This is a topic that’s pretty personal to me. Maybe it’s personal to you too.
What does that word mean to you?
For you massage therapists out there, it might make you think about the so-called statistic that says RMTs tend to ‘burn out’ after 5 years, because their bodies just can’t take the constant pressure that massaging puts on them. That stat isn’t actually true, by the way. Sure, people do leave the profession after a few years, but often it’s not due to physical burnout, but because other things come up, like choosing to stay home with their children or finding other careers they enjoy more. Life happens! And there are plenty of therapists who have been working for 15, 20, 25 years. So this whole 5-year thing just isn’t supported by real evidence.
But that’s not what I’m writing about today. There’s a different kind of burnout I’m referencing. An issue that is rarely talked about, except perhaps among doctors and nurses. But I think we need to talk about it, because there’s a certain stigma or tendency to ignore it. We stick our heads in the sand or pretend it’s not as big a problem as it can be.
What issue am I talking about? Caregiver burnout. Sometimes called compassion fatigue. The state where someone who is taking care of others gets to the point where they’re feeling complete physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.
You might have heard of these terms in reference to someone who is caring for an elderly or ill family member. That’s an important issue too. But what about the other caregivers: the health care providers? We like to pretend such things don’t happen. If you work in health care, it’s your job to help people all day long and that’s awesome! Why would you feel burnt out? Why would you feel stressed and unhappy?
Of course, that’s just not facing the truth. Lots of people working in health care face times where they feel really burnt out, over worked, over stressed, and sometimes, just not able to cope. And that’s what I wanted to write about today: the idea of taking care of the caregiver.
Back when I was massaging there was a lot of talk about getting treatments as a form of self care, but the focus there was on taking care of your physical self. Your muscles, your joints, your aching back and creaky knees. All super important, true.
But the thing that was seldom mentioned is how important it is to take care of your mental/emotional health too.
Have you ever faced burnout? How did you deal with it? If you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear your story, because I know there are lots of people out there who have faced it and probably felt pretty isolated when they did.
Like me, for example. I faced burnout a few times over my career as an RMT but it wasn’t until the final time when I knew I really had to do something about it before it was too late. So I wanted to share my story in the hopes that it might help someone else who is facing the same thing.
In 2013 I found myself it what could best be described as a downward spiral. I wasn’t sleeping well, I was feeling irritated, angry or sad most of the time, I didn’t feel like eating, and I was really, really unhappy with my career. And I don’t just mean having a few bad days. I was depressed and anxious most of the time. There were no ‘good days’, just days that weren’t as terrible as the other ones.
How did I end up there? Well, I certainly didn’t see it coming. When I graduated in 2006, I was so happy to be a massage therapist! It was a career I’d worked hard to join and I loved it so much. But when this was all happening I’d go to work each day dreading being there. I felt like my clients were expecting way too much of me, and things that never used to bother me so much (like people asking for same-day appointments for non-urgent things) started to make me quite angry. I really wasn’t myself at all, and I felt awful. Not only that, but I felt very alone, because it didn’t seem like this was something that happened to anyone else.
All of that? Yeah, that’s all a big sign of burnout.
I eventually hit rock bottom and took some time off. I headed to the west coast to have some time by myself. I started seeing a psychotherapist. I reached out to a few trusted friends and family for support.
I needed to make some big changes. Ultimately, the right choice for me was leaving massage therapy as a profession. Trust me, it wasn’t an easy decision.
That of course doesn’t mean that everyone who experiences burnout needs to change careers. For some people it could just mean that they need to take some time off to take care of themselves, or they need a change of scenery like working at a different clinic or with a different focus. Like changing from doing mostly deep tissue sports massage to doing mostly general health and wellness treatments. Or changing from working at a chiropractic clinic to working at a spa. Everyone is different!
I encourage you to reach out to friends, family and colleagues if you’re feeling burnt out. You don’t have to tackle it alone. And if talking to someone who’s been through it would help, I’m happy to chat. I’m just an email away.