Burnout is an occupational hazard that most likely will occur at some point in a person’s lifetime. Everyone usually starts the same. You enter a new career wide-eyed and motivated, ready to do your best and maybe even make a difference in some small way. But over time, the responsibilities add up, the workdays feel longer, and sooner or later, you physically and mentally dread leaving your house to enter that occupational nightmare of your workplace. You have burnout.
Job burnout is a form of work-related stress that can have significant mental and physical repercussions, including anxiety, depression, detachment, fatigue, insomnia, and reduced performance and productivity. One of the best ways to combat burnout is to work with an occupational therapist.
There are ten ways that Occupational Therapy (OT) can help you deal with burnout, and so you can quickly return to being that productive and creative employee you were when you started your career. By describing Occupational Therapy and its tactics for preventing or working through burnout, you can effectively improve mental and physical health as well as avoid the vicious cycle of chronic burnout.
10 Ways Occupational Therapists Can Help
Occupational therapists are trained to help the individual in all stages of life adjust to all manner of social, physical, or mental barriers.
Many of these teachings are inclusive and can be integrated into dealing with work burnout just as easily as they would help a child with ADHD or an adult with dementia.
Here are the ten main elements of working with an occupational therapist that would most benefit an employee with occasional or chronic burnout.
Primary Focus is Adaptation
Although the overall goal of OT is to allow the individual to return to a sense of normality as the therapy progresses, the initial approach is to help them adapt to the workplace considering their burnout, rather than ignoring its effect on daily life or attempting to work around it. This helps the individual confront and adjust to their issues rather than repressing them.
By adapting to their burnout until symptoms subside over time, employees can learn to still be productive in the workplace.
This will reduce frustration with their inability to perform daily tasks and will decrease the likelihood of the individual pushing through their symptoms and potentially worsening their condition, effectively inhibiting the healing process.
Through adaptation, the burnt-out individual comes to accept their condition and demonstrates an eagerness to improve, which is essential to therapeutic growth.
Therapy is Goal-Driven
One of the most essential elements of occupational therapy is that the individual and their therapist will create a set of achievable goals together to help benchmark progression and healing.
These goals are vital for patient motivation and can be as “simple” as taking a shower every morning. For some, this is merely a routine task, but for someone suffering from burnout who is likely to have exceptionally low moods and sometimes even depression, this task might not be so easily achieved.
To prevent patient discouragement, the goals created are typically small and short-term rather than large and long-term.
There might be the overarching long-term goal of returning to the workplace with the same motivation and productivity the individual had prior to their burnout, but that is not the only goal in their therapeutic journey.
Occupational therapy goals typically conform to what they refer to as SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound.
This criteria for goal creation ensure that the individual is set up for success by creating valid goals that are specific and achievable to promote success and confidence, but the goals are also measurable and timely so that growth can be analyzed and changes can be made quickly and efficiently if necessary to keep the burnt-out individual on the road to recovery.
Good for Self-Esteem
If burnout is severely affecting an individual’s self-esteem, then occupational therapy is a fantastic resource that can both help reduce or eliminate burnt out as well as improve their emotional state and self-esteem. When burnout is affecting your everyday life and your ability to complete tasks that used to be simple and routine, it can take a significant toll on your self-esteem, which can later affect your mental health as well.
The goal-driven aspect of occupational therapy helps with boosting self-esteem because it sets achievable goals for the individual to achieve throughout the day that might have otherwise been unachievable before.
Burnout can have a paralyzing effect where the individual looks at all the tasks they must complete in a day and are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work that they can’t complete even one task.
Occupational therapy will start small by adapting to the workplace and striving to accomplish one goal at a time. This will create a domino effect, and soon, the individual is capable of completing most, if not all, of their work in an evening, which will restore their personal confidence in their abilities at the workplace.
Upon first meeting an occupational therapist, they will evaluate the individual mentally, emotionally, and physically so they can create an effective plan of what exercises will most help them overcome burnout.
Occupational therapy does not subscribe to the Freudian techniques of laying on a couch and discussing your inner-most feelings. Here, therapeutic objectives are achieved through techniques and activities/exercises to help an individual adapt and progress.
An occupational therapist will look at an individual’s life through a wider scope rather than just focusing on the workplace. After all, burnout does not just happen once you clock-in; this feeling of overwhelming dread can follow a person home and inhibit their personal lives.
Therefore, occupational therapists will help break down tasks so that they are achievable and look into the causes of why burnout is occurring.
Perhaps a burnt-out individual’s day starts with a long and stressful commute that can be improved with time management. Or perhaps the individual does not receive sufficient sleep to deal with a long day’s work because they have a poor night routine and sleep schedule.
These can be improved with an occupational therapist so that changes are consistently being made with a patient’s progression to provide a sense of achievement. Any poor habits within their lifestyle or schedule are replaced with good ones to promote growth and make progress easier.
Therapy Might Improve Other Life Aspects
Occupational therapy is utilized by individuals of all ages and ailments. Some suffer from mental illness or mental disorders, while others are focusing on rehabilitation from a substance or injury.
In order to achieve the wide range of goals these individuals might have, occupational therapists will provide exercises that will help in other areas of their lives, such as mobility, dexterity, conflict resolution, the balance of personal and work life, and more.
An individual might begin occupational therapy with the intent to regain their independence and achieve their daily tasks. Still, along the way, they might find that the activities and exercises provided by their occupational therapists carries over to other elements of their life that are connected to the workplace.
This might include alterations in routine, physical exercise to help with focus, or programs to assist with social skills or stress management. Although none of these specifically pertain to the workplace, it is easy to see how they can carry over after being applied to everyday life.
Pursuit of Passions
A significant cause of burnout could be an improper balance between one’s life at work and their personal life. If an individual spends a long day at work and them brings some of it home to continue throughout the night, then they aren’t separating the two spheres.
Or, perhaps once they return home, they are immediately anxious about the next workday and what lies ahead, so they do little at home other than worry and perform monotonous routines.
When someone is burnt out from their career and lacks outside passions or hobbies to pursue, it is highly likely that they will spiral into mental illnesses that will further inhibit their ability to overcome burnout.
Therefore, an occupational therapist might help their patient rekindle an old passion or find a new one to give them purpose and pleasure when they are not working. It can also help prevent these individuals from placing their whole identity in their career.
Hobbies are also great for distraction so that when these individuals go home, they are focusing on something they enjoy rather than obsessing over what tomorrow holds at work.
Spending time on a hobby daily could easily be one of the activities or goals that an occupational therapist will set for an individual to boost their confidence and reduce work-related anxiety. This helps the individual find meaning and purpose outside of the workplace and realize their life and well-being does not need to revolve around their career.
Can Help with Consulting Employers for Accommodations
Sometimes it can be difficult to confront an employer and ask for accommodations when one is experiencing burnout. Some might not want to admit that their work performance has been inhibited by what they are experiencing, so they would rather put their head down and press on than seek help.
Or worse, they are transparent about their situation, and their employer refuses to accommodate them. This is where an occupational therapist comes in.
An occupational therapist can help you feel comfortable with receiving adaptations/accommodations at work, whether it is short-term or long-term, to help alleviate stress when you are recovering from burnout. In the UK, ACAS can provide guidance on employers legal requirements to provide those accommodations regardless of their support.
Not only can changes in the workplace help alleviate stress and potentially your workload, but they can also help promote productivity and make it easier to adapt exercises learned in therapy to your job.
Simple accommodations such as relocation of an office, reduction in work hours, allowing an employee to work from home, rearranging an office space, or even schedule alterations can have a profound effect on the healing process for someone with burnout.
Prevention of Mental Illness
Career burnout is a significant risk to an individual’s mental health and commonly causes mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, which can have severe repercussions, including insomnia, paranoia, self-harm, or even thoughts of suicide.
It is not uncommon for individuals with burnout to feel trapped in their career and life path, which then affects their overall mental health, warranting professional help.
If an occupational therapist is hired prior to the manifestation of mental illnesses, they can help prevent this in a burnout individual by boosting their confidence, making necessary life changes to improve daily productivity, and helping the individual regain a sense of independence.
If a mental illness has already manifested, there are a series of activities and goals the occupational therapist can provide to help an individual work through the illnesses rather than be overcome by them.
One example of how an occupational therapist can help with mental illness is by removing poor or potentially harmful habits from an individual’s lifestyle and replacing them with positive, healthy ones. If a burnt-out employee also suffers from depression, they might come home from work and immediately lay in bed or on the couch and watch television to de-stress.
Although it is healthy to wind-down and find distractions after work, this habit is unhealthy because it allows them to sink further into their depression. By replacing this habit with a hobby or social interaction, they are more likely to overcome their depression in time.
An Occupational Therapist is a Source of Guidance and Consultation
When you are in a constant cycle of overwhelming dread and physical exhaustion from your career, it can be difficult to know where to start so you can break the cycle and find contentment again.
Occupational therapists are a fantastic source of support through the process of healing from burnout. You can have a consultion with them about everyday challenges, and they will work with you to find the root causes of these challenges and how to improve them.
Occupational therapists will help you create goals, plan out exercises, and make small changes to everyday routines to promote healing and help you overcome burnout.
This means that throughout the healing process, you are not alone. If at any time you feel something isn’t working or providing the desired results, you may always consult with your occupational therapist, and alterations to the plan can be made if necessary to help you achieve your goals and improve.
Provide Educational Programs
Occupational therapy isn’t limited to working with your individual therapist alone. They might also suggest educational programs that might benefit you in overcoming burnout, especially if social dynamics are involved.
Many individuals that have career burnout with feel uninspired and reserved, traits that are not conducive to collaboration, and careers that require creativity, especially with others.
Programs centered on social interactions might help these individuals participate more easily with their coworkers while they are struggling with their creativity and overall work motivation.
Having strong social bonds with fellow employees can result in genuine motivation, and they might even offer to accommodate for you to help reduce burnout symptoms.
Another beneficial educational program that occupational therapy offers is stress management. Burnout can be caused by taking on too much in the workplace or being overwhelmed by the daily tasks and responsibilities of your career.
This, paired with stresses of one’s personal life, can result in an unmanageable level of daily stress that could have severe repercussions on one’s mental and physical health. Stress management courses will help you find ways to limit or eliminate stressors in your everyday life so that they do not ultimately overwhelm you and add to burnout.
How to Know if Occupational Therapy is Right for You
Occupational therapy is a fantastic resource for individuals of all ages that need assistance with coping and adapting to a wide range of problems. Although occupational therapy can and has helped many, it might not be for everyone.
Those who would benefit the most from occupational therapy are individuals with burnout that are looking for a more interactive and hands-on approach to solving their situation by making changes to their everyday lives.
Occupational therapy will ultimately help improve your relationship with the workplace, but this is done by changing things you might not have known needed changing.
Everyday routines such as when you leave the house for work, when you go to bed, how many personal activities you pursue after work, or even what you do at your job could be affected in the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle.
If you are looking for overarching life alterations that can make your career easier, rather than just focusing on the job itself, then occupational therapy is for you.
Occupational therapy is not the right fit for individuals seeking to merely discuss their work-life or whose burnout is actually caused by mental health issues.
Although occupational therapists can help with some emotional and mental health issues, these situations might be better suited to a therapist specializing in helping patients cope with their illness or find its root cause, particularly if it is the result of trauma.
Individuals who are seeking medication are also recommended to consult a psychiatrist or specialist rather than occupational therapy.
What Are the Causes and Signs of Burnout?
When a study was conducted on 7,500 full-time employees by Gallup, it was determined that 23% of employees experienced chronic burnout where they were affected by its symptoms frequently or nearly always.
Additionally, 44% of employees reported they experience burnout occasionally. By these statistics, burnout is extremely common in the workplace, seeing as nearly half of the studied employees experienced it on occasion.
But what causes burnout, and how can you know for certain when you are experiencing it? Before discussing if occupational therapy is right for you, it is vital to answer these questions first to determine if OT is ultimately necessary.
Career burnout is relatively common in the workplace and can be caused by a myriad of factors. Although it is not medically recognized, burnout can be “treated” by altering, adapting to, or eliminating root causes to alleviate everyday stress and workload. Some common causes of burnout include:
- Lack of control: perhaps your job responsibilities, title, or environment change constantly without your consent or input, leaving you to feel as if you have no control over your career.
- Lack of support: this is common with individuals that have not formed strong social bonds in their workplace, so they feel alienated or isolated from others and can’t collaborate effectively.
- Lack of reward or incentive: if you feel like you are constantly pushing yourself to the limit every day for your career, but you know that your company will not reward you for your work other than the weekly paycheck, you might feel discouraged and question your efforts and career path
- Toxic work environment: this can be caused by a lack of appreciation from management or micromanagement that causes one to feel as if they aren’t trusted to sufficiently perform their own job. Coworkers that are cruel/verbally abusive, unwilling to cooperate, or place extra burdens on you can also constitute as toxic
- Monotonous environment: some individuals that work a basic desk job might be worn-down by the overall monotony of their daily routines, which can diminish motivation.
- Chaotic environment: fast-paced work environments that constantly require 110% and have you running around from clock-in to clock-out can drain you mentally and physically, which can lead to utter exhaustion overtime.
- Work-life dominates personal life: when you are trying to succeed in your career, sometimes it can bleed into your personal life. But over time, it might start to overcome your personal life when you bring work home or are utterly exhausted by your day that you don’t make time for family, friends, or personal pleasures such as hobbies.
- Unmanageable workload: perhaps you are doing a job that should really require two people, but the company either refuses to hire someone or can’t afford to. This leaves you with an unmanageable workload that forces you to either change your hours or work exceptionally hard all day to moderately complete your tasks, or you have to bring it home to finish later. Regardless, this is exhausting and can bleed into other issues.
No doubt everyone’s career reflects one or multiple causes listed above. Some of these are simply unavoidable in a career. So how do you know when you are officially burnt out and need help? Here are the most common signs or symptoms so you can determine for yourself when enough is enough.
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, intestinal complications
- Chronic stress
- Insomnia (this could also cause individuals to fall asleep uncontrollably at work)
- Lack of identity outside of the workplace
- Emotional exhaustion
- Reduced performance
- Lack of creativity
- Reluctance or refusal to socialize
- Cynicism at work
- Resentment of others and their achievements (both personal and career-wise)
- Manifestation of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety
What is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational Therapy is a health profession dedicated to developing, recovering, or maintaining activities or occupations performed by individuals in their daily lives.
Occupational therapists often assist injured, ill, or disabled individuals with coping and readjusting to their afflictions in order to return to a sense of normality in their daily activities. Although work burnout is not comparable to a missing limb, it does inhibit one’s ability to perform daily tasks that were otherwise common and achievable for them.
Therefore, occupational therapy can be extremely beneficial to individuals suffering from work burnout because it consists of tactics used for rehabilitation that can be applied to a burnt-out employee’s daily schedule to help them perform necessary tasks in the workplace.
Burnout is a common affliction in the workplace that nearly half the individuals in a company most likely suffer from at one point or another in their careers. The symptoms of burnout can be devastating to one’s emotional and physical health as well as their productivity in the workplace.
If left untreated, burnout can become chronic and even cause severe mental illnesses that will further inhibit one’s ability to perform in the workplace and find purpose in their personal life. One of the best ways to overcome this life obstacle is to seek an occupational therapist.
Although occupational therapy is usually suited for children with developmental problems or adults with mental illnesses or physical disabilities, it is still a valid option for anyone experiencing career burnout.
These therapists are professionally trained to help you regain your independence and return to perform daily tasks as effectively, if not better, than you could prior to burnout. If you have spiraled into a cycle of constantly dreading your workplace and contemplating every morning if your career is worth getting out of bed in the morning, then it is time to seek professional help and consult an occupational therapist near you.
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