…But first, burnout. You know what it is and I’m not going to be discussing the “topic” of burnout. Instead I want to share with you how I missed it, what it taught me and what my subsequent sabbatical gave me. But just to be clear, The Mayo Clinic says that job burnout “is a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”1 No shock there, right? But as much as we TALK (read as “preach”) about burnout, why does it so often feel like it sneaks up on us…or is that just me?? 🤷🏼 With such an affliction that actually has the word 🔥 BURN 🔥 in it…you’d suppose we would feel the heat of the flames licking at our soul long before we find ourselves full-on ablaze. But, alas, we often do not.
As a clinician and practice owner who treats primarily trauma, I have told myself I try really hard to be mindful of self-care. Most of the time I think that’s pretty true. However, when my own life started throwing some big, scary stuff my way…somehow I lost sight of nearly ALL of it. I’m going to share these things with you not to call on sympathies but to hopefully help you NOT do the same thing I did. 🤗 If you are reading this you probably know my two core values are authenticity and gratitude…which is why I feel so compelled to share all of this with you, my fellow clinician-and-practice-owner-friends. 💕 I want to share my authentic burnout experience and what I did about it with you. I’m so grateful we can all be on this journey together!
When my step-dad was diagnosed with a deadly brain cancer 19 months ago, it was hard. When my mom began dealing with some big-deal-health-things around the same time, it got harder. When my husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease 11 months ago…well, that was a gut punch. In January 2021, I changed my clinical scheduled to every-other-week believing that would mostly solve the problem (and I clung to that “belief” like a sock static-clinging to a shirt fresh out of the dryer)...And I kept going (please do not do this).
Then, just a few months later, I had my third bout with melanoma, this one spread outside its original site – that was the cherry on top. I think the breaking point for me was somewhere right before or right after my husband’s diagnosis, but I am not totally sure…And I kept going (again, please don’t).
Six months ago I KNEW I needed a REAL break. “Felt in my soul, many consecutive days off plus lots of alone time” kind of break. But I told myself, “I’ll have down time next weekend,” or “I’ll take a day to do crafty projects next week,” but somehow those plans often got thwarted. I think I was thwarting them myself – staying busy so I didn’t have acknowledge or truly feel all the grief and fear that had been welling up in my personal life…down to my soul. I was in that ugly, nasty, dark place where the pressure was building inside but I wasn’t truly letting any real pressure out of the “release valve.” Then, like the good little “pressure cooker” our emotional selves can sometimes be…the pressure got too high. Ka-BOOM.💣
Three months ago I did something that SCARED THE HELL out of me: I notified my clients that I would be taking a clinical sabbatical for 4-8 weeks – I wasn’t sure how much time I’d need when I began the discussions (also awkward and frightening to me). I decided to just be awkward. I was transparent about having three very significant, ongoing medical situations for which I was now the primary circus ring leader (err, uhh, caregiver…but it feels more like a circus some days 🤣). And you know what….ALL of my clients came through this time with me. AND they were all OK. In fact, nearly half of them thanked me for modeling what “taking care of yourself” looks like. 🤯 It blew me away. As these conversations went on, we had some powerful discussions and planned for how we would move through this time together. I believe it actually further strengthened our therapeutic relationships in many cases, even those who I had to refer out due to a much needed reduction in my case load.
1. I was most definitely “burned out,” but more than that I had to take time to get honest with myself about how much clinical work I still TRULY wanted to do. The answer: not much. 😭 Oh wow…cue grief avalanche here. But ya know what, I got back on my own therapist’s calendar and started working through all that with intention. Ironic for a girl who’s primary core value is authenticity – I realized I’d not been being authentic with the most important person about this topic: ME! Turns out I’d been denying that clinical work (especially at this level coupled with my personal emotional load with family caregiving) isn’t where my heart is anymore. I want to continue clinical work but I was dying to invest more in The Primed Practice and the creative part of my business. And that is OK.
2. It’s ok to fall apart. It’s ok to be overwhelmed or raw. But above all else, be honest with yourself about where you are RIGHT NOW. We can burn a lot of energy trying NOT to fall apart; however, so many times the “fall apart” part is necessary. Don’t waste all your energy denying it (I think this may be where the flames of burnout are licking our soul while we force ourselves into ignorant bliss). This reminds me of the Japanese art form, “Kintsugi” - where broken pottery is mended by using lacquer combined with precious metal dust to create a new, beautiful piece of work. But it can only be created after it is broken.
3. You AND your clients will make it through to the other side (and dare I say, y’all may be better for it). It’s scary step to take, there is no doubt. It is vulnerable and leaves us feeling exposed. But it’s also the way to true clarity so you can continue on in your purpose – so you can keep helping the people you are so passionate about helping.
My "some-may-seem-obvi" Tips - You know, the kind of "tips" that are easy to say, hard to catch & follow through on? In other words, intellectually obvious but emotionally beyond frightening (at least for many of us🙋) to DO. I’m gonna just skip over the exercise, eat well, good sleep habits, yadda yadda yadda stuff…
AWARENESS: Know what a REAL break is for yourself. Sounds easy but it’s not, especially when life feels like it keeps kicking you in the teeth. Take some time to do a deep-dive on what is restorative for yourself. Make a list and keep it handy!! Revisit it even when you don’t “need” to so you can stay PRIMED on the “menu options” you’re creating for yourself and the wellbeing of YOU (and your business). THEN time block this on your calendar or planner and keep the appointment with yourself like you would keep an appointment with a client!!
KNOWLEDGE: Give yourself a lil’ peace of mind. Go ahead right now and KNOW you will take some extended time out of the office to take care of yourself. Rather than thinking “I may not ever need that” (as in I’ll just just soldier on); plan for this as part of your expected experience as a private practice clinicians/owner! When we start out KNOWING we have this plan, it can make it not-so-hard to exercise it as a REAL option when we start feeling the burn 🔥.
a. Put 10% of your pay (or more if you can) into your "self-care fund" every pay period. Don't have a "self-care fund"? Start one! Build your reserves so if you find yourself needing an extended break, you can give yourself the due care you deserve.
b. Take time off every month, especially if you think “I can’t right now.” THAT is when you really need it most, my friend.
ACTION: When the need for time off FIRST crosses your mind, pay attention and TAKE ACTION. When you notice yourself thinking of taking a little time off…do that! ASAP! When you’ve taken some time off but it feels like it wasn't enough: rinse and repeat. Don't forget that you will be not only taking care of yourself, but you'll also be modeling very healthy habits for your clients (heck, your friends and family too)!! WIN-WIN.
PRO TIP BONUS: Get help! I'm not talking about occasionally (although that is better than none at all). Personally, for me, the answer was finding an awesome VIRTUAL ASSISTANT! A VA can and will absolutely help take some of the burn out of your daily, weekly and monthly activities. I know, I know…you have to spend a little time upfront to teach him/her/them what and how you need help but believe me when I tell you THIS is a game changer. If your hourly rate is $150 for clients, then for every hour you spending doing admin work (at $150 a pop) but you could pay a VA $30, $40 or even $50 an hour to do it while you see clients (or better yet – TAKE A BREAK) and you will STILL be coming out "ahead"!! It’s money VERY well spent!! Save yourself for the things that require your CEO-self and or your clinical-self. Outsource the rest!
At the end of the day we can only provide great care for people when WE are taking fantastic care of ourselves first. If you are depleted, trust me it **IS** impacting your therapeutic rapport and quite likely outcomes too. Of course that impact will certainly have a negative result in the business you have poured your blood, sweat and tears into to build. You deserve better, my friend. Your clients need you and we need you in our community, so please take good care of YOU. 💕