Michelle Rupp: Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of AFMC TV. We’re glad you’re joining us today this morning, we’re going to talk about burnout, and joining us is the friend of the show, Ken Clark with Chenal Family Therapy. Hi Ken, thanks for joining us.
Ken Clark: Oh, glad to be here, important topic.
MR: It is important, and it’s a word that’s always been in our vocabulary, “burnout,” but it seems like it’s a real hot button word now. We’re hearing it more and more and more. Let’s talk about the essence of just what is burnout and who all does it impact?
KC: Yeah, I think there’s probably a misconception or overuse in all our minds that that burnout is simply not liking to do a job or doing something over and over. Burnout, though, when we look at it probably from a clinical point of view and as it affects all the humans that we work with, it’s that deep down exhaustion, that growing sense of hopelessness and repetitiveness, that life is a Groundhog Day, that we can’t escape. That begins to seep into people when their situation is not changing for the better. And though we think of it mostly applying to work, stay-at-home parents, and retirees who struggle with having a change of scenery from day to day, all these folks can experience burnout. So, it’s not just somebody working the factory lines or working double shifts at the hotel. All humans can get to the point, whatever setting they’re in, even kids, where there is that growing sense of internal weariness that begins to compound on itself. That’s really what makes burnout so tough is that it begins taking away from tomorrow’s energy before we even get there. So, we show up more and more tired, more and more hopeless, and more and more exhausted.
MR: That’s an awful description of burnout. Accurate though it may be, that’s a horrible description. What statistically are we finding? I know you said this can even impact kids. It’s not just an adult problem.
KC: Yeah. At any given point, we think about 40% of the population is struggling with some level of burnout. A very high level and 75% of people in their life will go through some level of prolonged burnout. We think those numbers are even higher with the pandemic. And we won’t really know those statistics until we get on the other side of it. That means that one out of every two or three people that you bump into is battling burnout. And if you’re battling burnout yourself, you’re so incredibly normal. And we know it’s not just limited to the folks on the front lines or kids sitting through an English class they hate. Teachers, middle managers, CEOs, all these folks, therapists, mental health professionals, they’re all struggling with burnout. It’s widespread, which means we need to be talking about it more and for sure shaming ourselves less when we feel it. The myth that we need to be strong and push through doesn’t match the reality of how many people are struggling with this.
MR: So, if this is the reality, and so many as you said, are dealing with this and we won’t know how many more are dealing with it until later, post-pandemic. What’s the answer? There’s got to be hope. How do we turn this tide
KC: Yeah, there are answers and there is hope. It’s also not easy. You know, there used to be a million songs about quitting jobs and working 9-5, I think Dolly Parton sang about, right? It’s not as easy as just quitting a job or dropping a class or deciding that we’re going to take one thing off our plate.
What we know is that folks that are battling with burnout have trouble evaluating the situation without some outside perspective. That doesn’t necessarily mean an outside expert, but it means somebody who can look at your life and make sure that you’re not grasping at solutions because when we get burnt out, we get exhausted. We know that the way we’re living our life is not the way we wanted to. Anything becomes a possibility, and we see people compound burnout by jumping from one magic solution to another. If I can just quit this job, then I’ll be good. It turns out everybody’s dealing with burnout everywhere. So, you’re just trading one problem for another. What we know is you’ve got to talk to people about what’s going on inside you. Friends, family, a therapist, it doesn’t matter but once we start processing these things out loud other people can help us navigate that.
Number two. We know that the coping mechanisms that a lot of people are using to deal with burnout are making burnout worse. A long day at work that felt meaningless leads to a late-night of watching Netflix because we want some enjoyment in our life. And now we’re in bed at one a.m. because we binge-watch the next hottest thing on tv. Now we start the next day more tired. Or we have one extra drink, or we do margarita night eleven too many nights each week and that begins to take its toll. We know that that we need to take a hard look at the coping mechanisms and sometimes that’s where that outside perspective really makes a difference. The things that we’re holding on to survive are the very things that we need to let go of to reduce our burnout and get clarity.
Lastly, we need to re-center ourselves around what our purpose is. We know that purpose dramatically affects people’s sense of burnout, or their ability to be resilient and work against it. Purposeful people can work these incredibly long days, leave everything on the court and show up and do it again and again and again because they feel a passion about it. Many of us in the middle of this have lost our sense of purpose. So, wherever we find it, whether it’s our houses of worship, or in reading the great books, or getting out on the side of a mountain and rediscovering how beautiful our state is, those things help us center and remember who we are and why we are and where we are in this journey. And that’s incredibly important because without purpose, even a light workload, a light schedule will tax our souls and with purpose, we know we can survive and enjoy just about anything.
MR: I would suspect if you were experiencing any level of burnout now would not be the time to make any major decisions.
KC: You would think. We are in the middle of what sociologists are calling the great resignation. Over the next year, they expect a third of all workers to change jobs. That’s mind-blowing. That’s terrifying for me as somebody who runs a company. But we know that shaking up the snow globe doesn’t necessarily bring about change in the long run. It may feel like change when we get energized by change, but again, all we’re doing is trading jobs with somebody at another company who’s miserable. If I’m quitting my job and taking theirs and they’re quitting their job and taking mine, we’re probably back in the same spot. So again, that centering is important because change without direction, change for the sake of change only increases the stress on our lives. If it’s time to consider a new career, a move, or downsizing, or whatever, you need to make sure it matches with your “why.” Otherwise, you’re going to give yourself an anesthetic for a little while and find yourself back in the same spot.
MR: The grass isn’t always greener. Sometimes we need to water the grass were in and make that green.
KC: Right. Well and that greener grass usually needs to be mowed, right? There’s a workload that goes with greener grass. As they say, there’s a lot of manure on that side of the fence. Maybe that’s why it’s greener.
MR: That’s right. Let’s talk about vacation time and using vacation time. This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I’m a huge proponent. There are probably previous employers that I’ve worked for, that, I still owe them for vacation time that I took that maybe I shouldn’t have or didn’t have the days. But that is almost the exception, not the rule. People don’t take vacation time for whatever reason. But it sounds like that is such a huge component in helping to fight burnout.
KC: Yeah. So, in the westernized modern world we are one of the lousiest at taking time off. We found that even these progressive companies that are offering unlimited PTO, people still don’t take it. So, the presence of PTO is not necessarily the problem. What a lot of us do is, wherever it comes from, internal pressure, management, our own need to contribute and not be viewed as a slacker … We don’t take that time. But if we do, one of the things that we tend to do in our culture, which doesn’t help, is we go 51 weeks without taking a break, take a week off travel, which is stressful. We jam our family into a little hotel room, spend a bunch of money that we maybe don’t have, and think that’s somehow going to be relaxing. That’s a recipe for disaster, right? They make movies about people that try and do that. What we think is that people more and more need to take mini-vacations throughout the year, right? Take an extra day off here, take three-day weekends, take a half-day, take a middle of the week, mental health day, but break that up so that you recharge. A lot of us are getting to vacation and we can’t even relax because we’re so cued up, we’re so exhausted, and by the way, we’ve got to be back at work in five days and that’s just not recharging. Our biggest advice is to vacation more in smaller amounts. Take some days and just hide in the house. Take staycations. It’s less of an impact when you disappear one day a month than when you disappeared eight or 10 days once a year. There’s less to catch up on, which is less stressful. We love vacations. Spread them out.
MR: I couldn’t have said that better myself. Is there any point where burnout requires some type of chemical medication to help juggle everything that’s going on?
KC: We are coming to recognize more and more that the human nervous system, the brain, and everything else, which is where depression or burnout exists, is very sensitive to the environment around us. That is both the physical aesthetics and all that, but other people, stress, and things like that. We know people who are in stressful situations, their brain chemistry gets impacted. It’s not simply a matter of are you strong enough to resist it or look past it. If you lock yourself in a dark room all day every day for months, it’s going to affect your mental health chemically in the same way if you are trapped in situations that don’t feel hopeful. Pieces of your brain begin to struggle. And so yes, absolutely. There are points where folks dealing with chronic burnout might need a short-term boost from some medication. We know that that trying medication isn’t a life sentence. There are a lot of folks who are afraid that once I do this, I’m always doing this. There are a lot of people who very successfully use antidepressants and some of these other medications to just kind of clear space for a season of their life. Maybe three months, six months, a year. And once they get their feet back on the ground, they can reevaluate whether they need that medication. So, absolutely. We recommend talking to your PCP, your OB-Gyn, your therapist, or a psychiatrist about whether medication might help you get over the hump and reboot.
MR: As we wrap up, just those few takeaways, talk to somebody, take your PTO …
KC: Sleep. Lighten up on the coping mechanisms. Those are the key ones. And again, like so many things mental health, we get locked in our head and say that this is just us when the reality is, it’s almost everybody around you and one of the single best things you can do for your mental health is to stop pretending like these problems are isolated to us and start speaking up so that everyone feels safe to say, Oh, wow, that’s me too.
MR: All right, Ken Clark. Thank you.