On National Stress Awareness Day, and as we head into an intensely challenging winter for all health professionals, including occupational health practitioners, it is important to be alert for the warning signs of burnout in both yourself and your colleagues, emphasises Clare Price.
During the pandemic, it has become evident that the stressors experienced by clients have also been experienced by clinicians themselves.
With today (Wednesday 3 November) being National Stress Awareness Day, we at Onebright wanted to help clinicians to recognise some signs to be aware of and what they can do to avoid stress in the workplace.
As mental health professionals, it is important to work in an environment that supports you to flourish whilst being able to simultaneously help others. This comes with recognising that sometimes job demands can outweigh the positives. People forget that practitioners are human too.
There are four signs of burnout that go beyond the well-known fatigue, irritability and increased episodes of physical illness. If not acknowledged and managed, they can lead to more chronic issues.
Importance of still putting yourself first
Therefore, if you have noticed any of the following as a clinician, it is maybe time to think about putting yourself first. Here are four warning signs that clinicians may be facing occupational burnout and ways to manage them.
1) Not feeling empathetic or absorbing the trauma or emotional pain of your clients. The relationship between empathy and burnout is well documented, we can be so overwhelmed by the distress of others that we can feel like we feel their pain and it can impact our ability to maintain healthy boundaries.
Compassion fatigue may result and can make you feel inadequate, depleted or detached. It is important to give yourself space away from your clients and others if you are overwhelmed. A solitary walk or quiet break away can help to clear your head and centre your focus.
2) Having escape fantasies. This one is less talked about, yet it is particularly relevant. It is common when we are under stress to consider quitting our job, changing our profession or moving to another country or continent, even if this in jest it is something to be aware of.
Impulsive decision-making, such as moving house, and larger life decisions made in haste may also be an indication of wanting to escape your present reality.
Often, when we are engaging with escape fantasies at work, it can be because we may not be investing enough time in your personal life. It is important to remember to schedule in time to enjoy yourself, spend quality time with friends and family and crucially also time to relax and switch off.
3) Health routines slipping. Lying in or hitting the snooze button on the alarm clock, not eating properly, drinking too much alcohol, or delaying exercise, mediation or connecting with loved ones can also be signs of burnout.
Changing routines may be a result of pushing ourselves too hard to accommodate others and the needs of our clients.
Keeping healthy routines helps us to remain steady throughout times of crisis. Whilst sometimes it may be okay to stretch schedules to fit in a client, it is vital to remember to prioritise your own schedule and routine.
Without you dedicating the time they need to look after yourself, it will be much more difficult to help others.
4) Anhedonia (or difficulty feeling positive emotions). Generally feeling unmotivated and unable to feel joy or excitement in our lives can creep up on us. It could be that the thought of activities that may have seemed exciting in the past now just seem like a burden.
As clinicians, we often derive our positive emotions from the positives we have in our work like being helpful, impacting lives, and seeing the results of that work. So, with the exacerbation of the pandemic on our clients’ stressors, it is possible that there is less positive reinforcement for the work that we do as clinicians.
How to manage burnout
There are a range of activities to help us as clinicians spot and manage stress before it turns into burnout.
It helps to hold regular small team meetings to keep people connected to the team they work with.
Having regular one-to-ones with management to discuss wellbeing and attend to goals can also help.
Active circulation of positive feedback provides a focus on the outcomes we achieve which can in turn be motivating. It comes as no surprise that as clients turn to clinicians for help, sometimes clinicians need to turn to each other for support, too.