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What is School Burnout and What to Do to Prevent It

By August 17, 2019April 6th, 2021Andrew Cohen, M.S., Blogs

The summer is winding down and school is going back into session. To my fellow therapists, whether you are a seasoned clinician, new associate, or intern, this is the busiest time of the therapeutic year. This is when children and parents might begin to feel overwhelmed with the hectic schedule that school very often brings.  Drop offs, pick-ups, homework, studying, and extracurricular activities are many of the items that get added to a child and parent’s list of things to do.  All of this change and stress often leads to an influx of patients in our offices.  On the one hand, we as therapists love it. We get to help more people and do what we love simultaneously. However, this can also lead therapists, children, and parents toward burnout.

What is burnout and what can we do to prevent it from happening?  Burnout is often characterized as both an emotional and physical experience, including symptoms such as emotional and physical exhaustion, decreased capacity for empathy, caring, and compassion, as well as a decreased sense of accomplishment. Continuing to work really hard without taking proper care of yourself can lead you down this road.

How can we tell if we are starting to head down the road to burnout or have already reached a place of burnout?  For children, parents, and therapists alike, there are a couple of telltale signs.

Irritability.  When small things that did not previously bother you start creeping up and sending you into a state of rage, emotional breakdown, or great distress.

Decreased enjoyment. When your routine and daily life starts becoming            something you dread and you are just “going through the motions” to get through the day, you may be experiencing burnout.

            Exhaustion. If you come home at the end of the day and have no emotional       capacity left to enjoy your family, social life, and free time, you may be experiencing burnout.

In knowing some of these signs, it is important to discuss ways to alleviate symptoms and get back on the right track for a successful school and work year. First, exercise is one of the most important self-care activities.  Not only does it improve your physical well being, it also has numerous positive effects on your mental health.  A few positive effects include releasing endorphins, increasing self-confidence, and increasing energy, which builds resilience to help us handle curve balls throughout the day.  Second, just like you plan time to see patients, take your kids to school, and do homework, plan time to spend doing things that refuel you emotionally and physically.  This may include spending time with family and friends, going to the movies, watching your favorite show on Netflix, or even just taking a nap.  When you start refueling yourself, you have a much greater ability to help others and get your work done.

Since this is a blog written by a therapist, I would be remiss if I did not mention the importance of your own personal therapy.  Whether you are a clinician, a school-aged child, or a parent, having your own space to process the ups and downs of life is helpful to our overall well-being.  In addition, therapy can provide you with the necessary distress tolerance skills to combat daily triggers.

We all want to be the best therapist for our patients, the best parent to our children, or well-adjusted and productive students. In order to do that, we must find balance in our lives and be on the lookout for signs of burnout. When noticing increased symptoms of burnout, immediately implement your self-care strategies and learn to be okay saying “no” to taking on new patients, or unrequired tasks at work or school.  It is also crucial to be able to ask for help, whether that is from your teacher, therapist, peer, or spouse.  Go forth and take care of yourself during this new academic year!