You want to help people feel better. I get it. In helping professions, it is what drives us- seeing others learn how to help themselves and feel better in their bodies, minds, and lives. But, as a helper, we run the risk of burning out if we do not focus our attention on taking care of ourselves first. Believe me, from personal experience I can tell you about burnout and the effects it can have on every aspect of your life.
As a former sexual abuse trauma counselor for children and teens, I had a choice to make. I could make some major changes in how I took care of myself or I could live a life full of compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, inflammation, poor coping and numbing, and damaged relationships. For burnout prevention, good health habits are key.
Burnout is a term that has been thrown around a lot in the last few years, but in the helping profession, it is seen as a very serious issue that can require a long, slow journey to heal. Research in the field of mental health shows that the probability of burnout for professionals is pretty bleak: “as many as 2 out of 3 mental health workers may be experiencing high levels of burnout.” Burnout is also a state that does not happen overnight. It is a slow, divisive, and non-discriminating process that will steal your joy, passion, and energy.
It can feel selfish as a helper to express when we need time to take care of ourselves. We have dedicated our time and energy to helping others. But, we also know (and we often say it to our clients) that if we don’t help ourselves, we can’t help anyone else. In the medical field, we are seeing that burnout occurs due to not only the high demand of people in need, but also due to the high expectations that are placed on doctors and nurses to be able to push through and handle erratic hours, inconsistent meal times, and the physical demands of the job. However, anyone in a helping and wellness role is also at risk for burnout if helping others takes priority over self-care.
Coaches and practitioners can fall into the same personally unhelpful patterns of putting the needs of others over their own. Taking time regularly to check in, notice what the body is asking for, and scheduling self-care time will allow all helping professionals to keep going at optimal levels.
Practicing the daily habits of dinacharya is an effective way to overcome and prevent burnout as we engage in the crucial practice of uncompromising self-care. Studies done on burnout recovery/prevention and the recommendations made for doctors, nurses, and mental health therapists all fall into line with these habits of dinacharya. Giving ourselves permission to focus on getting our minds and bodies back into sync with nature’s rhythm is just what the doctor (or mental health professional) ordered.
Let’s take a look at the recommendations for burnout recovery and prevention and how those recommendations align with practicing the ancient science of dinacharya:
- Get enough sleep. When I was acting as a sexual abuse trauma counselor in a residential treatment facility for youth, I was emotionally and physically exhausted every day, but I could not sleep. My nervous system was fried and my poor sleep hygiene habits made “winding down” nearly impossible. Going to bed early teaches us ways to honor the body’s natural ways to get ready for sleep and how to support those rhythms.
- Make exercise a priority. Moving the body can help the mind and the body cope with mental, emotional, and physical stress. Exercise can balance anxious energy, clear stagnation, clear the perspective, and allow a time-out from everything else that is going on. The habit of Breath Body Practices teaches how to vary exercise modes and intensities to meet the individual’s needs.
- Eat whole, nutrient-filled foods. Plant Based Diet teaches us about using food as fuel and focusing on feeding our cells with prana-filled plants and well-sourced, organic meats if meat is in our diet. In addition, Earlier Lighter Dinner teaches us to work with our body’s ability to digest and assimilate the food we take in and the habit of Healthier Eating Guidelines educates us on eating seasonally and giving our digestive system a break between meals.
- Meditate. When our nervous system is fried and our minds seem to be in overdrive, meditation can seem challenging, but imperative to help reboot. The good news is that there are many different types of meditation, so again, we want to find the version that fits best. Research shows that the benefits of meditation are many, including rewiring the brain, reducing inflammation, and directing us toward more happiness.
- Take a break from technology. Creating a night time routine in alignment with our body’s need to wind down from stimulation and meditation both correlate with unplugging from the constant influx of information, expectations, and blue light that come from our society’s addiction to technology and screens.
- Look for opportunities for self-discovery and nurture a positive view of yourself. In the habit of Self-Massage, we are learning how to literally get in touch with ourselves and to become friends with our bodies. We are learning self-love and nurturing ourselves with both self-compassion and oil. With the habit of self-massage, we have an opportunity for self-discovery built right in to our daily schedule.
- Setting boundaries, use support, and reframing one’s view of the work to find more meaning can all be addressed in the habit of Easeful Living. As humans raised in our competitive and judgmental society, we often take on the belief that things “have to be” difficult and that we will be “good enough” when something outside of us occurs or deems that we are. Recognizing how we make things harder on ourselves can shift everything. Giving in to impossible expectations, allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of, and putting the job before ourselves can lead to burn out quickly. We can begin to isolate and feel like no one else could possibly understand. When we are burned out and feeling fried, it can also be difficult to see that we are making a difference in what we are doing and to find the meaning in continuing at all. Taking care of ourselves first, reaching out to make connection with others, and reframing our perspective around finding value in our work all come when we believe that we can live with more ease.
Regardless of your exact role as a helping professional, we must attend to our own needs to be able to effectively attend to the needs of others. In addition to the habits of dinacharya, things like spending time in nature, scheduling time for activities that bring joy, and connecting with others who can relate to what we are experiencing are all helpful ways to stoke the inner fire of joy and health without burning it out.
We must remember that burnout didn’t happen overnight and it certainly won’t be resolved overnight, so using the practice of Kaizen allows us to take it one step at a time to and recognize that the small changes will add up to big progress. If you are experiencing symptoms of burnout, you are not alone and things can get better. Take some time to look at your daily habits and make one small change this week toward supporting your own natural rhythm.