Burnout is a word we’re hearing more and more – across industries and around the world. But do you know what it means and what you can do to reduce your workplace stress?
According to Dr Dunay Schmulian, Director of Audiology at Metro South Health in Australia, “burnout” often isn’t the right term at all. In the framework she recommends in our University Course module on this subject, burnout is more associated with conditions beyond the individual’s control, such as long work hours or an unsympathetic boss.
While these do need addressing, there are other types of stress and struggle that can be tackled – and prevented – by hearing care professionals themselves.
There’s compassion fatigue, for example: the profound emotional and physical exhaustion that helping professionals and caregivers can develop over the course of their careers.
Or vicarious trauma: when a professional’s fundamental beliefs about the world are altered and possibly damaged after working with clients who have experienced trauma.
These can be serious, and if you think you are already suffering from one of them, do seek professional help.
Otherwise, there are simple tools that can help prevent you from experiencing compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma – and the stress, exhaustion, and anger that often come with them.
Here are some of the tools Dr Schmulian recommends.
The wellness wheel
There are many aspects to wellness, including social, spiritual, environmental, emotional, intellectual, and physical. You can create your own wellness wheel with the aspects that are most important and relevant to you, and decide on a specific goal for each, e.g. “I want to consistently add exercise to my life.” Give yourself a time period to achieve these – and check back in regularly.
Empathy is a key element in delivering person-centered care. However, when unchecked or unconscious, it can impact us emotionally and physically – and this can happen easily. When actively listening to a client, you may start mirroring their posture or facial expression, and therefore start unconsciously empathizing with their physical and emotional state.
It’s important to break this habit, which you can do by paying attention to your own posture, expression, and breathing during clinical encounters, and consciously un-mirroring. You can sit up straight, cross or uncross your legs, change your breathing (usually by slowing it down), take a drink of water, or perform a subtle stretch, for example.
A warning scale
Stress and fatigue manifest differently in different people. It’s important for professionals to recognize the physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms in themselves – and to check in with this list regularly. Behavioral symptoms could include forgetfulness, irritability, missing work, or problems in personal relationships.
None of these on their own indicate a serious problem – but a combination might. For each symptom, ask yourself when you last experienced it, how severe it was, why you think it happens, what strategy you have for dealing with it, and, importantly, what an early warning sign looks like.
Take a look at the Ida Institute University Course module on clinician well-being for more information. And look out for our new online course on this topic – coming soon to the Ida Learning Hall.