(Music – ES_Forest Pond With Stars – Polar Nights)
Today on ASHA Voices we’re going to be talking about healthy work lives, stress, and burnout. Before we get started, I want to say that this podcast isn’t looking at the workplace factors that contribute to stress, but rather at ways to manage stress and burnout.
If there is a specific stress-inducing topic that you would like us to tackle on an upcoming episode, write me an email at podcast at asha dot org.
Also, we’ll be talking about mental health and work stress in general and some strategies to cope. This is general information intended to help, but it is not designed to substitute for professional mental health care. Please seek guidance from a professional for specific mental health issues.”
This is ASHA Voices. I’m J.D. Gray.
When work stress becomes too much… It can leave you with little energy.
Kristin MacInnis: I got home just feeling completely exhausted. It was hard for me to even carry my bag up the stairs.
Gray: Whether you’re feeling depleted, angry, or experiencing burnout in some other way, today on the podcast, we’re looking at what it takes to strive for a healthier work life.
Joined by the hosts of SLP Happy Hour, we take a dive into the world of workplace stress and burnout and discuss how to get some of that headspace back.
Plus… We’re joined again by our featured voice on tech, Sean Sweeney. Sean shares apps that help clients, or anyone, with mindfulness.
Sweeney: Our thoughts are narratives. They are stories, and often we’re telling ourselves stories that might not be in the here and now.
Gray: He’ll share how to use these apps in your sessons or treatment plans.
I’m J.D. Gray, and this is ASHA Voices.
(Music – ES_Typewriter Song)
Support for ASHA Voices comes from ASHA’s online conference Maximizing Functional Outcomes for Individuals With Traumatic Brain Injuries. This Continuing Education opportunity begins March 18. Learn more at on-dot-asha-dot-org-slash-t-b-i. that’s capital t- capital b- capital i.
Support for ASHA Voices comes from ASHA’s new resource: That’s Unheard Of. This online resource features a variety of tools developed to enhance your soft skills, while helping you manage your practice and develop effective treatment plans. Check out that’s-unheard-of-dot-org
(Music: ES_Forest Pond With Stars – Polar Nights 44100 1)
A couple of years ago, SLP Kristin MacInnis began to notice something new. One thing Kristin was noticing began in the middle of the night.
I would lay there, staring at the ceiling, eyes wide open trying really hard to calm my brain, close my eyes, and go back to sleep, but I would be re-running conversations I’d had with parents of clients, going through lesson plans for the following day.
Despite her mind racing at night, Kristin says elsewhere in her day, she was feeling depleted. Like after work:
I got home just feeling completely exhausted. It was hard for me to even carry my bag up the stairs.
Kristin didn’t know it yet, but later, she would identify what she was going through as burnout.
Kristin says she didn’t notice the anxious feeling that would keep her up at night until 5 or 6 years into her career.
As she tells it, no matter what she was feeling, she was there for her clients.
Being a speech pathologist, especially when you’re working with kids, is not easy. It’s fun because you’re playing games and getting the kids to laugh and you’re having a good time, but it’s draining. When you’re not feeling yourself…or if you’re feeling burnout…or you’re feeling depleted, you have to put all of that aside when your clients come in and you have to put a smile on your face, and you have energy bursting out of your ears… and that’s so hard when you’re not feeling that internally.
After a little over a year, things changed for Kristin.
In early 2019, Kristin says she was listening to a podcast describe the difference between stress and burnout.
and that was really a lightbulb moment for me to realize the anxiety and the waking up in the night was more than stress, it was a feeling of… it was burnout.
The World Health Organization recognizes burnout as a quote syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed end-quote. And it points to signs including low energy levels and disengagement from work.
The Mayo Clinic includes over-identification with your job as a risk factor, linking burnout to helping professions, such as health care.
Kristin says she feels like a completely different person now. She took steps to fight her burnout.
She says she would take walks, decorate her desk, provide encouragement to her colleagues, and receive encouragement from her colleagues.
I’m coming home happier. I’m able to do things around the house and be able to function outside of work.
One thing I’m struck by in Kristin’s story, is that she didn’t know she was going through burnout until she heard other’s talking about it. The experience can feel isolating.
In fact, it’s that need for conversations around this subject that worked as inspiration for our first guests on today’s show. Sarah Lockhart and Sarie Wu are the hosts of SLP Happy Hour.
On their podcast, they present a candid, sometimes confessional approach to serious issues like imposter syndrome, perfectionism, and productivity standards.
[SLPHappyHour fade in]
“Welcome to the SLP Happy Hour Podcast. This is a podcast to discuss work and life as working SLPs. We are fulltime SLPs in the trenches,”
Sarah and Sarie joined me from Oregon. I asked them, why they decided to focus their show on issues surrounding stress in the workplace. Sarah speaks first.
Let’s see. So as far as the topic focus for me, I had worked in the schools for quite a long time and I was transitioning out of working in the schools and to telepractice and private practice. And if there’s something about burnout, it’s that you don’t really know that you’re in it until you’re getting out of it. So at the point at which I was in a healthier work environment and I was feeling good again, I thought, you know what? I went through a lot of guilt and suffering and burnout and compassion fatigue and not only was I going through that as a school SLP, but I felt really isolated the whole time like there weren’t other SLPs who are going through the same thing. And I really wanted to have conversations that someone could listen to on their drive to work or on their lunch break or while they were cleaning their house and hear and not feel like they’re the only one that feels these feelings when it comes to their profession.
Yeah. These are conversations that people do have privately. What benefit did you see to having these conversations publicly? Sarie?
Well, so when I joined, I was actually a clinical fellow, and Sarah was kind of a mentor for me and invited me to be a co-host with her. But through the course of it, I’ve become quite passionate about burnout and I think part of the reason we wanted to have such open conversations is because there weren’t any, or there weren’t enough. And this career can feel very isolating, especially for school SLPs, I think, who are the only SLP in their building in that specific career and you can feel very alone and when you’re going through these things, you may not have that community to talk and have these conversations with.
You both talk about community on the program pretty often. Why do you think it’s so important to have a community around you?
Well I think it’s important because it gives you that support network and those connections so when you are struggling, you have someone to call, you have someone to reach out to who may be going through the same thing and who may be able to help you work through it. Or it’s the other way around, maybe you’re that person that’s giving them the support that they need and just that connection is huge.
And for me there’s a mindfulness phrase that I really connect with and it’s called common humanity. And the idea there is that what we’re going through is just a part of the human experience and other people are feeling it too. So I wanted to connect with common humanity and for me that meant doing things like having segments where, it’s tongue in cheek, but we talk about lazy lessons. A lesson you can do super quick for super cheap. We talk about lesson fails and I wanted to connect on a vulnerable and real level with other SLPs on this topic.
On your website in a section labeled Who We Are, you share this, “We’re against burnout, overwhelm, perfectionism, and guilt. We are for calm boundaries and letting things go.”
How did you develop this lens to look at your work life?
Oh, I like that question. So for me, I would have a to-do list that got longer and longer and the longer I worked in the same job, the more responsibilities I had and the more that there was to do on that list. I’ve been an SLP for 13 years now, in a job where there are so many competing demands, you’re going to make mistakes and you won’t be perfect. So for me, after my own experience with burnout, after being in this profession for a while, I had to really learn about self-compassion, doing less, letting things go, and treating my mistakes more lightly.
Yeah. Could you tell me a little bit about how it is that any working professional can see themselves in their job and begin to over-identify? What are the things to look for?
Right, so as far as what might cause burnout, there are lots of things. Specifically, with over identifying with our work, a lot of SLPs say things like, “This is a great job, this is my passion.” And that’s okay if it’s true, but that can be pretty dangerous because if something is our passion, if we would maybe do it for free or if it’s the best job in the world, we might start to have some expectations around that.
So if our idea is: I’m an SLP, I do this work, eventually there can come a point where we’ve worked so hard to do it and we’ve kind of overworked ourselves to the point, and again, there’s lots of factors, this is not the only one, where we might feel a sense of exhaustion or even just frustration with our own job because it is taking too much from us.
Just to echo what Sarah was saying, I think you hear a lot of helping professionals that self-identify, like she said, too much with their career and being a teacher, being an SLP is how they define themselves and they don’t really draw that line. And when things start to get hard, they start to feel like their sense of self is lacking because they’re struggling so much in their career and they don’t have that healthy balance between what’s work and what’s not because they’re too tied up and too connected to being defined by what they do for a living.
And if you’re over identifying with your job and it’s not going well, there’s pressure to act like it is going well, right? This is so important to me, so it has to be going good. So sometimes we’re not always honest with ourselves when maybe it’s not going so good.
(Music: ES_Forest Pond With Stars – Polar Nights 44100 1)
We’re going to take a quick break, and when we come back, Sarah and Sarie share the lessons they’ve learned over the past two years that have impacted their careers the most. And, we talk about mindfulness.
(Music In: ES_Typewriter Song)
Support for ASHA Voices comes from ASHA’s online conference Maximizing Functional Outcomes for Individuals With Traumatic Brain Injuries. From March 18 to March 30, this Continuing Education opportunity will share practical strategies for improving functional outcomes and quality of life. You can earn up to two-point-six ASHA C-E-Us for participating. Learn more at on-dot-asha-dot-org- slash-t-b-i. that’s capital t- capital b- capital i.
Support for ASHA Voices comes from ASHA’s new resource: That’s Unheard Of. It’s always important to check for blind spots in your practice. That’s Unheard Of features a variety of tools developed to enhance your soft skills, while helping you manage your practice and develop effective treatment plans. They’re quick and easy to use. Learn more at that’s-unheard-of-dot-org
(Music Fade Out)
Gray: We’re going to rejoin our conversation with Sarah Lockhart and Sarie Wu, the hosts of the podcast SLP Happy Hour. I asked them about the lessons they’ve learned about creating healthy work lives for themselves after producing the show for more than two years.
Yeah, so for me, I’ve learned that self-care and mindfulness is really important, but it’s one piece of a larger puzzle, if you will. So I’ve created a graphic that is meaningful to me that is, and I’m happy to share this with you, and it’s the SLP Happy Hour work wellness chart and it has three main components. The first is our emotional and physical wellbeing. So that includes that we need good mental health, physical health, spiritual health to be happy at work. However, that’s not the only thing. So another piece is self-advocacy that we’re able to ask for what we need. And what goes with self-advocacy is that you’re working in a psychologically safe environment and what that means is that you’re in an environment where it feels safe and productive to truly be yourself, show yourself and ask for what need. And when we talk about the second piece of the puzzle that’s self-advocacy and having a psychologically safe environment, we also have to consider our own privilege and think about groups of SLPs that maybe aren’t in the majority that might not have a psychologically safe work environment.
So again, it’s emotional and physical wellbeing. The second component is that self-advocacy, while also having a psychologically safe work environment. And the third component is a supportive community at both work and home. So that means that before an IEP that I’m nervous about at my school contract, for example, I can turn to the learning specialist and say, “Boy, I’m really nervous about this one.” And she can say, “You’re going to do great.” It also means when I come home after a long day at work that my sweetheart has made dinner for me, which is a way in which I’m very lucky. So again, thinking about that work wellness involves a lot of components. Those are the ones that for me right now are the most important. I think that those could be really helpful and a lens in which to view things for other SLPs, maybe some more than others. But what we’ve learned by talking about these topics for two years now is that the deeper we go, the more there is to uncover. And I think our conversations have gotten deeper, more detailed, more nuanced as we’ve learned more.
Sarie, could you share maybe what’s one lesson since you’ve started the podcast that you take with you into your work life?
Oh so many lessons. It really is hard to choose because I started out the podcast as a clinical fellow and I made a lot of mistakes that we talked about on the podcast, but I think one thing that I learned, so there’s a few things that I’ll share, but one of the things that we talk about is being true to yourself, finding your values and using those in your work life. And like for me my biggest value is family and I always try to think about that, when I’m making work decisions or even home decisions is, am I honoring my values and am I honoring my family values? Am I leaving work on time to be able to go home to my family is one of the ways that I will reflect on that. I think that I’ve learned great systems for working smarter and not harder. Ways to be more efficient.
That’s why we talk a lot about what we call lazy lessons, which are easy lessons and how you can simplify a lot of the things that we do and be just as effective as you would be if you had all of the fancy and shiny full things in your speech room. Sometimes a post-it note is just as good of a material to have and also the importance of building up the ability to say no and to ask for help when you need it. I think those are areas that I personally struggle with, but I’ve gotten so much better through learning about how to use these as tools to advocate for myself and my career and my work life balance.
We mentioned briefly the connection between stress management tools and mindfulness. Why do you think it is that there’s so much of a focus on mindfulness when it comes to thinking about work stress and work life?
Right. A few things and I feel like at this point I can’t go on without sharing a small detail of my own burnout story, which is that I was working in the schools and I was quite burned out for a period of two years trying to self-care my way out of it, trying to meditate my way out of it, trying to support my way out of it. And finally realizing that the job was just unsustainable for me. So when we talk about self-care and mindfulness, I always go back to the SLP that I was seven years ago or 10 years ago and what I would tell that SLP, which is that again, mindfulness and stress reduction is a piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the entire picture. And Sarie loves to do puzzles, so she knows. You get one piece and through those pieces you’re creating a scene and you’re creating the scene of your work life.
So I’d like to think of stress, and we all have stress as SLPs, but I liken it to having the radio of your car on, right? You might have it turned up just a little bit. The music might be playing softly, that would be stress and we all experienced that for lots of different reasons in our work lives.
But you might have the radio up all the way and that’s burnout and maybe your feet are just thumping and there’s reverberations of the drums and burnout itself is not the same thing as stress. And so when we talk about stress reduction, I definitely want to talk about self-care and mindfulness as the first line of defense and then you need to identify the emotion that you’re feeling, act on that emotion, whether it’s seeking support, self-advocacy, asking for what you need, and then finally, if your boundaries aren’t respected, use those boundaries to make a choice about how you want to proceed.
Sarah Lockhart and Sarie Wu. They are the hosts of SLP Happy Hour, a podcast about healthy work and personal lives for SLPs. You can find out more about the podcast at S-L-P Happy Hour dot com.
And you can find the SLP Happy Hour work wellness chart on our website, as well as links to resources from the ASHA Leader.
You just heard Sarah and Sarie talk about how stress can be like the radio volume in your car. And sometimes we need help to turn the dial down a notch or two with a mindfulness practice.
This idea reminded me of a conversation I had at the 2019 ASHA Convention.
If you’re like me, you might not think of tech and mindfulness as good collaborators, but Sean Sweeney shares another perspective.
Sean is the author of the Speech Techie blog. He joined me for a conversation about how tech can help with mindfulness, either for you or your students or clients.
Sweeney: Tech brings context in a lot of situations. So we can pick apps that just put us in that particular context, so they present a visual or an audio guide and we can pick and choose from those that we like the sound and feel of or the stories of or the visuals of to just help us get in that calm space and to help our students get that way too.
Gray: Ok. So let’s go through a few that you have now.
Sweeney: Sure. One I always recommend is stop, breath, and think. It’s a nice entry one. They originally designed the stop breath and think app for the middle-school and high-school population but it’s also useful for adults. They have, for example, sensory meditations where you attune to what you’re seeing, feeling, hearing, in the moment. Those also can be good language activities doing a debrief with students on what did you focus in on and describe kind of their experience which is a language process.
Gray: Do these mindfulness techniques, do they help with things like executive function?
Sweeney: Well, I think that the way we can consider executive function is that… to function in a task, you first have to be at least somewhat regulated. So yes, to get us in a place where we can approach our work or approach play or approach a conversation, or approach discussing a strategy, you know for whatever kind of communicative issue we might be working on with a client or student that can be really helpful, and I know mindfulness is really important for say, fluency, but a lot of my students that I work with on the autism spectrum also benefit from this sort of material or these tools to help with self-regulation, for sure.
Gray: Do you have any other recommendations?
Sweeney: Sure. For a more visual approach, I’d recommend Calm. I’d recommend the one that includes a beautiful orange sunset over crashing waves and it has the wave sounds as well. So just a kind of general approach but that one also has some kind of guided audio meditation as well.
Gray: So, Ok, and I believe you have one more app?
Sweeney: I love the Breathing App which is a free app for iPhone. That one is based on a research-based technique called coherent breathing which has to do with the ratio of time you spend inhaling versus exhaling. It makes a difference. So like, 6 seconds in. 6 seconds out. It is actually shown to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems – is what the research says, but if you count, it doesn’t work that way. So the breathing app has either a ball that increases for 6 seconds and then decreases or a tone.
Gray: What is the benefit of this breathing technique?
Sweeney: You know it’s said that breathing can balance the systems in your brain that try to activate you and also try to calm you down. But the counting is a language process, so it sort of short-circuits that. So the visual can help you with that.
Gray: Ok. I have that app with me right now, so I’m going to open it up.
Sweeney: So. This is the way to do it. So what I did there is I just changed the ratio to 6:6 meaning 6 seconds in and 6 seconds out. And what you can hear [Music starts] is just a little tone that’s timing your breathing in… and timing your breathing out… [Music Out]
Gray: These mindfulness strategies, they rely on our thoughts and language.
Sweeney: Basically, you know, what is very helpful to convey to people is that our thoughts are narratives. They are stories, and often we’re telling ourselves stories that might not be in the here and now. Our story might be a worry. Our story might be thinking about the future. Our story might be obsessing about the past in the moment, and it changes our thoughts. So being aware of that narrative process that’s going on in our mind is what this really sort of is all about and also being gentle with ourselves and knowing that we aren’t trying to extinguish our thoughts, we’re just trying to make them helpful.
Sean Sweeney runs the blog Speech-Techie-dot-com, and he’s the program coordinator at the Ely Center, a Speech Language Therapy center in Needham, Massachusetts.
And before we go, I want to mention that ASHA and the ASHA Leader archive have many articles that can help you combat stress in your work life… go to leader dot pubs dot asha dot org. When you’re there you can find articles on self-advocacy, managing heavy caseloads, and making work-life transitions. We’ll put links to a few articles on the blog post of this episode of the podcast as well.
(Music: ES_Forest Pond With Stars – Polar Nights)
ASHA Voices is produced by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and comes from the team behind the ASHA Leader magazine.
Support for ASHA Voices comes from ASHA’s online conference on T-B-I. It’s called Maximizing Functional Outcomes for Individuals With Traumatic Brain Injuries, and it begins March 18. Learn more at on-dot-asha-dot-org- slash-t-b-i. that’s capital t- capital b- capital i.
Support for ASHA Voices comes from ASHA’s new resource: That’s Unheard Of. This online resource features a variety of tools developed to enhance your soft skills, while helping you manage your practice and develop effective treatment plans. Learn more at that’s-unheard-of-dot-org
A special thank you to Jessi Andricks, who took time to help me understand the burnout experience. Jessi is an SLP, and she offers resources to SLPs struggling with work stress and burnout on her website. You can hear her burnout story on her podcast. That’s all at Jessi Andricks dot com. Jessi with an i and andricks with a c-k.
Production assistance for ASHA Voices comes from Pamela Lorence. I’m J.D. Gray, and this is ASHA Voices.
(Music: ES_Hyperthymesia – Frank Jonsson 44100 1)
Next time on ASHA Voices …
It’s been nearly 6 months since new Medicare regulations shook up the lives and work of SLPs at Skilled Nursing Facilities.
In two weeks, we’re back with an episode that revisits P-D-P-M. How are things changing, and what’s next?
That’s next time on ASHA Voices.