Acknowledging Burnout and Learning to Restart the Flame

african-american- woman gazingI’m feeling burned out…I have said yes to too many things, I have too much on my plate, I have some tough things going on in my personal life and the result is me feeling burned out. One of the worst parts of this is that it’s negatively impacting my work. I love being a therapist; sitting with people, helping them to process their emotions and experiences, bearing witness to their pain, and talking through strategies to help them improve their lives. And yet, in this space of burnout I feel less empathic and patient with my clients who are most challenging. My ability to take a step back and see what is happening emotionally in sessions has been diminished. I feel guilty and embarrassed by these shortcomings. I feel badly that I may not be offering my clients the best support possible.

Part of my experience of stress and burnout is situational. I work at a university that is on a quarter system and this is the time of the quarter when we are busy and have a lot to fit in before the academic year ends. Part of this is because of my own difficulty saying no to things and my general excitement related to taking on new things. I am realizing that I need to be more strategic about what I say yes to and that I cannot sign on to everything that looks good and comes my way.

I imagine that most of you may have experienced burnout or have felt overwhelmed at one point or another, so I’m opening up and writing this post for my own growth and healing and in the hopes that it helps you too. The following is what I’m doing to get myself out of this space.

Talking about it 

I started talking about my feelings of burnout last week. I talked to my boyfriend, my mom, and good friends about it. Then in a clinical meeting with colleagues this morning I talked about it again. It was a relief to hear from people that they think I’m doing a good job and that my colleagues have struggled with the same things. It is helpful to know that I am not alone in this place that other people who I trust and respect have had similar experiences. Talking about feeling burned out has lessened some of burden that I was carrying.

Taking things one step at a time

I’m committed to a number of things now and have decided that I will go through with these commitments. Given that my workload is not going to get lighter for a couple of weeks I am working on doing things one step at a time to reduce my feelings of being overwhelmed. I’m using some of the time and task management strategies that I often recommend to my clients to help me get things done efficiently and effectively. If you are feeling like you have too much on your plate I encourage you to break things down and start focus on one step at a time.

Owning my role

It has been important for me to acknowledge how I got into this situation. I was talking to one of my good friends about this and she asked me if the word no was in my vocabulary. It was a funny question and she was highlighting my role and ongoing issue with saying no. Owning my role in my burnout will help me to do something differently next time I have more opportunities that I can handle at once. Additionally, acknowledging how the burnout has negatively impacted my work helps me to clarify that taking on too much may be  exciting initially and ultimately keeps me from doing the quality of work that is up to my standards.

Learning to be strategic

It has become clear to me that I need to be more strategic. Being strategic in my life planning is not one of  my strengths. I tend to just go along and say yes to things I want to do and I’ve been blessed that things have worked out for me. Now, in this stage of my life and career, I’m realizing that it is important for me to be thoughtful and intentional about the things that I take on and to have a sense of why I am saying yes to some things and no to others. When I have more time this summer I am going to work on this and  ask for the help of some people I am close to who are better at this type of thinking and planning than I am.


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