What are the clues that start showing up for you when you are on the road to burnout? Do you know? Do your friends know? Does your partner know? Chances are the people around you are often better able to gauge when you aren’t “quite yourself.” Maybe you are hyper self aware but commonly people in the caregiving field, will not notice that they are slowly starting to become unrecognizable to themselves or others. Remember the frog in the boiling pot of water story? A frog that is put in a pot of boiling water will immediately jump out. But put a frog in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, and he won’t notice that he is slowly boiling to death. A bleak story but also a reminder that we might not always realize when we are entering the danger zone of burnout.
Just this past year, I had a couple of co-workers and friends gently call me out on my impending burnout. My gut reaction was to get defensive but I tried a new approach this time, and actually listened. Their courage to have this hard conversation allowed me to reflect a little on where I got lost. I started reflecting on what were the signs that I was headed into a danger zone.
I realized that if I don’t do enough traveling, I start to feel off. Travel opens my eyes and mind, and is incredibly therapeutic to me. If I start saying NO to every party, bbq, dinner party etc, I’ve gone beyond just needing time to re-energize and have entered the depressed hermit stage. If I’m watching non-stop Netflix when I have creative projects waiting in the wings, not a good sign. And when I stop running, this is also an indication that something is off.
I encourage you to ask those around you (and ask yourself) what are the signs that you are heading towards burnout. Their answers might surprise you! In fact, you may have convinced yourself (like I did) that you have been successful at hiding your exhaustion and burnout, when in reality you are more transparent than you realized.
When you hear what others have to say, please don’t beat yourself up. This is not an exercise meant to cause you further anger or frustration. Instead try and being loving to yourself. We have chosen a field that has a high burn out rate. Additionally, often school only briefly touches on what to do when you starting to feel off. So you don’t necessarily have the tools or words when this starts to happen. I don’t remember the concept of burn out being addressed even once in nursing school. In fact, there was almost this badge of honor for being able to “suck it up.” Don’t fall into this awful trap. There’s a reason there was a movie called “Nurse Ratched.” We’ve all met him/her.
In the meantime, I highly recommend the TED talk by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky called Beyond the Cliff. She totally nails it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOzDGrcvmus
Take care of YOU.