Concerns about SLP Burnout are at an all-time high and have not been helped by the global health pandemic. That’s why we wanted to get this essay out to you before we head into an increasingly stressful time of year. And you will see by the end of this post, that timing is everything. Speech language pathology burnout IS real!!! But you will also be excited to learn how many of our colleagues are sailing through.
Have you ever been told to just breathe, meditate, or exercise in the middle of May with 10 evals due?
Not the best timing for that advice.
If you are experiencing burnout, you are not alone.
Burnout is not just an SLP problem. Make a person a healthcare worker, put some letters behind their name, and they risk struggling with it.
Is SLP Burnout New or Related to a Pandemic?
Like most professions, a health crisis makes things difficult. However, check out these titles of Reddit posts titles from the last half decade:
- This field kind of sucks… : slp – Oct 3, 2017
- Why I’m Leaving the Field : slp – May 22, 2018
- Why do people hate SLP? : slp – Dec 8, 2017
- On the verge of quitting – slp – Sep 19, 2016
- I regret becoming an SLP – Aug 6, 2018
No, fellow colleagues. You are not alone and this is not a new issue. But it is fixable.
We need to clearly understand what SLP burnout is. We need to understand why many suggestions don’t work. We need to know how to correctly implement anti-stress suggestions. And most importantly, we need to reframe “self-care” to get around associated guilt and see why it matters.
What is burnout?
Burnout is pretty extraordinary if you think about it. It combines emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. Wow X 3! Exhaustion, of all types, is the defining characteristic.
And another thing, it’s longitudinal. The longer you have been under its spell, the longer it takes to pull out.
And another other thing, it’s occupational in nature typically. You liked something or it was good for you. And then you got too much of it. And it sinks you. Wow again.
Burnout is so prevalent that psychologists have created continuums and spectrums describing 4,5, and 12 stages of progression from simple irritations to a physical collapse. Digesting this as an SLP, it is not just a single symptom but a series of symptoms that progressively get worse.
Successful professionals detect the onset of burnout and introduce anti-stress activities before things become too grave.
Where do you fall?
Mild Burnout Signs and Symptoms
- Negative and critical attitude at work.
- Dreading going into work
- Wanting to leave work
- Having thoughts that your work doesn’t have meaning or make a difference.
- Having low energy, and little interest at work.
- Thoughts of quitting work or changing roles.
- Pulling away emotionally from your colleagues or clients.
Moderate and Severe Burnout Signs and Symptoms
- Physical and emotional exhaustion
- Feelings of cynicism and detachment
- A sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
- Chronic fatigue
- Impaired concentration and attention
- Physical symptoms (Especially chest pains or difficulty breathing)
- Increased illness
- Loss of appetite
Causes of Burnout – It’s Not Just Us
It’s important to point out that we can be stellar in every way and might experience burnout. This might be a healthy way for your mind to tell you that you need a change or a different challenge. The work environment, if chronic (a.k.a. not seasonal) can lead to SLPs experiencing burnout.
Here are some external influences that could contribute:
- Having little or no support
- A lack of recognition for your work
- Unclear job expectations or goals
- Monotonous or low-stimulation work.
- Team or organizational dysfunction
- A continual, excessive workload
Ways Incredible Professionals Reduce SLP Burnout
Do you know what I find disempowering? Suggestions to relax when I am stressed. How about some chamomile tea to wash down the embarrassment of screwing up your documentation during an IEP meeting?
I think we have to be careful publishing lists of Burnout-Busting-Suggestions because they can be demoralizing. We already feel like we are at wits-end and then we see someone working out or taking a break and we think: “Why didn’t I do that?” and we feel worse. Nothing like experiencing SLP burnout and then beating ourselves up for not being able to not be burned out…
It’s silliness (and a double negative).
Here are 4 key take-aways to avoid SLP burnout
Below you will definitely see see some tried-and-true chamomile tea drinking-meditating-vacation-planning suggestions. However, the art lies in WHEN, WHERE, and HOW you are addressing SLP burnout proactively before, in, and after the moment.
1. Have a list of things that work for you ahead of time, not when it’s too late.
Check out the list below and pull from it but also create your own list. Psychologists suggest creating a list of stress-busters that is organized by ease, expense, and time.
- Things I can do for 60 seconds: Breathe, meditate, go outside and look up.
- Things I can do today: Eat lunch outside, read my book for 15 minutes, take a walk, stop on my way home for my favorite…
- Things I can book an appointment for or schedule: Workouts, self-care, a drink with a friend
- Things I can plan time off for: Vacation!
2. Understand what burnout is and know your triggers
Be aware when burnout is setting in. Burnout is an elusive animal, and we have to be on the lookout for early signs. Use our list above or come up with your own list. This is much easier than trying to intervene when you are already taken over by it.
3. Put anti-stress habits in place
If you think back on a time in your life when burnout wasn’t even a thing, chances are that you instinctively had some good, frequent habits in place that made it “not a thing.” This is the whole reason we wanted to get this essay out BEFORE the next intense time in ours lives. If you are not tired of being a speech pathologist, good for you! Make sure, like the SLPs on Reddit, that you don’t get there.
4. Add, don’t subtract
You can see from the suggestions above, successful people are ADDING behaviors to their life. Yes, of course, we would want to stop stressful behaviors but burnout is usually the result of having too much on our plate. Of course we don’t want to do that 18th evaluation but that might not be an option for us. When the stressful time is over, troubleshoot on how to not get caught up in it again. But when you are in the thick of it, balance the badness by adding goodness.
Here is the truth.
You are needed.
Your skills. Your expertise. Your experience.
If there is no you, who provides the services?
If you are heading towards SLP burnout, how long will you stay?
Putting yourself first is not selfish.
The best version of yourself can see so many more children in great ways.
How incredibly prolific would our research and services be if every one of the 175,000 licensed SLPs committed to themselves first?
ASHA – Breaking Out of Burnout When a speech-language pathologist saw signs of burnout among her faculty-clinician colleagues, she set out to make over her division.