I was watching this TED talk this morning – it’s about burnout and not really intended for a health professional audience. I had a thought early in the talk and from that point on I couldn’t stop crying.
I guess, having said that, I don’t need to tell you that I’m not in a very good place right now, but I don’t think I have work-related burnout. I have reduced my workload and have recently retired from clinic al practice. I am my own boss. I can control the workplace. Why did this talk make me cry? What was I thinking about?
It was this: “Could it be that you can burnout from the work of suppressing your own emotions?”
Managing your emotions can be hard work
I once had a patient who told me that depression was where she went when she was too exhausted to feel anxious anymore. That patient had quite a severe anxiety disorder. Every day was a struggle. When she was depressed she was able to rest, albeit in another very unpleasant emotional state.
I wonder if some people expend so much energy suppressing their sadness and grief or fighting their negative self-talk that they too need to rest in depression for a while before they can go on.
Could that be part of why medications are only a band-aid for many? Could that be why CBT only works for some?
How does this idea change things?
If I think about my own situation, I can honestly say that if I’d thought about my recurrent depression this way, I might have had a better chance of defeating it. Instead, I got stuck in the biological model. The problem, I had been persuaded, was my neurotransmitters, and all my symptoms were secondary to their imbalance. If that was the case, why weren’t the pills working? Why did they work for a while and then stop working?
Is it possible that something else came first to cause the so-called chemical imbalance and my poor self-esteem, my need for reassurance about my personal worth and my avoidance of any situation that might reinforce my sense of inadequacy by ending in failure was not caused by the depression but in fact was what caused the depression?
I know I’ve come late to the party…
I know that all this is probably too obvious for words. The difficulty for me has been putting this together for myself. I don’t think I’m too bad at working out what’s happening for other people but I’m not so good at looking at myself with an objective eye. My blindness when it comes to my own situation really is a very strong argument that we all need to develop a habit of talking to someone meaningfully about the things that are going on, not just in life, but in our deepest self.
I’ve never really been able to talk to anyone. It’s a point of pride learnt from family members who either didn’t talk at all about emotions or talked too much and became a burden to everyone. Surely no-one wants to hear my stuff!
My experience leads me to ask one thing of you – please don’t keep things to yourself. Don’t be afraid of looking stupid or inadequate. Find someone you can trust to think well of you no matter what and share your concerns with them.
Everyone needs and deserves some kind of support. You don’t have to struggle on alone. Don’t settle for band-aid solutions. Use them when necessary, but also try to attend to the deeper stuff. Don’t let yourself burnout from trying to manage your emotions all alone.
The first help-seeking step is always the hardest. If, as a health professional, you are having trouble finding someone to talk to try The Essential Network or the Hand and Hand Peer Support Network. They are both good starting points.
Discover more about Burnout
In this episode of Digital Mental Health Musings Dr Ruth Crowther and Dr Tania McMahon discuss burnout in clinical practice and how digital tools can help.
This blog article explores what burnout is, how it can be managed or prevented, and shares some useful online resources found on the WellMob website.
Black Dog Institute has 2 upcoming webinars on Navigating Burnout exploring the causes, signs, and impact of burnout for health workers, discussing resources and supports to help with the management of burnout.