Let’s Talk About Burnout

I wrote this post for mental health professionals, but it’s something a lot of people can relate to right now.

Pictured: A master of self-care

The demand for mental health has spiked in the pandemic, and while it is fantastic that people are reaching out, therapists are scrambling to meet the demand. We are living in the same world as our clients, while being that source of support and healing.

To be honest, I am exhausted. Many of my go-to self-care activities aren’t available right now because I live in an area where numbers are rising, and since my husband works as a nurse, we are being extra careful. I decided this week to really explore what burnout looks like for me so that I can be mindful and take care of myself. I owe it to my clients to be at my best, I owe it to my loved ones to have something left to give them at the end of my work day, and I owe it to myself to be well.

I am sharing my burnout levels as a template so that others can think about what their warning signs are. I doubt it’s possible to be Level 0 in 2020, but I left it on anyway to be aspirational.

Burnout Level 0
Everything is good! I feel great and have plenty of energy! The tasks I need to accomplish are getting done. I am doing things I enjoy in my spare time, and I feel good about how I am doing at work. I might be experiencing stress, but it’s typical, daily life things that I can manage easily.

Burnout Level 1
I am experiencing more stress and anxiety. I might not have a lot of extra energy for my hobbies, but I am trying to make time for them. My overall self-care, like making good food choices and keeping up with hygiene, are minimally impacted, and my functioning at work is good. I might not even notice that I’m hitting early burnout.

Burnout Level 2
I have no time or energy for hobbies, socialization, or things I find fun. When I force myself to do these things, I have trouble enjoying them. I am stress eating and not choosing healthy food, I am much more tired than usual, and I might be having trouble sleeping. I might be drinking more alcohol than average. Work is still good, but non-urgent tasks get put off more and more.

Burnout Level 3
My hygiene is taking a hit: I might be showering less and forgetting to brush my teeth. I am either missing meals all together or snacking on “junk” food. I am very tired but take a long time to fall asleep. I am irritable with my loved ones. My focus at work takes a hit; in addition to putting off deadlines, I notice I’m having trouble focusing in meetings but am keeping up in sessions and can push through with enough coffee. I’m also probably drinking too much coffee. I start having physical symptoms, like headaches, stomachaches, and sore throat.

Burnout Level 4
I feel physically sick, very anxious, and have few positive emotions. Things that would be mildly inconvenient normally give me feelings of rage. My sleep schedule is a mess, and although I can push through to the weekend, my work performance is not up to standards. I have no energy to interact with loved ones, socialize, or do activities that I enjoy.

Burnout Level 5
I am not functioning at all and need an immediate leave of absence from work.

I cannot think of a time when I have hit Level 5, fortunately, and I would like to keep it that way. Lately, I think I have entered Level 3. It could be worse, but I have plans in place to ensure I don’t hit Level 4. What are you doing to take care of you right now?

Published by Amy Marschall, Psy.D.

Dr. Amy Marschall received her Psy.D. from the University of Hartford in September 2015. Her clinical interests are varied and include child and adolescent therapy, TF-CBT, rural psychology, telemental health, sexual and domestic violence, psychological assessment, and mental illness prevention. Dr. Marschall presently works in the Child and Adolescent Therapy Clinic at Sioux Falls Psychological Services in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she provides individual and family therapy and psychological assessment to children, adolescents, and college students. She also facilitates an art therapy group for adolescents and college students with anxiety and depression. Dr. Amy Marschall is certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Telemental Health.

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