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Blocking beliefs and burnout?

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I see myself as a hardworking therapist that has a great passion for helping and caring for others. Specifically, family, friends and clients. I was taught very early in life that it is better to give than receive and that it that selfishness aka taking care of your self was a bad thing. This seemed to work for me for the majority of my life because I do find joy in my life and life’s work. I believe I have been on my path that is part of my purpose and gives meaning to my life at work and home.

One day while mindlessly doing laundry and preparing to be off work I sighed out loud and said “I can’t wait until I have surgery” and my husband overhead me. He paused, and slowly asked this question “you’re looking forward to major surgery”? In that moment I stopped what I was doing laundry basket in hand, and after a few seconds of thought said “yes, it will give me an excuse to do nothing and I won’t have to feel guilty about just being.” He continued with confusion in his face and wanted to make sure he had heard me correctly – that I was actually looking forward to a major surgery so that I could have guilt free time off. He said “I think there’s a problem with that”. This was an eye-opening/epiphany moment. At my core I knew this felt very true for me, I hadn’t stopped to look or think about the craziness of it all. As a therapist I know how important self-care is and I consistently tell my clients …that if they don’t take care of themselves their mind or body would figure out a way to slow them down, maybe with an illness or job loss and even perhaps the need for a major surgery. I, ask clients if they would rather plan their time off or be forced to take time off due to illness or burnout. I only had problems with this in the beginning of my career and had learned that self-care was important to be present for my clients and family.

Post-surgery time allowed for deeper reflection. Things I know: I love and am passionate about what I do and my work is very fulfilling so burnout shouldn’t be a problem. Right? Additionally, I also include yoga, hiking, journaling and meditation in my life and on my calendar. Reflection revealed that self-care had become one more thing on my “to do list” and I recalled that sometimes I would get stressed if I didn’t have time to do self-care but often it would get marked off of my to-do list when a client was in crisis or someone or something that I deemed more important to me needed to take its place.

I’m aware of compassion fatigue and burnout and time off refreshed my memory about both. I was reminded that the first stage of burnout didn’t look anything like burnout and could sneak up on you if you even if you are aware of it. Stage 1 of burnout is a gradual process named the Honeymoon phase and this stage could look like a passionate hardworking person that loves what they do and enjoy it so much that they may not notice that they are overworking a bit here and there and slowly start neglecting time for recharging or rest. If we could stay in this phase forever it wouldn’t be too bad but just like a drill that needs to be recharged and is only partially charged you don’t get the same output. Not cultivating play and rest can start you on the slippery slope towards full blown burnout or even habitual burnout.

According to many sources these are five most common stages of burnout that build on each other if you aren’t paying attention.

Stage 1 – Honeymoon Stage – Less obvious when you love what you do and tend to overwork a bit and begin to take less and less time to recharge and rest.

Stage 2- Onset of Stress – gradually a few days a week are a little more stressful than others, not paying attention to all of your personal needs and maybe seeing friends and family less often. You may start noticing that you are having some difficulty focusing, or a little anxiety, headache, change in appetite, restless sleep and perhaps even high blood pressure.

Stage 3 – Chronic Stress – experiencing higher levels of stress more frequently. There’s a decrease problem solving skills and performance. You may begin to procrastinate and your immune systems is working as well so you notice that you are getting sick more often, small things may make you angry, sad or resentful, you may withdraw from social life because others are noticing and commenting. In extreme cases some people start to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.

Stage 4 – Burnout – Not addressing the previous symptoms can land you in full blown burnout. Where you may experience critical exhaustion making it hard to deal with work that then leads to feeing like a failure and/or powerless. Physical symptoms get works and you may develop digestive problems, chronic headaches and even behavioral changes. Self-doubt and pessimism may become a part of your personal and work life. People may reach out for anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication during this phase.

Stage 5 – Habitual burnout where you stay in a state of burnout without managing to recover. This stage is more challenging to overcome. This phase affects many parts of your life:

Awareness of burnout can be helpful to identify where you are so that you can make changes. However, as I just described I KNEW these things but at my core there was still an underlying belief that the stress of taking off for a surgery was more guilt free than the guilt of taking off for a vacation. In both cases as someone who is self-employed, I do not get paid time off but interestingly enough the surgery was even more expensive than a nice vacation. I’m grateful for my husband who highlighted this belief, we don’t usually see our own stuff. The therapist needs a therapist also. I believe that not recharging enough and even stressing myself out about missing yoga or hiking led to a break down in my body. There really is a ton of information on the mind body connection and we know that dis-ease in your life can cause disease in your body.

There are therapeutic studies with participants that suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis and other chronic illnesses that have shown sustainable improvements and benefits to working with underlying parts of us that carry beliefs that we learn intrinsically and extrinsically from society and family throughout our lives. We know and have heard it many time that self-care, recharging and time off are very important but even when we know this there could be underlying beliefs that can be blocking us. Just like we all know if we exercise and eat healthy, we’ll feel better and look better but there are many core beliefs that block us from doing what’s best for us.

Having the knowledge is not always enough. Consider giving yourself time to reflect and explore your blocking beliefs. If you dive, please know that it is crucial that while exploring and reflecting that you are gentle with yourself. We all have an inner critical voice that can also block us from living our best life so ask that voice to step aside when you’re working with self-care/self-love blocking beliefs. Here’s a guide to get you started.

In addition, consistently remind yourself that time off enhances your ability to continue to work hard at what you love. Here are a few small things you can add to your life to aide in efforts to avoid burnout, illness and maybe even major surgery.

For more information, you can check out these Nature-based & Wilderness Therapy Skills from Katie Asmus and the Somatic Wilderness Therapy Institute. Also check out our E-book for Nature Pyramid recommendations.

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