Health coaches and wellness professionals often worry about their clients who are at risk of feeling burned-out and work to provide tools to help them prevent and recover from bouts of burnout.
What health and wellness professionals often forget, however, is that, while they may feel passionate about their work, the very nature of their job also makes them vulnerable to burnout.
Professional burnout in health professionals is so common that it is considered a type of job-related depression, which several mental health professionals argue is a diagnosable health condition. Burnout syndrome is defined as a combination of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment caused by chronic occupational distress.
Burnout can be prevented by recognizing the risk factors and early signs of burnout and making changes, and it can be managed with some common mental health strategies.
Health and wellness professionals should fill their own cups while filling others’, so to speak. In other words, it is just as important for health coaches to take measures to ensure their own well-being as they work to support others in improving their wellbeing.
Rather than providing tools and information for coaches to relay to their clients, this article is for coaches to start to understand how burnout may be affecting their wellness, and learning how to make health behavior changes of their own that will benefit their well-being in the long term.
The Risk Factors for Burnout
Burnout can be aggravated by work, but it doesn’t necessarily come from the professional environment. There could be other factors that make people more likely to experience burnout than others. However, healthcare, as an industry, places numerous pressures on healthcare providers, including health coaches and wellness professionals.
Some of the elements in a health coach or wellness professional’s life that contribute to burnout are:
- Hours worked
- Overwhelming responsibility to clients
- Perception of client success as linked to your success
- Financial stress
- Perceived levels of productivity
- Business partners or superiors that are unsupportive or abusive
- Increasing time and emotional demand from clients
- Physical exhaustion related to the types of activities you carry out with clients (common for physical trainers and fitness coaches)
- Time constraints
- Feeling overwhelmed by clients’ emotional issues
- Competing demands (studies, family, social life, hobbies)
- A perception of lack of control over work processes and scheduling
- Conflicting roles and relationships with business partners or co-workers
How Do I Know If I’m Burned-Out?
Maslach’s burnout inventory is one way to help individuals identify if they are experiencing burnout and to what degree. The inventory constitutes twenty-two statements about your state of mind regarding your work. As you read the statements, respond to how often you feel that way, from never (0) to every day (6).
The first set of questions corresponds to a score for occupational exhaustion (EE). The second set corresponds to a score for depersonalization or loss of empathy (DP). The last set of questions corresponds to a score for personal accomplishment (PA). When you add up your totals for each set, you can have a low degree, moderate degree, or high degree for each set.
Interested in learning your degree of burnout according to Maslach’s burnout inventory?
Below is the list of statements. On a sheet of paper, write down the number corresponding to how often you feel that way, from never (0) to every day (6).
- I feel emotionally exhausted because of my work.
- I feel worn out at the end of a working day.
- I feel tired as soon as I get up in the morning and see a new working day stretched out in front of me.
- I can easily understand the actions of my colleagues/supervisors.
- I get the feeling that I treat some clients/colleagues impersonally as if they were objects.
- Working with people the whole day is stressful for me.
- I deal with other people’s problems successfully.
- I feel burned out because of my work.
- I feel that I influence other people positively through my work.
- I have become more callous to people since I started doing this job.
- I’m afraid that my work makes me emotionally harder.
- I feel full of energy.
- I feel frustrated by my work.
- I get the feeling that I work too hard.
- I’m not really interested in what is going on with many of my colleagues.
- Being in direct contact with people at work is too stressful.
- I find it easy to build a relaxed atmosphere in my working environment.
- I feel stimulated when I work closely with my colleagues.
- I have achieved many rewarding objectives in my work.
- I feel as if I’m at my wits’ end.
- In my work, I am very relaxed when dealing with emotional problems.
- I have the feeling that my colleagues blame me for some of their problems.
Now, you can find out whether and to what degree you are burned-out, according to Maslach’s burnout inventory.
Overall Score for Occupational Exhaustion (EE)
Occupational exhaustion is typically connected to a relationship with work that is perceived as difficult, tiring, and stressful. Maslach sees this as different from depression, as it is likely that the symptoms of burnout alleviate when the person is on vacation or when they leave that job.
Add together the answers to questions 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 13, 14, 16, and 20.
- EE of less than or equal to 17 = low degree
- EE of 18-29 = moderate degree
- EE of more than or equal to 30 = high degree
Overall Score for Depersonalization or Loss of Empathy (DP)
Depersonalization or loss of empathy is characterized by a loss of regard for others. In the case of health coaches and wellness professionals, you might start having trouble connecting to or caring about the well-being of your clients, but it may also extend to other relationships outside of work. People with high degrees of depersonalization keep a greater emotional distance, which might be expressed through stoicism or passivism, or cynical, negative remarks. It might even come across as callousness.
Add together the answers to questions 5, 10, 11, 15, and 22.
- DP of less than or equal to 5 = low degree
- DP of 6-11 = moderate degree
- DP of more than or equal to 12 = high degree
Overall Score for Personal Accomplishment (PA)
The personal accomplishment assessment is a feeling that acts as a “safety valve” and contributes to bringing about a balance if occupational exhaustion and depersonalization occur. It ensures fulfillment in the workplace and a positive view of professional achievements.
Add together the answers to questions 4, 7, 9, 12, 17, 18, 19, and 21.
- PA of less than or equal to 33 = low degree
- PA of 34-39 = moderate degree
- PA of more than or equal to 40 = high degree
Resilience: The Antidote to Burnout
Health and wellness professionals experience numerous stressors related to their work and practice, including time pressures, workload, financial pressures, and managing others’ emotional issues in addition to their own. Chronic stress related to your professional life can affect both your physical and mental well-being, which in turn impacts your ability to be an effective coach.
Researchers proposed that developing resilience-promoting environments can help to reduce the negative outcomes of stress in the health professions.
According to research conducted with nurses, there are numerous individual and contextual factors that contribute to levels of resilience. These include:
- Work-life balance
- Self-identity beyond work
- Mentorship or supervision
- Level of mindfulness
Additionally, certain factors related to work influence levels of resilience. These include:
- The work environment (physical, cultural, and systemic)
- The types and characteristics of work-related relationships (connection with clients, relationships with colleagues, and interactions with supervisors or mentors, if there are any)
- The nature of the job itself (workload, type of work, personal fit, meaningfulness of the work)
4 Strategies to Promote Resilience as a Health Coach or Wellness Professional
Self-compassion involves the ability to understand your own difficulties and suffering, experiencing feelings of caring, and being kind toward yourself. To be self-compassionate, it is important to recognize that struggles and triumphs are part of normal human experiences.
One study found that counselors who were more self-compassionate tended to have less compassion fatigue, similar to the loss of empathy or depersonalization as discussed in Maslach’s burnout inventory ). It also found that self-compassion had a significant positive relationship with satisfaction and a negative relationship with burnout.
Put Mindfulness into Practice
Mindfulness can be defined as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention, on purpose, and non judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” A growing body of research examines mindfulness as a potential treatment or mitigation tool for job burnout.
To be mindful, you continue practicing your normal daily activities, but rather than disconnecting or disassociating, a person who practices mindfulness practices being in the present moment and acknowledges events and emotions rather than judging them. You can practice mindful eating, body scanning, yoga, and meditation.
Meditation is a common mindfulness practice. Research shows that people who practice meditation regularly have higher levels of self-compassion and lower levels of burnout.
Find a Mentor
Mentorship is when guidance is provided by a person who has more experience than you in a particular field or subject. Research shows that it helps to reduce the risk of burnout by providing an outlet for health professionals to express their frustrations while also receiving useful guidance on how to navigate a variety of professional situations.
While there are formal mentorship programs in larger healthcare companies for clinical healthcare providers like physicians and nurses, there is a lack of organized programs for health coaches and other wellness professionals.
You don’t need to be in a formal mentorship program to find a mentor. Look within your personal network, or look to other health coaches you admire. You can reach out to them to tell them what sort of guidance you are looking for and ask if they would be interested in being your mentor. If they are limited on time or don’t feel equipped to be a mentor, you can ask them if they can refer you to someone else.
Down the line, you can pay it forward and consider being a mentor to someone else.
Put Personal Boundaries in Place
Take time to understand what factors of your job make you feel more burned-out. After answering Maslach’s burnout questionnaire, you might have a better idea of what that might be.
Learn to set personal boundaries so that you can still do your job well while holding your boundaries.
Personal boundaries can be divided into different categories, such as:
- Emotional boundaries, or those that protect your own emotional wellbeing
- Physical boundaries, or those that protect your physical space
- Time boundaries, or those that protect the use and misuse of your time
Consider what boundaries you are interested in holding with your clients, your colleagues, and any supervisors or partners you may have. Practice communicating and enforcing those boundaries as you feel comfortable.
Unfortunately, burnout syndrome is a common condition among health professionals and entrepreneurs. Often, health coaches are both; daily, they deal with the pressures of running their own business while also dealing with the pressures associated with providing a health service to their clients.
Burnout can be caused by a range of factors, including experiencing financial stress, time constraints, or having multiple clients who do not respect time boundaries.
In this article, we provided a useful tool for understanding whether and to what degree you have burnout, and we provided suggestions on how to effectively manage burnout.
These tools and strategies, while focused on professionals like you, can be applied to multiple contexts. If you have a friend, family member, or client for whom this might be useful, send it on!
For more information on how to support clients with burnout, read this article on 6 Ways Health Coaches Can Support Clients Experiencing Burnout.
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