A few weeks ago, I presented a continuing education workshop for mental health professionals on burnout and compassion fatigue. I didn’t share it with y’all because those particular words feel so stale and overused these days. What are we really talking about here?
- Feeling inwardly irritable or cranky towards clients, children, elderly parents, or other people you serve, though you keep showing up for them
- Getting scattered and flitting from thought to thought as you respond to multiple demands
- Intellectually knowing you care about people or issues but not *feeling* that care in your body
- Trying to do too much and feeling drained and tired hours before it’s time to sleep
- Being unable to do much beyond what is expected, with every day feeling like more of the same
- Ruminating on other people’s trauma and trying to fix things out of your control
- Frequent contemplation of changing careers or what life would be like without your current caregiving role(s)
If you’ve experienced one or more of these symptoms, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or an impostor. You’re a person who is trying to meet a lot of outer expectations and doing the best you can. The balance of what’s coming in and out just isn’t working.
Moving from burnout to reigniting the flame within
I often think of burnout as the passionate and loving heart burning down to a low flame, maybe even just the hot coals, with no one feeding or tending the fire. If it extinguishes itself, you’re left out in the cold. If the right wind blows, you might flare up again, but the heat and energy will likely be scattered, maybe even perilous with no one there to support or contain it.
To find enthusiasm for life and the service we do, we must tend the inner fires of compassion and inspiration. But what does that mean?
Here’s my three cents:
(1) Regularly clearing out what doesn’t burn to make more space for the good wood. In addition to good “emotional hygiene”, this means paying honest attention to what is wearing you out and being willing to make courageous choices about what you give and don’t give your precious life energy towards.
(2) Creating a good container to protect the fire. No one else is going to track what you’re doing all day long and insist you prioritize your own needs in real, tangible ways. Only you can carve out and protect the space you need.
(3) Feeding the fire with new experiences, authentic expression of what you really feel, and creativity that nourishes the inner wild one. When you feel like you’ve lost your mojo, it may be time to mix things up.
Gathering around the collective fire
Changes like this can be hard work, especially when you’re already weary! Sometimes the burnout has gone on too long and to truly warm up and burn bright again, we first need deep quiet and rest. Then it’s time to rebuild with some dedicated time, support, and a much bigger blaze. That’s why I’m so passionate about community healing work (and what the Release & Empower Women’s Circle* is all about). When individually, you have only a little light left to share, you can offer it up to a larger fire. In surrendering over and over again, you may find yourself slowly rising from the ashes, finding passion and compassion bit by bit, energized by the fuel of being amongst fellow humans doing the same.
I hope one way or another, you always find a little light nearby and know there is one within you too. You are doing good work out there! May all that you give come back to you tenfold, even in unexpected ways.
*In the past few years of facilitating the Release & Empower Women’s Circle, I’ve witnessed women making brave changes in their work, relationships, health, and lives, not to mention those inner changes in freedom, confidence, and authenticity. These changes are theirs to claim, not mine. This is just what happens when women come together to re-ignite their inner fire. Registration is now open for the winter groups, if you’d like to save a space. Details here.
**If you’d like to receive more reflections like this (once in a while, not all the time!), just sign up for my mailing list.
Image by Leandro De Carvalho from Pixabay