in all of us, if it’s not something that like we’re used to.
So, if you’re experiencing sleep disruptions, it is really a good idea to get off the screens at least an hour before bedtime. Because it literally resets your body clock if you’re seeing lights. I got into a terrible pattern earlier, maybe six months ago in the pandemic, where I just pop awake at three o’clock in the morning and start scrolling on my phone.
And I knew it was the worst thing I could possibly do. Did that stop me? Of course not. So, really noticing, and over time I was like, okay, Lisa, seriously, stop this, this is not good. And I did. And it helps, but it can really disrupt your sleep.
So, I know that sometimes people feel like they need to have a stress reliever or a distraction before bed if they’re anxious, if they’re having lots of worried thoughts, et cetera. Being on a screen is not a great idea.
Use an alternative, use a meditation app, listen to a book on tape, listen to a podcast. Do some visualization exercises in your mind, use a white noise machine, ASMR. Some people love ASMR. So, thinking about something else that does not involve light. The glasses, those are helpful, but still you should try to get off the screen at least an hour before that time.
Jenn: Great advice.
Lisa: Thank you.
Jenn: But Lisa, thank you so much for joining. And this actually concludes our session. Thanks to everybody who participated and provided such valuable questions. And Lisa, as always, thank you for all of your insight and expertise.
Lisa: Any time.
Jenn: I literally could not do this without you. So, I appreciate you taking the time to hang with me.
Lisa: My pleasure. So nice see you.
Jenn: Until next time folks, be nice to each other, be nice to yourself, and wash your hands. Thanks so much. Take care everyone.
Lisa: Bye everyone.
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