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Burnt Out

It's Sunday evening and I can sense that all-too-familiar feeling creeping up on me. I'm anxious about the week ahead. Not because I hate my job, not because I'm ill-prepared for the week, and not because I have any unusually big project at work.

I didn't feel like this during the first year at my job. I looked forward to Mondays, to trainings, to assessments and interventions. I was excited to review journal articles with my team and talk about program development with parents. But then something changed. New programs implemented with clients moved slowly, and journal articles began to spark frustration. They always packaged their interventions so beautifully - a simple room, with compliant subjects. My interventions were never that simple. Something went wrong - an au pair wouldn't follow through with the plan, or one of the behavior technicians got sick and missed 3 sessions. I started to feel like I wasn't as good of a BCBA as I wanted to be.

On top of feeling inadequate, I felt bogged down with paperwork. Timesheets that needed to be initialed, assessments that needed to be signed, IEPs that needed to be reviewed, observation notes that needed to be completed. SO ... MUCH ... PAPERWORK! I fell behind one week and I didn't think I would ever catch up. Feeling behind left me irritable - every time someone would ask for help, or need my input, I wanted to jump down their throats - couldn't they see I was busy!!?

I didn't want to be at work any more. I didn't even know if I wanted to be in this field any more. Maybe I should just quit and be a bartender?

Then my friend forwarded me an article about burn out. I read it once. I cried. I read it a second time and I wanted to shout out from the rooftops "I'M BURNT OUT!!!". I didn't hate behavior analysis, or working with kids, or supervising, or journal articles - I was simply burnt out. And so are you, probably, if you've gotten this far and though "OK - so tell me more." First of all, here are some tell-tale signs of burnt out (From Psychology Today):

  1. Loss of enjoyment ("I don't even want to do my job")

  2. Pessimism ("This plan probably isn't even going to work")

  3. Isolation ("I just want to be left alone")

  4. Detachment ("I'm just not going to check my emails and maybe it will all go away")

If these sound familiar - you're going to want to keep reading. Burn out is serious and can take a toll not only on your professional life, but on your personal life as well.

Once I found a name for my disease (burn out), I wanted to find a cure. Below is what worked for me.

  1. I decided that life would go on if I didn't respond to every single email in 24 hours. I learned how to prioritize email so that life didn't constantly feel like I was putting out fires. Included in this, was setting my email to only sync between Monday and Friday from 9:00am - 5:00pm. Any emails outside of those parameters would have to wait. I am not a surgeon, and nothing is serious enough to warrant my attention outside of those hours.

  2. I reminded myself why I got in to this field. For me, it was a very specific moment and I took time to reflect on that moment.

  3. I scheduled in time to do non-work activities. This included going to the gym, going to happy hour, going on dates, and going on weekend trips. This is what was refueling for me. Find what's refueling for you, and schedule time for it.

  4. I asked for help from coworkers. This might not be the case for everyone, but I struggle to delegate. At the moment I realized I was burnt out, I decided to focus on delegating as much as I possibly could. This was a tremendous help, and I was surprised by how willing people were to help me.

  5. I let myself hear people that complimented my work. In the past, the compliments got lost in a sea of complaints, requests and demands. It's hard to hear one behavior technician telling you how much they've grown under your supervision, when you have 3 angry parents complaining about needing more hours and a new BCBA demanding that you implement physical management training with your staff. I started focusing on the positive feedback. This is hard to do, but I think you should try it too.

There were a lot of other things that I tried that failed miserably. I found out, I'm not a bath person. Some people suggest self-care in the form of long baths, pedicures, and massages. This did not work for me. I also found out venting over wine was not a successful outlet for me. It felt great in the moment, but overall it built up more anxiety and focused too much on the negative aspects of my work. You'll need to find out what works for you. You're welcome to comment here with suggestions for other people.

Ultimately, burn out should not mean an end to your career, but it might mean you need a mini vacation. Take time for yourself, re-group, and come back to the world the way you felt when you first passed your exam - A Board Certified Bad Ass.

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