Work in healthcare, especially behavioral healthcare, requires high levels of empathy and compassion towards others. As therapists, we must be able to place ourselves in the shoes of our patients to truly understand their mentalities and emotions. We have to care. However, issues can arise when we let our work interfere with our own personal lives.
Anytime you take a flight, attendants will instruct you to, in the event of an emergency, place an oxygen mask on yourself before helping those around you. This protocol is relevant in many other aspects of life – you need to take care of yourself first before you try to care for others. Burnout, a state of exhaustion and apathy resulting from prolonged stress, can heavily influence our ability to provide quality care for our patients while maintaining a positive and meaningful personal life. Here are some steps we can all use to prevent burnout:
- Leave work at work. Avoid work-related phone calls, emails and paperwork after you leave the office. You need to set a clear boundary between professional and personal time. If your mind is always on your work, feelings of stress and exhaustion will inevitably build up.
- Build a social network. You may be tempted to retreat into your home and avoid human contact after long work days talking with patients, but this can do more harm than good. Maintaining close relationships can help ease the emotional burden of work in therapy.
- Stay active. Everyone in the healthcare field should understand the relationship between physical activity and mental well-being. Even if you can’t find the energy to take yourself to the gym for 45 minutes on the treadmill, there are many other ways to be active. Take a walk after dinner, or engage in yoga or meditation within the comfort of your home.
- Build your personal life. If your entire life consists of going to work then going home to sleep, you will quickly burn out. Engage in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. Join clubs to meet people who share your interests. Being a therapist should only be one component of your identity.
- Get help. Find a support group in your area for therapists, or seek individual counseling. Reach out to your mentor or supervisor for guidance when dealing with difficult situations. Reach out to friends and family for emotional support when you need it.