The Burnout Factor with Expert April Ervin: Who Helps the Helpers?
Mental Health in the Workplace
Our post last week was on the subject of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. As Jessica Bosecker explains, “PTSD is characterized by a host of symptoms, including intrusive thoughts about the trauma, distressing dreams related to the event, flashbacks, overall distress, and physiological reactions to ‘triggers’ that remind us of the trauma”. In general, those suffering from PTSD must ‘process’ their trauma through discussion–ideally with a trained professional or close friend/family member. Often, this involves revisiting painful things from our past through discussion. It is the job of the therapist to listen and compassionately help with CBT, DBT, and other forms of treatment. Feelings of being overworked, overwhelmed, or drained are now so common that we’ve developed more descriptive terminology.
Teachers, Therapists, Nurses…Who Helps the Helpers?
Professionals across the ‘helping’ fields (such as police, nurses, doctors, teachers, therapists, first-responders, etc) are susceptible to suffering ‘Secondary Stress” and “Vicarious Trauma“. Whatever we call it, ‘burnout‘ is a very real phenomenon across the field of healthcare and especially within the context of mental/behavioral health. The collective weight of helping so many individuals with traumatic experiences can easily become traumatic in itself for any ‘helping’ professional. It is essential for practitioners to make sure their own ‘house is in order’ to be fully, compassionately present for those we serve. April Ervin has studied this phenomenon personally and professionally, developing a unique system to address this increasingly prevalent problem.
“The impetus for all of my efforts addressing burnout in the workplace was my own personal experience. I was the executive director for a non-profit in Chicago, and poured myself into the work. I had no professional or personal boundaries—none. I was overworked, unhappy and unhealthy because of it. Often times the one person we forget about helping is ourselves. In 2005 I was told by my doctor to find a way to better cope with the demands of my profession or I’d be spending the rest of my life taking care of health issues. By reestablishing my own boundaries and taking better care of myself, I was able to find professional fulfillment without compromising my own mental, emotional, or physical health.”
Expert April Ervin is quick to point out that burnout is universal to all workplaces and is something we’re all likely to experience in our lifetimes. Based on her personal experience with mental health in the workplace, her first piece of advise for those struggling with burnout is to evaluate the balance between work and life strategically.
Helping Professionals Need Help with Boundaries
Compartmentalizing can be a key for many professional helpers. April now teaches others to establish and maintain stricter boundaries between work-life and home-life. She explains,
“I’m a big fan of working a ‘peace-break’ into our daily routine. This means closing your office door for 20 minutes–putting up a real physical boundary. You just have to shut it down a couple times during the day–no tv, no laptop, no phone, just sit there. If you need to shed some tears, shed some tears! The work we do is so delicate. It is so hard to see other people hurting. And just like in an airplane, we need to make sure we have our own oxygen mask on before assisting anyone else. Taking this daily ‘peace-break’ to meditate ensures we’ve still got our mask on before we try to help anyone else.”
Breaking Stigma against Burnout
Much like the stigma related to addiction, burnout is a set of behaviors and emotions that most companies and organizations shy away from. April emphasizes the importance of personal and professional boundaries and goes into further detail in her new book, outlining what she has learned in her own personal journey.