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Coping with Burnout

Ali Ho, MS, LPC Therapist at Shoreside Therapies, talks to Laurie Groh, MS LPC SAS about burnout, what are the symptoms, how to assess and what to do next.

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Ali Ho, MS, LPC

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Video Transcript

Laurie: My name is Laurie Groh. I'm co-owner and therapist at shoreside therapies, and today I have with us Ali Ho, and she's a therapist at Shoreside Therapies specializing in children from ages 11 and up, working with transitions, life transitions, anxiety, depression and academic achievements.

Laurie: Is that right?

Ali: That sounds great.

Laurie: Yeah. So welcome, Ali.

Ali: Thanks so much for having me, Laurie. This is fun for a Monday morning.

Laurie: I know. Wakes us up. Right?

Laurie: All right. So, Ali, today we're going to talk about burnout, and I'm very, very interested in what you're going to be sharing with us today. So why don't you just start with telling the audience a little bit about what burnout is, how to identify it, and then we'll go from there.

Ali: Sounds great. So, first of all, we can all collectively agree that the past calendar year was extremely difficult and stressful for anybody and everybody. We all experienced a collective grief in some way. So this topic is super relevant as we start a new year. You know, a new year brings the opportunity to kind of turn over the page and start new, start fresh. But that doesn't mean that we're all of a sudden feeling great after going through 12 months of distress.

Laurie: Right. Right. Yes. I know that that new year you start thinking about, OK, what can I do to maybe, like, change some of the routines, some of our habits don't necessarily wash away. I know a lot of people kind of were joking that two thousand and twenty-one would bring in this brand new year with none of the baggage up to 2020. But that is still going on for sure.

Ali: It's just not realistic. Right. We put so much pressure on ourselves to start fresh in the new year and sometimes we get a little bit overambitious and we think, oh, I have all these great resolutions. Let me dive right in. Well, any time we're trying to start something new, we first need to kind of take pause and make sure we're actually ready to start that new challenge or that new beginning.

Laurie: Yeah, that is so true because it's the system, right, that we create that helps us with the habits you can't just put in are going to be eating better, exercising, doing yoga, meditation and date nights and time with the kids and working more like that's probably all that happened.

Ali: What you just described is like asking for burnout. So by definition, burnout is actually related to our workplaces and we're helping professionals as therapists and social workers and nurse practitioner here. But burnout applies to all people. No matter what your career field, no matter what your workplace anybody can experience this. That's essentially the most basic definition is exhaustion. And that can apply to if you are a computer engineer to a sanitation worker working on the streets of Milwaukee, right everywhere in between, all of us experience stress, which means that we can experience burnout.

Laurie: Right. And so what are some of the what are some of the things somebody would start to notice if they are experiencing burnout?

Ali: Great question. So it's going to impact you kind of in three tiers, three ways. So mentally, emotionally and physically.

Ali: And so sometimes we're really good at being mindful or being aware of one of those areas, like, oh, I've been having a lot of headaches recently and they always have been when I'm on the job, but we don't always pay attention to all the other areas. So emotionally, how are you doing mentally? Have you had trouble completing tasks or concentrating? Have you not felt as creative on the job or are you more irritable around your coworkers? So really, we got to look at all three of those aspects of burnout. So some of the common ones that you might see or be mindful or aware of for yourself and for the people you work with would be maybe somebody who's more irritable or have angry outbursts. Maybe they look tense and seem tense, like almost like you're walking on eggshells. If you ask them a question, you just anticipate they're going to snap back at you. I would say that those are really common, glaring like something's off with this person. And then again, like. I mentioned maybe they're having difficulty concentrating or they seem unorganized and maybe they're being forgetful or, you know, a good tip or trick to check in with ourselves would be, are you dreading showing up to your workplace? Are you having the Sunday Skerries? It's starting on the weekend and you just don't even want to go to work or can't even think about work because it just covers you or floods you and stress.

Laurie: This is a big one that I hear dread and then it creeps into Saturday and then sometimes even to Friday. Yes. That's a good sign that there might be more going on to take a look at.

Ali: Yes, absolutely. It's like if you don't have your workday on a Friday and you don't have means or schedule time to decompress before having to start thinking about your week ahead the next week, it's like we're just in this hamster wheel of go, go, go. So there's got to be some separation between work and personal life in order to prevent burnout from happening.

Ali: Yes, I just wanted to point out physical symptoms that somebody could look for. You know, I, I start with all my clients looking at sleep. I think that's the most important thing. And we can dive deeper into that, that maybe there's been some appetite changes. I mentioned headaches, maybe blood pressure is rising again, like maybe early morning. Right when you wake up, you're actually having morning anxiety in anticipation of going to work. Yeah, disorganization and decisiveness is another good night to look for.

Laurie: Yes. Yeah, I noticed that coming up for clients. I know what I said, even for myself, for like I don't even care what we're going to eat for dinner, those kinds of responses or just give me carbs. That's another sign for me.

Ali: Yeah, right. And all of these symptoms that I just mentioned, the mental, the emotional and the physical, you know, these are all signs and symptoms of stress, right? I mean, stress is the physical response. Worry is the cognitive response and then anxiety. Right. It all accumulates into anxiety. And so anxiety and burnout kind of go hand in hand. You can't really have burnout without some anxiety or depression can and you can't really have anxiety without some kind of stress impeding functioning.

Laurie: Right. Right. Or sometimes anxiety can be so linked to a workplace where it's not actually maybe even a diagnosable anxiety, where it actually looks more like burnout or maybe their career isn't actually matching up to where they want to be in their life. Sometimes that's where we come in. That's where you come in Ali to help with potentially some life transitions of what maybe needs to shift for someone because they can look very similar. And a lot of times they do go hand in hand.

Ali: Absolutely. Absolutely. So step one would be really to do a self-assessment, right. So take a deep breath and feel this is a great place to put in a body scan. Right. Where are you carrying stress? Where are you feeling it? Are you again having those Sunday Scarys or that dread when you wake up in the morning and you don't even want to show up to workplace?

Laurie: Yeah, I love the body scan.

Ali: Absolutely.

Laurie: It does show you where exactly that tension is and it's always different for different people where that where that sits. And that tells us a lot, too, about what to be concerned about if there is the neck stuff that can lead into the migraines and just kind of noticing that and stretching and doing some other activities does help a lot with migraines and in general.

Ali: Right. Wouldn't it be such an amazing world if we all started our day with stretching and restorative yoga? I mean, I wish as therapists we are not perfect human beings. We come alongside our clients in this journey. And that's what we're here for, right, is to give suggestions and implement some behavioral changes with you and track and see what is working and what's not working. Self-assessment, are you exhausted? Are you having tension in your body, Are you having that dread of showing up to work or are you not able to concentrate? Are you just unhappy, unhappy in your career, unhappy in your workplace? I mean, maybe you talk it out with somebody and that's what we're doing today and that's what we're here for. And then take it a step further. Don't be your own doctor. I read an article in Glamour magazine that said you're not supposed to be the expert on these things, that when it comes to physical health and mental health, I mean, that is what your doctors were. That is what mental health professionals are for. Even if you just come in for our consultation with us, so much can be achieved just in a one hour session.

Laurie: Yeah. And how often is it where somebody says to you, right. Like, Oh, I didn't realize that connection. Right. And as we're just going on through our life, just boom, boom, boom, onto the next to the next, to the next. Not noticing what might need to be shifted or changed. And so talking to someone is definitely one way to help recognize what might need to be different in your life. What might help?

Ali: Absolutely. Sadly, I think in our United States culture, we're kind of programmed from a young age to be productive and to produce, produce, produce and achieve, achieve, achieve. And so it's no wonder that the number of adults now experiencing burnout is so high. And again, given what we all just experience the collective grief of 2020, here we are, there we are in 2021. What a great opportunity to stop, pause, do some self-assessment and reflection and decide what's really important to me. I think that that's part of the assessment phase is my work aligning with my values? Am I passionate about it anymore? Are my activities aligned with my schedule to full? Is it not full enough? Because that's also part of our discussion here is, you know, I like to talk about self care and health care is really looking at what needs to go and what needs to enter my life. What, you know, on my schedule. If you're not exercising, maybe 2021 is a great time to start exercising, starting slow. If you're not spending time with others and connecting intentionally, how can we put that into your schedule now?

Laurie: Yes. Yeah. And that is even harder right now. But thinking about those socially distance ways to do it and how much we really need that, I think that that's also what the pandemic has shown us. Right, is how much we actually need socialization and how much we need connection. And now it's just figuring out how we can do that the safest way possible.

Ali: Absolutely. Absolutely. So self-care is not just taking a bubble bath and getting massages.

Laurie: I love that though!!

Ali: Those are ways that we take care of ourselves, that those are great. It doesn't have to be something that you spend money on. You know, I think my favorite means of self-care is setting boundaries. And so, again, I help my clients figure out what are the relationships that are really important and meaningful and valuable, who really needs my time. Right. Because if you're going to a job and a nine to five every day, all day and giving your all and then you're coming home and having to give to the other people in your life, your family, your significant others friends. And again, you're going, going, going well, then there's no time for you. I mean, self-care is where are you spending time with yourself.

Laurie: Right. Right. I love the boundaries piece. I think that that's one that you can always take a peek and look at and think, OK, well, where do I need to put some boundaries? If I'm feeling this way now, there's probably some boundaries being crossed somehow, some way, even like as a parent, you know, the frustration sometimes that kids bring on. I feel like if I realize that and notice it, OK, why is this going on? It's because there's probably not a solid boundary, you know, but I'm telling them three times to brush your teeth. It may not have a consequence yet to it. And it's frustrating. That's where I need to kind of peek at it. And I think, too, like, there are so many different ways that their boundaries can get crossed. And I think at work it is tough. Right? There's this other piece of that where, again, it goes back to the American culture of we need to be hard workers and we need to listen exactly what our employers tell us to do and if. They want us to show up at this time, show up at this time, and that's probably not a good thing for really anyone in the long run. But it can be a big challenge to let your boss know that, you know, hey, I can't do this.

Ali: You're so right. I mean, we're talking a really fine, delicate line here. And I get that if you look at my work calendar and my PTO days, I use every single PTO day that is afforded to me. Why? Because myself and my mental health is important. Right? If my boss comes to me at three o'clock and asks for a report to be turned in in an hour, and I know realistically I can't get that done. You know, it's my responsibility, am I right, in my choices as a human being to be able to say, hey, I'm not going to meet your expectations, I'm not going to meet demands, can you help me in some kind of way or here's what I'm thinking and here's what my plan is. I can't imagine I mean, this happens so much in so many workplaces. But again, this is what's causing this burnout.

Laurie: Yeah. And, Ali, I love that you have the second portion of it, because I think sometimes when we hear boundaries, we think no, and that's it. And really, there's this extra part that you can add in, like, I might need some help with this or this is what I can do. Or we might have to re-evaluate what time that report is due and go from there and move a little bit. It doesn't have to be the strict wall.

Ali: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. I mean. Part of breaking down the mental health stigma is I think what's key is all of us, maybe even starting with helping professionals become vulnerable and talk about what they need and what they need to feel supported. And so part of the self assessment, maybe at the top of the year that I challenge everybody to start doing is. Again, what is my workplace like, am I happy there is the career aligned, maybe it's just one conversation that could happen with a superior, manager or a supervisor director and say, hey, my hours aren't right or this one task is really irritating me. Can I delegate it out? Right. So again, I like to come alongside my clients and figure that out. What are those nuances? What's working, what's not working, and to become the healthiest you can become?

Laurie: I totally agree with that Ali. Our time is coming to a close. Is there anything else you would want to add that we may be missed or didn't quite get to?

Ali: Well, some of the hardest part of realizing you're burned out is doing something about it. And so we've kind of touched on that throughout this discussion, you know, doing that self-assessment, doing a body scan and putting self-care in your schedule, starting an exercise routine, eating healthy, sleeping right. But if you are stuck again, we are here to help, sometimes it's the realization that you need to make a really drastic change and whether that's a different job within your career or switching careers, there are really great resources websites out there. I really love ONET, which is a great place to start if you do need to make that drastic change and decide I'm not happy being whatever and I'm going to jump ship and change careers. That website is really good to research careers, find out statistics and really important information on other various careers. So again, I'm always available to consult on this topic of burnout, compassion fatigue. We are all, as therapists, trained a little bit in career counseling and we are just happy to have an open discussion with whoever.

Laurie: Well, thank you so much, Ali, for taking time to meet with me today. And of course, you can reach out to Ali through our website, shoresidetherapies.com and her information and bio is all there. And thanks again. That was really helpful. I definitely am taking some notes today for myself and we'll talk soon.

Ali: Thanks. Laurie.

Laurie: Take care. Bye.