by Dr. Lorin Bradbury
Question: I’m a professional with an advanced degree. I have always been excited about the work I do, so I have never really given much thought to burnout. With that being said, over the past couple of months, I seem to be losing the joy of going to work and wonder if I might be burning out? I am hoping the love for my work will return, but I am also hoping you might shed some light on what burnout is and how I might avoid it.
Answer: So that we are both on the same page, I will begin with a definition of burnout. Burnout is described as “a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.”
With that being said, you may not yet have reached burnout, but you may be bumping against it. And now is the time to evaluate what is stealing your joy of work, or life in general.
To avoid burning out, it is important to establish good self-care habits before you burn out. Remember, everyone has the same number of hours in a day and that you only have so many hours in a day.
You did not say what your profession is, but with an advanced degree, it is possible you are involved in interaction with people. If not, it may be a workload that has reached a level that you never feel like you complete anything. The nice thing about building houses or other concrete objects is that you see a finished product. When working with people, you rarely see the final outcome. If you are helping people, they often disappear when they feel better and you rarely get to see the outcome of your work.
So, it is very important that you block time that is “your time” and don’t let anyone or anything take from that. During that time, you may want to work on a hobby or project that you can admire when finished. Or maybe you simply enjoy reading something you can finish that is not professional in nature.
Learn to turn your phone off. If you have a job where it is expected that you can be reached in an emergency, such as some mental health professionals, leave a message on your voicemail with an emergency number the person can call other than you.
You also have to learn how to gracefully say “no” to more work than you can physically and emotionally handle. When you live in a community for many years, you become more and more connected with that community. It has been said that if you want to get a job done, find the busiest person in the community and they will get it done. Yes, they may get it done, but at an expense to them. There are people that actually leave communities they love because they don’t know how to say “no.”
Prioritize the things you have put upon yourself and do only the most important in a given amount of time. Allow the less important to drop off. If they are important, someone else will pick them up.
Lastly, it is important ever so often to take time to reflect on why you went into your profession. What was the reason you became a nurse, physician, mental health worker, or teacher? Return to that original call and purpose for going into your career field. Allow yourself to get excited all over again without the weights you have allowed to creep into your life.
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]