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Feeling burned out? York College professor says you’re not alone and offers tips to help

Amanda Rich meets with student in her office.

If people who work in human services were superheroes, their superpower would be easy to identify. It’s their ability to get inside someone’s mind — to understand what a person is going through and go through it with them.

Unchecked, though, that same compassion and empathy can make those superheroes vulnerable to their equivalent of kryptonite: burnout.

That’s how York College of Pennsylvania professor Dr. Amanda Rich explains it. Her job? To prepare future human services, super heroes, to use their power for good — and avoid kryptonite.

So…what’s burnout?

We all have challenging days or even weeks at work. Days when we come home completely beat, days we don’t want to get up and go to work.

That’s all totally normal.

But burnout is different, Dr. Rich says. It’s a physical and mental reaction to chronic stress.

People experiencing burnout feel physically and emotionally drained or exhausted all the time — like they got hit by a truck. That’s combined with doubts in being able to do their job well, questioning whether there’s any value in their work at all, and just feeling detached.

Burnout can lead to high turnover, something Dr. Rich says is a real problem in the human services field. That’s why she’s started teaching her students about burnout and what they can do to combat it.

“Part of my job is to help prepare students to be successful in the field,” she says. “Burnout interferes with their ability to have the type of life they want.”

So, she’s taken it upon herself to teach them how to fight back.

The plan of attack

Burnout is not like The Flash.

It’s a slow progression, says Dr. Rich. When you can recognize the signs and symptoms, you can do something to prevent it from escalating.

Step one: Breathe. Focus on the present — the here and the now. Practice mindfulness and be aware of how you are feeling and what you need at any given moment.

Step two: Take care of yourself. Go for a walk or a run, drink water, make sure you’re sleeping. And don’t forget about your friends.

“Make time for the people in your life who make you feel energized, connected, and loved,” Dr. Rich says.

Step three: Reflect on your own needs in the workplace: Are you getting the support you need? If you’re offered breaks and vacation time, use them. It doesn’t diminish your dedication to the work and can actually increase productivity and quality of work and keep burnout at bay, Dr. Rich says.

Staying in fighting shape

The skills to fight off burnout aren’t just automatic; they need to be practiced and developed.

“It’s like going to the gym every day,” Dr. Rich says.

Discussions about burnout are now a regular thing in her classes. Learning how to care for clients is important, but so is learning to care for yourself.

Despite how challenging life in human services can be, it’s also incredibly rewarding. 

When your job is to support one another, connect and help build each other up, Dr. Rich says, that’s one of the best, most fulfilling, and important occupations there is.