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Therapists and mental health professionals work tirelessly to provide compassionate and clinically informed care to our clients. However, the constant demands of the job can take a toll on our own well-being and mental health.

Managing stress and emotional burnout is essential for mental health professionals to maintain their own mental health and continue providing high-quality care to their clients. In this guide from a fellow therapist, we’ll explore some effective strategies for managing stress, emotional burnout and advocating for yourself in the workplace.

Recognize the signs of burnout

Emotional burnout is a common experience among mental health professionals, and it’s important for therapists to recognize the signs in order to prevent or manage it. Emotional burnout can manifest in several ways, including physical and emotional exhaustion, decreased job satisfaction, cynicism, irritability, feelings of detachment, and a decrease in empathy for clients.

Therapists may also experience a lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating, and an overall sense of hopelessness. Additionally, therapists may feel like they’re losing their sense of purpose or passion for their work. Recognizing these signs is essential for preventing emotional burnout and seeking support when necessary. If therapists are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important for them to take action and prioritize their own mental health.

Practice self-care

As much as emotional burnout is often the result on unrealistic expectations for “productivity” in our work with clients, it is important to remember to advocate for your own needs both in the workplace and in our lives outside of our work roles. While we may need to rest when feeling the emotional and physical exhaustion relating to burnout, it is also important to create time for self-care in the form of activities that can help us to ground with our bodies and experience in the present moment.

Self-care and engaging in pleasant and enjoyable activities outside of work is essential for managing stress and emotional burnout. Make sure to create time for activities that bring you joy and relaxation, such as exercise, meditation, spending time with loved ones, or pursuing a hobby. It can be helpful to add these activities to your schedule to create time for them.

It’s important to allow yourself to prioritize self-care, create balance between work and life and not let work take over all aspects of your life. This can be a challenge when experiencing an overwhelming workload in some workplaces and it is important to advocate for your needs and set boundaries in the workplace when possible.

If your boss or workplace is unwilling to have a conversation about your needs and boundaries surrounding your workload, it may be a wise time to start looking into employment in private practice or an agency that values the needs of their employees.

Set boundaries

Setting boundaries is another important strategy for managing stress and emotional burnout in your relationships both inside and outside of the workplace. Spend some time reflecting on your caseload and work responsibilities to determine what roles and how much work feels comfortable to you.

Communicate clearly about what you can and cannot do in terms of work responsibilities in order to advocate for your needs and set boundaries with your workplace. It’s important to say no when you’re feeling overwhelmed or overworked. Remember, it’s okay to be human and necessary to take time for yourself and your needs to be able to continue working in the helping profession in the long term.

Use the DEARMAN skill in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) to set boundaries in at work when experiencing burnout or overwhelm with your workload. The following script is an example of how to have a conversation at work to set boundaries with your boss.

D: Describe the situation

“Hi, I wanted to talk to you about my workload. I have been feeling overwhelmed lately and I would like to discuss how we can address this together.”

E: Express how you feel

“I have been feeling stressed and burnt out lately, and I am worried that this will affect my ability to do my job effectively.”

A: Assert your needs

“I would like to discuss ways we can work together to adjust my workload, so that I can better manage my stress levels and continue to provide quality work.”

R: Reinforce with a reason why it will benefit your employer

“I value my work here and want to continue to be an effective team member. I believe that by addressing my workload we can improve my ability to do my job well and maintain a positive work environment.”

M: Mindful of the outcome

“I understand that workload is important to manage, and I am willing to work with you to find a solution that works for everyone.”

A: Appear confident

“I am confident that together we can find a solution that addresses my workload needs, while still ensuring that all necessary tasks are completed.”

N: Negotiate to get your needs met

“I was wondering if we could discuss options such as adjusting deadlines or delegating some tasks to other team members. Would that be possible?”

Seek support

Seeking support is crucial for managing stress and emotional burnout from working in the helping profession. This can include talking to a trusted colleague, seeking supervision, or even seeing a therapist yourself. Remember, therapy is for everyone and it is just as important for therapist’s to seek support as it is for the clients we serve.

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Practice mindfulness and self-compassion

Mindfulness is another effective strategy for managing stress and emotional burnout. By focusing on the present moment, you can reduce anxiety and increase feelings of calm and relaxation. Mindfulness can include practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or simply taking a few moments to pause and focus on your breath.

When facing overwhelm and burnout at work, it can be tempting to push through and keep going until you reach the breaking point. However, a more effective approach is to practice self-compassion. This involves treating yourself with kindness and understanding, just as you would a good friend.

Rather than criticizing yourself for not being able to handle the workload, take a step back and acknowledge that burnout is a natural consequence of excessive stress and emotional overwhelm from supporting others.

Give yourself permission to be human and permission to struggle in this often overwhelming and emotionally taxing work. It is important to allow yourself to take breaks and prioritize self-care and meeting your own emotional needs. By treating yourself with compassion, you can navigate overwhelm and burnout with greater ease and resilience, and in turn, show up to help others more effectively.

Managing stress and emotional burnout is crucial for mental health professionals to maintain their own well-being and provide the best care for their clients. By recognizing the signs of burnout, practicing self-care, setting boundaries, seeking support, and practicing mindfulness and self-compassion, mental health professionals can continue to provide compassionate care while also taking care of themselves.

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