Burnout is a major and growing problem. The pandemic and stresses of multiple cultural traumas, including the quest for racial justice and equity for all, including sexual and gender minorities, have taken a great toll. The National Academy of Medicine has produced a report on health force well-being, and the American Psychiatric Association estimates two out of five psychiatrists are experiencing professional burnout. As the saying goes, if you’re a caregiver of any stripe, it’s important to put an oxygen mask on yourself before you can assist others.
I have recently conducted workshops on “self-care” and coping with burnout during difficult times. The Brown Alumni Network recorded one presentation, and it’s up on YouTube now (see below). I hope you find it helpful. In this short talk, I discuss 11 tools for coping.
What is burnout?
Three components of burnout, defined in healthcare and social work but applicable to other situations are:
- Emotional exhaustion
- Depersonalization (negative attitudes towards clients or coworkers, loss of ideals, or detachment)
- Reduced efficacy, sense of personal accomplishment, and commitment to one’s profession
It’s important to note that while these land on the individual, they are embedded in institutional and our culture.
Burnout is institutional and cultural
We are embedded in systems not designed to care for us, and then we’re expected to “self-care,”–which asks us to put up with and adjust to toxicity. At best, we can be, as Martin Luther King said, “creatively maladjusted.”
Institutional remedies include:
- Changes in organizational culture
- Group support and allyship
- Supporting self-care
- Supporting individual and group education
- Improving work environment
Cultural changes include moving from individualistic, narcissistic, antagonistic power/achievement/domination myths to interdependent/collaborative realities that support justice, equity, and belonging.
Eleven tools to help cope with burnout
I explain these in detail in the video below this list. I hope you enjoy it!
- Naming and labeling difficult emotions, situations, and narratives. Taking a mindful moment helps us in many ways. Naming our emotions downregulates the amygdala and our survival-based reactions.
- Recognizing your zones of tolerance plus overwhelm. We have a central “comfort zone” surrounded by “growth and challenge,” beyond which lies “overwhelm.” Noting when you’re overwhelmed and returning to comfort, growth, and challenge is key. Expanding these two zones is vital. You can do that with mindful self-compassion.
- Cultivating compassion. Committing to inner and outer action to alleviate suffering also helps keep us in the “growth zone.”
- Mindful self-compassion break, soothing touch. These techniques, outlined in the video below and the references, can help shift a moment of suffering into one of compassion and acceptance.
- RAIN of self-compassion. Recognize a difficult emotion, accept and allow it, investigate with kindness, and nurture that distressed emotion.
- The S.T.O.P. method. Stop. Take three breaths. Observe. Proceed with Presence.
- The SCOPE method. From somatic experiencing. Slow down. Connect to your body. Orient. Pendulate (shift awareness from the point of tension to the point of ease). Engage (socially and otherwise).
- Contemplative practices to be with suffering and use it as an opportunity for personal and relational growth.
- Acknowledging vulnerability; breaking silence; asking for help; getting therapy and support.
- Institutional and cultural remedies. As above.
- Build these five things. Mindfulness, compassion, relationship, creativity, and insight.
(c) 2023 Ravi Chandra, M.D., D.F.A.P.A.
To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
1. Self-compassion break by Kristin Neff, Ph.D.
2. Soothing or supportive touch by Kristin Neff, Ph.D.