It’s been a challenging year (or really two for that matter) and school OTs have been impacted just like all other educational professionals. As the year winds down, it can be easier to let that burnout get to you – but don’t throw in the towel just yet!
If you’ve got burnout, you’re not alone. Feeling burned out is common among health professionals and educators (Occupational Therapy in Health Care). Fortunately, there are burnout-busting strategies that can help you become more resilient! That way, you can make it through the remainder of the school year just in time for a well-deserved summer break!
Here's some background on burnout, along with tips to prevent burnout so you can sail through the rest of the school year!
What is burnout?
Mayo Clinic defines burnout as “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” Burnout can strike at any time, but many school-based occupational therapists and other educational professionals find it starts to creep in near the end of the school year.
How can you tell if you’re experiencing burnout?
If you feel “physical and mental exhaustion, a sense of dread about work, and frequent feelings of cynicism, anger, or irritability,” you may be experiencing burnout, according to Psychology Today. When people who work in helping professions (like healthcare providers, therapists and educators) become burned out, they often find it hard to tap into the patience and compassion needed to provide the best care for their patients, clients or students.
How School OTs Can Prevent Burnout
Ready to beat burnout? Here’s how to do it:
1. Connect with colleagues.Other school therapists and educators are certainly feeling the effects of burnout at this point in the school year. Ask around and find others who identify with you. Create an informal or formal wellness committee. See how many ideas you can come up with to combat burnout and encourage each other as you go.
2. Get some sunshine and fresh air.When you are feeling stressed, go outside, take some deep breaths and move around. Give yourself a little respite from the fluorescent lights, cinder block walls and concrete floors of the school. Try to do this a couple of times during the workday.
3. Remind yourself why you chose to become a school-based OT.As a school OT, you get to make a difference. You get to be creative, solve problems, keep learning, advocate for others, see progress, and work with kids. Plus, OT is fun! And did we already mention those summer breaks?
4. Talk with supervisors about what you need.What might help you to be more successful? Do you feel you have a voice in the workplace? Could you use a mentor or training? Do you need more (or less) guidance? Is your caseload too heavy or too light? Do you have the tools, resources and equipment you and your clients need?
5. Take time off.Whether you need extended vacation time or a mental health day, you must take care of yourself before you can care for others. A staycation, mani-pedi, trip to the beach or visit to see family may be just what you need. Don’t hesitate if you’re feeling burned out! Request that leave today…a little time off can help you refresh and more easily make it through to summer (we did mention summer, right?).
6. Perform a reorg.Put on some good music, set a timer and do a complete office reorganization. Clean out that email box. Dump out your briefcase. Organize your files. Put fresh flowers on your desk. If you travel, get your car washed and detailed. Plan for the rest of the year, and you’ll feel great!
7. Get centered before work. Whether you meditate, pray, journal, exercise, or just breathe, try to leave time in the mornings to center yourself before you get to work. If you don’t already have a morning ritual or practice, now is a good time to start!
8. Food is medicine.Fortify yourself with healthy foods and plenty of water. If you’re already working hard and feeling drained, letting yourself get hungry (or hangry) at work isn’t a good idea. If it’s hard to find time to stop and eat during a busy day, keep small, healthy snacks on hand to keep your blood sugar from dropping.
9. Learn about battling burnout.Search online for solutions – from watching Ted Talks on burnout to enrolling in Bash the Burnout for Healthcare Professionals for CEUs – there are endless resources you can discover. Your school or district may even have solutions to help.
10. Limit your work to work hours.Checking your email on your smartphone during off-hours doesn’t allow you to relax at home fully. If you can’t seem to avoid emailing outside of work, take a drastic measure and remove your email app from your phone (gasp!).
Above all, you must prioritize your health and well-being, so if you feel your stress level is beyond burnout, be sure to ask for professional help!
One important thing to remember if you are suffering from burnout is that there are many others in the same boat, especially due to the lingering stress of the pandemic. Hang in there, get creative and give yourself the refresh you deserve. Before you know it, it will be SUMMER – the perfect time to recharge and relax!