Burnout: A Preventable Phenomenon

The odds are high that burnout will strike someone you know at some point in their career. Indeed, staff at all levels are at increased risk for this stress syndrome because of the intensity of the work and the emotional bonds formed while working. Budget cuts sometimes force staff to take on greater responsibilities, leaving fewer resources to replenish themselves. Not commonly discussed and often misunderstood this ailment is afflicting our nation’s education staff, driving the brightest, most energetic from the field. It can transform an otherwise enthusiastic counselor into someone who is cynical, unmotivated and going through the motions.
Ruth Luban MA.says stress and burnout are an occupational hazard in the helping professions in that staff tends to give too much with too few rewards. Burnout is an elusive problem that slowly wears down the body and spirit of the suffering individual and eventually negatively impacts a schools functioning. The children we serve ultimately suffer as a result. Counselors are in a key position to recognize symptoms early on reducing staff turnover and creating an optimal atmosphere for children to flourish.
There are a myriad of strategies to help staff cope with this occupational stress. First and foremost this insidious malady can be prevented if we recognize the symptoms early on. Just who is a candidate for burnout? The answer is none of us are immune. But through early detection we don’t have to become a casualty.
Burnout is not an ephemeral situation we experience after a difficult day. It is a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual exhaustion caused by very demanding work. It does not occur overnight. We all have days when we are feeling uninspired by our work. Ruth Luban a burnout specialist and author of Burnout: Keeping the Fire, recognize the symptoms, reduce your risk and reclaim your life emphasizes that “burnout is a process, not an event: it happens over a long period of time as the result of chronic, unrelenting stress” It begins with small warning signals. If unheeded these symptoms can progress-tending to spread into all aspects of ones life. Before this happens it’s critical to recognize the signs and make changes. What causes one staff member to burnout and another to walk away unscathed isan’t that easy to predict-but research says there are predispositions. Those with the highest motivation and ardor for their work are most susceptible. In their book “Career Burnout: Causes and Cures Ayala Pines and Elliot Aronson contend “in order to burn out, a person needs to have been on fire at one time.” Having goals that are too high or unrealistic is a common pitfall and a powerful antecedent to burnout. Burnout is most likely to afflict those who started out being the most idealistic and caring. Ruth Luban MA, a burnout specialist located in Laguna Beach, Ca., describes the typical burnout victim as one who is “idealistic, perfectionist and overly committed to his or her work” They are the brightest most capable and committed workers, who give 100% to any project they undertake” she adds. The person most susceptible to burnout are those who approach their career as a calling, a place from which to derive a strong sense of meaning or purpose. This individual is the quintessential Type A personality –a striver with high energy ,creativity and dedication,typically bright ,talented …..it’s when an excess of these productive qualities is given to one’s job at the expense of other parts of their life that the inexorable process of burnout is set in motion”
If left unidentified burnout is imminent. Burnout can impair judgment, impact our moods and distort our ability to evaluate situations objectively. These are skills we rely upon to be effective with students, parents and colleagues. Idealism and enthusiasm may become cynicism; self-responsibility may turn to blaming others; and cooperation can disappear in distrust. You may experience more frequent intense feelings of unhappiness, powerlessness, isolation: frustration and physical and emotional exhaustion. Your attention span gets shorter and your tolerance level decreases. The youth we serve seem to need more and more of us, yet we are less and less willing to go the extra mile. You may find yourself going through the motions, doing as little as possible to get through the day. Eventually, you may lose your commitment to those who rely on you. It is vital to recognize the red flags of the early stages of burnout. If we do recognize symptoms early on we can catch it before we lose yet another dedicated staff member. We can help staff regain balance instead of a long recovery period. Ruth Luban says people who approach their career from a sense of contribution, who see their jobs as an opportunity to innovate, people with a great deal of empathy and compassion-are most likely to burnout. She adds, “Recognizing burnout requires an understanding of the physical, mental and emotional characteristics. True burnout has a certain degree of all three components below.”

Physical characteristics: low energy, chronic fatigue, somatic complaints such as chronic headaches,
Increased susceptibility to illness, back pains, nausea, muscle tension, changes in eating habits and
sleep difficulties.

Emotional characteristics: Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, irritable, trapped, feeling of emptiness, nothing left to give, irritability, disenchantment and loneliness

Mental characteristics: Self-critical. Cynical, indecisive, pessimistic, negative judgments of others
With more demands on educators than ever before and a desire to be all things to all people, often stretching ourselves too thin, many are experiencing early symptoms of burnout. Even newcomers aren’t immune. Sadly for some it may mean leaving the field. Yet for most the cure is to recognize the red flags of burnout and to find ways to rekindle the passion they once felt for their work. . If you have noticed some of the warning signs in yourself or a colleague it’s crucial to begin practicing these tips before reaching the point of throwing in the towel.

Maintain Healthy habits- Regular exercise is a good way to relieve stress, any form of aerobics
Pilate’s or yoga, eat a sensible diet, and get lots of rest; lack of sleep can leave your nerves raw and in no shape to meet the challenges of teaching today, when you’re not at your best your work will suffer

Practice Time Management- Use your time wisely. Don’t try to do everything at once, set goals that are challenging but realistic, avoid procrastinating; the feeling of accomplishment will energize you,
Stay aware and assess your level of stress regularly and take steps to reduce it when it’s high, make a list of what you need to do and prioritize, lean how to delegate and practice the word No it’s not a crime to refuse requests or demands on your time occasionally, if over involved take steps to reduce commitments
to conserve your energy

Take a break- Don’t be afraid to take a time out, to take a moment and replenish your energy. Every day make an appointment with yourself that cannot be broken, to reflect. Practice stress relieving techniques or relaxation exercises, do things you enjoy, sounds simple but many teachers forget to have fun, develop a hobby, read a good book, visit with friends, schedule leisure time, set aside time everyday for personal recreation.

Learn something New & Different- If you feel stuck in a rut broaden your knowledge, master a new skill to keep excitement alive. If you have always longed to write, start an article of your teaching experience, or take a class in something you’ve always wanted to learn, choose a stimulating activity that is a complete change of pace.

Give yourself permission to be imperfect- Be kind to yourself; acknowledge and celebrate your successes, and make allowances for your shortcomings

Collaborate with colleagues- Avoid cutting yourself off from the valuable idea sharing and support network. Develop or renew intimacies with co-workers, don’t keep frustrations bottled up, sometimes it helps to let it out or ask for guidance, join a professional organization for camaraderie and become an active member

Lighten up! Keep your sense of humor; laughter is good medicine so go ahead laugh at yourself and at those stressors that push your buttons

Get in touch with yourself- Learn to identify when you are driving yourself to hard and when you are depleting your inner resources

Keep the faith – Teaching is not a short-term endeavor, it requires faith to know what you do, does
make a difference!

See the glass as half-full! An optimistic attitude is key to reducing stress and your success.