Professional burnout, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma are all real human experiences that come in waves over time.
One of the greatest disservices you can do to yourself is by treating burnout as a shameful, irreparable disaster, when, in fact, it’s best addressed as a normal and manageable part of living.
How do you recognize when life starts to become unhealthy? Here are some signs when it might be time to seek help:
Often, the initial red flag is that you begin to withdraw. You stop engaging in creative outlets, emotionally numb out (sometimes with the help of substances), and notice yourself believing that you don’t have the power to change your mood any time soon. In the meantime, you begin losing your ability to be present in relationships. Perhaps, most dangerous of all, is that you tell yourself that these things aren’t a big deal.
Over-Embracing “Leaning In”
Some people go in the opposite direction when stressed and completely immerse themselves with the tasks at hand. This may be an excellent short-term survival strategy, but when practiced long-term, the result is that you feel overly responsible for making things work (and believe that without you, they would surely fall apart). You become lost and overwhelmed in details, and it seems that there’s no end in sight. This can also disrupt your sense of identity, as you may tend to over-identify with the source of your stress and not with who you truly are as a whole.
Your Body Speaks Up
You may be able to hide how you’re really feeling or dismiss the impact, but your body always tells the truth. Feeling exhausted? Experiencing chronic pain? Struggling with sleep? Getting sick? More than usual? This is worth noticing. It’s happening for a reason.
When overwhelmed, you also lose the ability to embrace complexity. Things often become black and white, right or wrong, okay or not okay. You may be quick to anger, slow to listen, and less willing to slow down and consider all aspects of a situation. Empathy goes out the window, and you start to get irritable and/or cynical.
Just like physical fitness requires maintenance, attention, and new strategies, your mental health can also benefit from professional attention to increase your strength, flexibility, and endurance. If you’re feeling the effects of burnout, consider making an appointment with the Counseling Center to get your life back on track.
By Caitlin Vincent MS, LMFT, CDP, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist