Sometimes work can make us want to scream! As a side note, I get that some people are in a space where they wish that they could even have a job to scream about… a job that pays the bills at a living wage (we’ve got a lot of work to do as a society here). Having said that, this post will be more about people who may be experiencing frustration with their current job, possibly feeling burned out or experiencing compassion fatigue… maybe even get traumatized due to the type of work (which can definitely happen with our first responders).
Maybe you’re getting waaay too much work, or are expected to work far more than you should… maybe you’re getting an unfair amount of work or are asked to do things that don’t fully align with your values... maybe your work is really intense and involves seeing some pretty traumatic shift. If you’re feeling drained of energy it can be so difficult to keep focused and get the job done. Are you starting to notice that it’s becoming more difficult for you to connect to your work and care about it? Would you rather just zone out and get to the end of the day as soon as its humanly possible?
Sometimes work can cause so much stress it starts impacting our “regular” life. We can start focusing exclusively on work and the rest of our life starts to slip away. We start forgetting our passions, we stop practicing our passions, and we lose touch with what matters to us. We can take on the trauma and experiences of others and that can really mess with us. A lot of times we’re told to be empathic and provide empathy for people. Well, I recently saw a training that talked about the difference between empathy and compassion on our brains. The really interesting part was that when we practice empathy, it can actually get us feeling lost in the other person. On the other hand, when we practice compassion, we get a different part of our brain going, one which allows us to connect AND have some space for problem solving. In other words, when we’re in “empathy mode”, we can lose ourselves, but when we’re in “compassion mode”, we can get shit done (helping that person and ourselves). I thought this last piece was really cool! We can connect with people, but still ensure that we have enough space for us… this is VITAL.
Ok, so, how do we know if we’re “at the brink”. One good assessment to determine where we’re at with how work is impacting us, is the Professional Quality of Life (or ProQol) Scale. This scale is most applicable to people in the helping professions, however I’ve actually given it to people in other professions and they’ve found it to be helpful. You can find additional info on the ProQol (including a copy of the tool) here. Basically, this is a tool with a series of questions about how things are going, i.e.: I am happy, I feel connected to others, I am not as productive at work because I am losing sleep over traumatic experiences of a person, I feel bogged down by the system, I am happy that I chose to do this work. Ultimately, the scale breaks down 3 areas: Compassion Satisfaction, Burnout, and Secondary Trauma. It looks at where you are on the scale, so if things are cool, you’ll probably score high in the Compassion Satisfaction area.
You might be saying… umm… so there’s these things called bills and they have to be paid. Or… I’m trying to accrue my hours for licensure. Yes, both of these things are super true! Eating and having a roof over our heads is kinda important (there’s a reason, these are called basic needs). Also, if you’re working on those hours, I want to acknowledge that being an intern is ROUGH! When we’re in that phase, it can be real hard because we are either paying for supervision or not getting paid for accruing hours… and so forth, so tough times. When people have mentioned these ideas to me, I bring it back to thinking about things we have control over and things we don’t have control over (we all need this reminder sometimes).
We may not have as many options in terms of our work (if we do, though, let’s flex those muscles!), but we can have some impact on how we manage our feelings and how we care for ourselves. In fact, we might start seeing that we’re on the “brink” because we’re a little bit getting feisty in situations when we otherwise would not have. So, monitoring that is a real good barometer for where we’re at. Also, I know that when we need to put more energy into caring for ourselves, that’s when it’s the hardest… I get that… some workarounds with this are putting in reminders (I use phone alarms for all kinds of stuff), or maybe getting a friend or loved one that will call us on our shit, another one could be just putting stuff on your calendar (i.e. a break, taking a breath, taking a bathroom break)… it’s in the calendar, so you’ll have to follow it!
What types of things are helpful or what does caring for ourselves look like? I think this is incredibly dependent on the individual. Some people may really enjoy spending time with others (extroverts), whereas some of us may prefer to have some alone time to recharge (introverts). Maybe listening to music, taking a hot bath, reading a super rad book, watching a horror movie (that’s so me… I know not super relaxing for most people, but c’mon), getting a tattoo, dancing, singing, getting a facial, going to a live show, screaming the words to those songs that make you feel like a giant and can take over the world (Bikini Kill is so this for me!)… oh geez… this list could go on FOREVER! This also involves knowing yourself and knowing what works for you… so take some time to get to know yourself. Counseling is a great way to engage in that process, maybe meditation or yoga could be useful here too.
Speaking of which… simply finding ways to engage our parasympathic nervous system quick and in the moment (i.e. that part of us that makes us feel more chill) can help us too. One way could involve focusing on our exhale. I learned this cool trick in a training where we hold our hand out in front of our face and blow… we’re exhaling (getting that part of our brain to understand that we’re calming down) and we can also focus on the feel of the cool air on our hand. Another option could be putting our hands on our chest. Engaging our vocal chords could be a good way to do this (just learned a cool thing that when we use our vocal chords, we’re turning on our vagus nerve, which is connected to that calming feeling… how rad is that?). If you’re able to take a step away, maybe tapping on acupressure sights. If you want info on that, click here.
If any of this resonates with you, don’t hesitate to reach out! If you’re interested in connecting for a counseling session, also don’t hesitate to reach out! You can reach me at 512-553-2054 or the contact page on the website. I look forward to hearing from you and don’t forget… it may feel like things are hopeless, but all is not without hope… I’ve witnessed people turn some tough situations around and I’ve been in a rough spot or two myself.