Previously in this series, we introduced burnout and outlined symptoms of burnout to look out for.

In this article, we will discuss strategies that can help you prevent and treat burnout, so that you can continue to excel in your graduate program and future career as a behavioral health professional (or if you found this article and you’re not in the behavioral health field, these burnout tips can help you regardless of your field).

Oftentimes there are environmental factors (e.g., too few resources, too many responsibilities, too little time) that contribute to the experience of burnout; however, these factors are often outside of our control. Fortunately, there are things you can be doing to cope with environmental stressors and manage your response to frustrations.

Ideally, these strategies should be implemented early on to prevent burnout from occurring. However, even if symptoms of burnout have already reared their ugly head, these strategies can help break the cycle of behavior and thinking patterns that can produce and perpetuate the symptoms of burnout.

As you may recall from my last article, burnout is a complex beast that can impact multiple aspects of one’s personal and professional life. Therefore, the solutions for preventing and addressing burnout should be multidimensional: modifying your approach to the working environment and bolstering your own personal resources to better manage stress [1].

Strategies in the Workplace

1. Re-evaluate Your Work Approach

Do your best to avoid the tendency to push through or work harder when you’re feeling burned out. Take regular work breaks to maintain focus and productivity.

If possible, temporarily reduce your workload or take a more relaxed pace when approaching your work. Remember: work smarter, not harder!

2. Adjust Your Expectations & Mindset

Setting unrealistic expectations is a common pitfall in graduate school. Taking a step back to adjust your work mindset can make all the difference.

Take the time to re-evaluate your goals and priorities and set reasonable expectations. Also, when working towards big milestones, it can be helpful to break down the big goals into smaller, incremental goals. This can help the end goal seem less daunting and more feasible to conquer.

3. Peer Support

Whether informal or formal (e.g. a peer consultation group), seeking support from colleagues, classmates, mentors, or other professionals in your field is encouraged.

Peers can be a source of support and advice, and it is also comforting to be able to process job-related stressors with people who can relate. If it seems difficult to find support on the fly, consider forming a peer consultation or support group where you can rely on regular meetings for support from your peers.

Strategies in Your Personal Life

1. Seek Non-Workplace Social Support

Although seeking support inside the workplace can be beneficial, it should not replace your personal support network. It is important not to forget about your life outside of work and to invest time into your important personal relationships.

2. Set Boundaries

Be sure to establish boundaries between your personal and professional life. In graduate school, these lines can become blurry but clear boundaries are important in preventing burnout.

Consider the following two ideas to begin setting boundaries in your life:

  • Set aside time each week for “you time” by engaging in activities you enjoy. It is not always easy to get away from your work, but taking a break can actually increase your focus and productivity later!
  • Be careful that your work-related frustrations don’t carry over into your personal life, and avoid spending too much time talking about work on your time off. If you have a tendency to ruminate about work, set aside a brief period of time after work where you can talk with a supportive person to share some of your frustrations. It can be easy to get bogged down in work-related stressors, so if needed, set a timer (e.g. 10 minutes) to limit the amount of time you spend talking about work.

3. Create a Relaxation or Mindfulness Routine

This will look different for every person and should fit your own schedule, needs, and preferences.

For some, relaxation may be sitting in nature. For others, it could be watching a movie. It is important to incorporate these activities into your daily routine and it can be particularly helpful to find a way to integrate relaxation practices into stressful work environments.

If you think you’re too busy to incorporate mindfulness practices into your busy grad student schedule, check out this article for three easy ways to start.

4. Conduct Regular Self Check-ins

You know yourself and your needs best. And only you can determine when you’re getting burned out and need to take a break.

The more in-tune you are with yourself and how you personally experience stress and burnout, the more quickly you can implement strategies to reduce the impact. Take time regularly to evaluate how you are managing your responsibilities and whether you are satisfied with your coping responses.

If you are noticing signs of burnout or feel that you are mismanaging stress, reevaluate your approach and identify more effective responses that are in line with your values.

5. Maximize Your Physical Health

One of the best ways to improve your mental health is to maximize your physical health.

Here are several key activities to include in your daily routine:

  • Sleep
    Although each person’s sleep needs and preferences will be different, the average person needs approximately 8 hours of sleep per night. Sleep deprivation is associated with depression, increased suicidality, cognitive inefficiency, and shorter life spans [2]! If you are having trouble sleeping, consider some of these sleep hygiene practices.
  • Exercise
    Physical activity is good for your health and a great way to relieve stress, but it is also good for the mind! New research suggests vigorous activity can provide benefits to brain regions associated with memory and executive functioning [3]. In fact, some wonder if therapists should recommend that their clients exercise.
  • Hydration
    Most of our body is made up of water. Therefore, water is essential to our body’s proper functioning [4]. Dehydration can wreak havoc on all organs of the body, particularly our brain, and mimic symptoms of anxiety and panic. Next time you are having difficulty concentrating or experiencing brain fog, have a glass of water!

Burnout is real, but fortunately, it can be prevented and even cured. The key is to find balance between your personal and professional life.

However, if you are experiencing more serious symptoms of burnout, it may be beneficial to seek out formal therapy for additional support and coping strategies.

No matter who you are, remember you are not alone – this field is full of people who love what they do and have been where you are, so don’t be afraid to reach out!

 

Resources

[1] Maslach, C., & Goldberg, J. (1999). Prevention of burnout: New perspectives. Applied and preventive psychology, 7(1), 63-74.[2] Banville, J. (2012). Take sleep seriously. gradPSYCH, 10(3). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2012/09/sleep.aspx.[3] Dahl, M. (21 April 2016). How neuroscientists explain the mind-clearing magic of running. New York Magazine. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/04/why-does-running-help-clear-your-mind.html.[4] Popkin, B. M., D’Anci, K. E., & Rosenberg, I. H. (2010). Water, Hydration and Health. Nutrition Reviews, 68(8), 439–458.

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Meagan Graydon

Meagan Graydon

Meagan Graydon is completing her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and Behavioral Medicine in the Human Services Psychology Program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Her research interests focus on health behavior change, particularly substance use, using the framework of the Transtheoretical Model. Her clinical work has included providing court-mandated interventions for perpetrators of domestic violence, assessment and rehabilitation services with individuals with neurological conditions, and treatments for veterans with substance use disorders. She will be applying for internship in the fall and hopes to pursue a career in health psychology working with veterans and members of the military.
Meagan Graydon