• May 2021 •
From Juan Navarro, Executive Director
Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Did you know that about half of all employee turnover is attributable to burnout? That figure is probably even higher for the behavioral health workforce. In this field, the work we do is incredibly rewarding, but it can also be heartbreaking and traumatic. We tend to take our worries home with us, trying to understand where we went wrong when a client doesn’t respond to treatment — or worse, dies after leaving our program. In the best of times, behavioral healthcare staff work under difficult conditions: funding cuts, restrictions on service delivery, changing certification and licensure standards, and limited salaries.
Then came the 2020-2021 COVID-19 pandemic. Now, we’re coping with increased demand for substance use and mental health treatment and it’s coming at a pace that’s hard for us to meet. Amidst added work for COVID-19 precautions, telehealth service delivery, coping with client complaints about new restrictions, and our own personal concerns, burnout is just about inevitable.
Yet, with our natural inclination to prioritize clients and help others, many behavioral healthcare workers fail to notice when the workload begins to negatively affect our own mental health. We often ignore or undervalue our signs of exhaustion. This just creates a worsening cycle where employees struggling with burnout begin to feel unappreciated, unsupported, and overburdened with the workload or feeling that nothing they do is good enough.
Quitting your job is not the only answer. Coping with burnout is not only possible, it’s a critical need. Understand that you’re only human and there will be days when you’re overwhelmed at work. Here are some things you can do:
- Seek out a mentor in your field. If possible, set a regular time to meet for supportive chats.
- Pay attention to your own physical and mental health. Focus on good nutrition, regular exercise, stress management techniques, mindfulness practices such as yoga or meditation, adequate sleep, healthy social outlets and making time for fun hobbies or other activities. Don’t isolate yourself after work.
- Talk to your supervisor. Discuss your concerns, brainstorm solutions, and work on an action plan. Make it a constructive discussion and not a gripe session.
- If you’re in recovery, step up meetings with your therapist, support group, sponsor or other people in your recovery support network.
And if I haven’t been able to tell you in person, let me say it now. Every staff person and volunteer at L.A. CADA is part of our success. We couldn’t do what we do without you, and you are appreciated more than you’ll ever know.
Learn more about: dealing with work burnout – advice from clinicians
“I know I was a hard client. I didn’t want to be in treatment, but I had to. To get my kids back. So, there I was. I challenged everything. I had my answer for everything, and looking back, I was really, really negative. Maybe I was trying to get my counselor to reject me. Everybody else had, why not her? What was I to her anyway, just a way to get a paycheck? But she never stopped trying. Then, one day when I said something very insulting to her, you know what she said to me? She told me she really liked me, that I reminded her of herself before recovery. This woman is an educated person who is dedicated to treatment. And she is saying that about me? It made me think. Maybe I didn’t like this person, but I respected her. And here she is respecting me back. That was my turning point. I wanted my counselor to have a real reason to respect me, to like me. I started working the steps and opening my heart to the program. I have a year clean and sober now, and it was my counselor who made that possible.”
SPOTLIGHT – THE EVIDENCE IS IN:
The Role of Gratitude in Healthcare Worker Self Care
When we’re burned out at work, how do we even start with changing our attitude? “Happiness expert” Sonja Lyubomirsky, and many other scientists, say that practicing gratitude has proven to be one of the most reliable methods for increasing happiness and life satisfaction. Gratitude boosts feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions.
Science is showing that gratitude is critical to how good we feel psychologically and socially. It increases how much positive emotion we feel and decreases negative emotion. Gratitude raises our overall satisfaction with life and helps us have an overall positive outlook. It’s also been shown to reduce health complaints and help us cope with difficulties. Surprisingly, gratitude even seems to reduce the importance we place on material goods. And contrary to what we may think, it also appears that it could increase our ability to achieve our goals.
Why does it work? We have a natural focus on what goes wrong in our daily lives and we often go over and over these things in our head. People are quick to notice even the smallest of problems, yet we rarely spend any time at all dwelling on the good things. Things that brought us a quick smile or felt good are all too often forgotten or perhaps not even noticed in the first place.
To increase our overall well-being, we must consciously spend a few minutes each day focusing on some of the good things that happen to us. By doing this we start to notice what goes right as well as wrong in our lives. Even on a bad day there are some good things that happen, however small.