Burnout: Handling the peak of stress

We hear this word too often. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that we feel burnt out too often.

What exactly is burnout? Burnout is feeling completely overwhelmed to the point where you don’t want to do anything except escape. You have so much to do so you might as well do nothing- because no amount of effort would ever conquer all the items on your list.

Burnout is also a feeling of being completely over it which means you have lost sight of the value in what you do. This kind of burnout will be for a separate piece because it deserves different attention.

With the amount of responsibilities you have during peak season (IEPS, evaluation reports, observations, presentations) feeling overwhelmed is completely warranted and should be expected.

I write this as someone spiraling in the same vortex. I’ve reached out to some of the most successful people in our field to see how they handle the inevitable feeling burnout. It is something we all feel. How we deal with it is what matters. 

Take your MEDS

When we feel burnt out we often neglect the other areas of our life that make us healthy and fulfilled. The first place to start is taking your MEDS.

Mediation, exercise, diet and sleep. Those must always be in check. Your greatest weapon against the tyranny of stress is physical exertion. Exercise like your life depends on it because it does. You never regret a work out, even if you are sore. Soreness is your body’s way of telling your mind that you used it. Make the time, especially during peak season, because that is when you need it most.

You are what you eat. So eat accordingly. When you feel burnt out consider what you are putting in your body. Maybe it is as simple as rewarding yourself at the end of the day instead of before you get your work done. You are an adult and you know what you should be eating. If you feel compelled to indulge, make it a reward after you finish your work.

If you know what meditation is then you are already reaping the benefits of this process. Meditation is a priority, so there is always time for it.

Maria Kotsonis CCC-SLP from the SLP Wine and Cheese Podcast practices yoga and meditation daily.

I try to begin my day with guided meditation and practice deep breathing throughout the day. To avoid burnout- the biggest thing is to listen to your body. When you feel yourself getting run down, allow yourself downtime. I like to say “I did the best I could for today” right when I leave work.
— Maria Kotsonis CCC-SLP

The Wine & Cheese Podcast is a great place to hear about important topics for SLPs. You can find it here or in podcasts, spotify, itunes or wherever podcasts are available

I personally feel that wine and cheese can be quite effective in taking the edge off. More so cheese these days than the wine. Cheese is my happy place.

 Getting out of your own head.

We suffer more in imagination than in reality – Seneca

Listening to your monkey brain when you are feeling burnt out is a great way to marinate in your suffering. It is simply a matter of changing your mood so that your thoughts will adjust with it. We can change our moods instantly, we just need to remind ourselves.

 Mia McDaniel of PutingWordsInYourMouth is well acquainted with the feeling of burnout. She oversees 47 SLPs in her district. She has found productive ways of getting out of her head:

Listening to music while getting ready for the day puts my mind in the place it needs to be. I pray. I pray for myself, my family and all the SLPs I support daily on the drive to work. What I also find incredibly useful is keeping inspirational quotes around my desk. I really cling to those for self talk.
— Mia McDaniel CCC-SLP

Becoming aware of what is going on internally is essential to managing burnout. Meditation and prayer will get you focused on transforming your internal state and managing yourself self talk so that you can focus on being the best version of yourself, as opposed to a slave to the dictatorship of your own self defeating monkey brain.

Focus on being productive not busy:

Never underestimate just how powerful one solid hour of uninterrupted distraction free work can do for your soul. Putting your phone on airplane mode, holding all calls, not responding to any emails, and getting done what needs to get done for the next hour is the only way to combat that list.

The 25/5 method: you do 25 minutes of uninterrupted work and give yourself a 5 minutes reward to consume your insta feed or stretch or do whatever you please. This works well, but I find that working an hour or even 50/10 method is best. The more time you spend actively engaged, the better the outcome.

Make a habit of focusing like this. You will be amazed by how much it compounds your accomplishments.

 Change your social media habits

It is safe to say that we haven’t fully adapted to the evolutionary disruption that social media has unleashed upon humanity. We spend hours of our life joylessly, unwillingly and impulsively checking our phones. We scroll and stop, smirk, groan or chuckle and repeat for hours on end.  

But when managing burn-out, it is incredibly productive to significantly limit the time spent on social media or, the best option, only use social media for a purpose.

Skip the scrolling and instead aim to network, comment on posts you are interested in or ideally use it to find fresh ideas for therapy. Set a goal. We are masters at producing specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely goals for our clients. I have some ideas on how to manage this in my post about phone addiction.

“I will find and print 1 new material related to categories given 3 choices in 10 minute span”.

Now you have set the parameters for your success. But not only that, you set up a timer so you know you will only invest 10 minutes of your precious time and not a moment more. This is about condensing what you do. You want the highest value for the least amount of input. This is not a recipe to cut corners or to slack off, it is an equation for productivity.

The purpose of social media is to capture your attention for as long as possible. This is achieved by having you judge yourself harshly for not being as smart, beautiful and creative as the others on the screen.  This will have a negative compound effect on your self talk. You want to stop the spiral, not strengthen the undertow.

 You must stop worrying about what others are doing and focus on what you are doing.

 Spend more time unplugged.

Turn off WiFi. Call a friend, go for coffee, spend real time with the people you love WITHOUT looking at your phone. Go for a walk. Learn to go on airplane mode with your relationships. Focus on the parts of your life that have meaning. That is what justifies the struggle of your existence.

 Every spring, Lauren DiBiase CCC-SLP gets hit hard by the burnout bug.

“It’s the IEP meetings that always seems to be scheduled within a day of each other added with seasonal allergies and a mix of post-February break data regression. I combat this by socializing more. I try to say “yes” to friends when they ask me to do something, even if it’s just to grab a cup of coffee. No matter how overwhelmed I am with work, taking an hour to recharge with a friend is more productive than crying into a progress monitoring binder.”
— Lauren DiBiase CCC-SLP

 What you do matters, and when we forget that we suffer. So burn out can essentially be seen as being out of tune. You need to reset. Remind yourself of how hard you worked to get where you are. Remind yourself of all the miracles you have experienced.

 It is a process, one that requires constant upkeep. It is easy to lose sight of that, especially when you have 135 IEPs due tomorrow.