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4 Strategies to Prevent Burnout and Reclaim Your "Me Time"

April 22, 2024

A woman cuddles a French bulldog in her lap in an open-concept office. Illustrated elements of happy faces, hearts, the sun and ocean, and lightning bolts surround her face

In the hustle and bustle of clinic life, time can feel like a luxury.

Maybe you’re buried under endless to-do lists and deadlines. Maybe you’re putting out random fires that didn’t exist an hour ago (that’s normal, right?).

Whatever you’re dealing with, the stress of work can eat into the precious “me time” that’s essential for managing a well-balanced life.

But here’s the thing: work-life balance is a myth.

After speaking with many practitioners, we’ve realized it’s more like a work-life pendulum.

Some days, you’ll have to swing towards work and prioritize that side of your life — especially if you’re in a busy period and especially if you’re an entrepreneur.

Other times, you’ll swing towards your personal life to take care of your health, relationships, and commitments outside of work.

And that’s okay.

The key is to acknowledge that some periods will be more work-intensive than others and you’ll get through it. But to be at peace with that work-life pendulum, you’ll want to establish a solid foundation of self-care that works for you. A foundation that will help mitigate the effects of burnout — before it creeps up and becomes all-consuming.

Recognizing the early signs of burnout

Burnout looks different for everyone, and it’s not always obvious when it’s creeping up. The World Health Organization defines burnout as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” With workplace stresses showing up in different ways, it can be especially hard to recognize the initial warning signs. If kept unchecked, one stressful day at the office could quickly turn into a period of burnout.

Roxanne Francis, CEO of Francis Psychotherapy & Consulting, knows this struggle all too well. She repeatedly suffered bouts of burnout, eventually taking time away from work on medical-approved leave, before finally deciding to branch out on her own.

“The first time, my doctor wrote me three weeks off work,” Roxanne says. “I rested, watched trash TV, spent time with my kids, and returned to work feeling refreshed. Five months later, I was back in my doctor’s office. She said, ‘Okay, I’m going to write you four weeks off from work, but what’s going to change?’”

Roxanne Francis presents in a room with white walls and a glass door. She smiles off-camera and wears a white and black houndstooth blazer with black-rimmed glasses. An open laptop sits in front of her on a stand. Roxanne Francis is an award-winning Registered Social Worker and Psychotherapist. She is also a keynote speaker, leadership coach, and a corporate consultant who addresses issues related to women’s issues, race & equity, mental health, parenting, as well as wellness at work.

Having left a high-stress government job to start her own practice, Roxanne’s insights draw from personal experience — emphasizing the importance of resilience strategies and how they can help you get through periods of burnout.

Here are her four resilience strategies that will help you kick burnout to the curb, whether you’re self-employed or working in an organization:

Strategy #1: Reflect

Self-discovery, Roxanne believes, is the key to understanding your stress triggers. “Ask yourself: what’s going on when I’m irritable? What’s going on for me when I’m not sleeping?” recommends Roxanne. You might realize that it’s not your entire role, but certain tasks that are causing stress.

If you don’t enjoy something, you’re likely to get it done slower and it may drain your energy — so consider if those things be shared, outsourced, or made easier with technology. Remember, it’s not just about caring for yourself once you hit the wall, but preventing yourself from hitting it in the first place.

Strategy #2: Reframe

Self-care isn’t just about yoga sessions or spa weekends. It’s about the small things that add up to a healthy lifestyle. “People don’t think of self-care as taking a 10-minute break and having a glass of water or taking a few deep breaths,” Roxanne says. “We don’t talk about making a meal from scratch as self-care. But it is all those things.”

If we simplify the idea of self-care, you might see that you already have a lot of self-care habits: Making your bed, not opening emails after work hours, cooking a meal from scratch — these seemingly tiny gestures can be the stepping stones to self-care. It can be hard to maintain the smaller self-care habits because they aren’t rewarded in our busy culture — but when you push against the norm, you give yourself permission to enjoy the little things.

A checklist of options for what you could do with more 'me' time. The text is white against a blue background with yellow checkmarks. The text reads: - Morning walks - Playing with your kids - Movie night - Family dinners... what would you do with more "me" time?

Strategy #3: Reach out

Self-care doesn’t happen in isolation, which is why reaching out for help is one of Roxanne’s go-to strategies to de-stress. She is mindful of connecting with others and uses her peer group often.

Asking for help can be especially helpful when starting a new business. This path is full of unknowns, so building a support network of business owners can help you navigate any incoming hiccups. Whether it’s seeking help from mentors or finding solace in laughter, these connections not only help us de-stress, but also help us navigate our professional journey.

Strategy #4: Recognize

For a lot of people, rest has guilt attached to it. Consider burnout in the context of being a woman of color. “There is an underlying deep exhaustion in my community,” explains Roxanne, adding that rest has oftentimes been associated with laziness. When this is the case, taking a rest day might feel especially hard (or even scary).

It’s not uncommon to feel guilty because you believe that taking time off will set you back. When you do engage with rest, acknowledge any feelings of guilt, but don’t let them dictate your actions. “It’s now time to recognize that rest is revolutionary,” Roxanne says.

What can we learn?

Burnout can be a teacher. It can show us where we need to set better boundaries, and how we can take back control of our work and life.

When we learn to spot the warning signs of burnout, we can make the necessary shifts to focus on our baseline well-being. So, next time you consider skipping your workout or missing out on family dinner to wrap up a few things at the office, think about Roxanne’s resilience strategies.

Taking time for yourself is necessary to manage the work-life pendulum. No matter your path, whether self-employment or working for others, remember that you’re worth the time investment.

We asked practitioners across many disciplines to share what they do to boost their productivity, stay energized throughout their day, and get the most enjoyment out of their jobs. Here’s what they had to say:

Advice from different practitioners in white text against a blue background with yellow stars to highlight each quote. The text reads: Recharge & Conquer - Proven practitioner strategies for staying productive, energized, and happy at work 
(that you can try today!) First quote: Carve out a morning “power hour” - “I dedicate the first hour of my morning to activities that align with my personal and professional goals: meditation, visualization, journaling, reading, and physical activity.” — Josh Wagner; Second quote: Schedule fun first - “It's so easy to get lost in the daily grind and let things outside of work fall by the wayside because 'we're tired' or 'don't have time.' What's made the biggest difference for me is scheduling in my fun and free time first.” — Lex Lancaster; Third quote: Avoid doomscrolling - “I got in the habit of scrolling social media and emails the second my alarm went off, which would spiral me into anxiety and stress. Now, I start my morning phone-free for 30 minutes. Whether that's walking my dog or doing a guided meditation, my day becomes more clear and productive.” — Layne Salvo; Fourth quote: Get your groove on - “I ask people, whether it's a patient, co-worker, or a stranger at a cafe, for a song they like to dance to, then carve out 5 minutes to dance to it — irrespective of genre!” — Marco De Ciantis;  Fifth quote: Ignore the “shoulds” - “When it comes to health-related habits, like exercise, getting quality sleep, or nutrition, there's a difference between feeling like you "should" and knowing what feels good for your body. If you planned a long run but a forest walk feels better, do it! Making swaps that feel better but still showing up for yourself is more doable than being too strict.” 
— Whitney Baxter; Sixth quote: Take a nap - “I'm over the go-go-go hustle mode! Every day, I set aside at least 20 minutes for an afternoon snooze.” — Lisa Simone Richards; Seventh quote - Make time for spontaneous team bonding: “Try picking a TikTok movement challenge and getting your co-workers together to try it — see who reigns victorious!” — Emma Jack

In search of more timely advice for clinic life? 👀

For more expert insight from practitioners like Roxanne, make sure to check out Front Desk magazine. You can even sign up for print issues — delivered right to your clinic! 📖

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This article was originally published in issue 2 of Front Desk magazine and has been modified and updated.

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