How to continue to adapt (when you’re likely pretty burnt out)

I used to journal often. I had beautiful penmanship and a writing strength that could withstand sitting at my desk for hours. I relished the nonjudgmental outlet of documenting my thoughts and feelings that later turned into time capsules where all memories could be relived. I haven’t really felt a desire to journal for the better part of the last decade. Some might argue that this space is a new journal, but I’ve otherwise felt no other draw to continue the act of daily journaling.

But it’s a weird time. Our shared chronic and heightened stress across the globe has me much more tightly wound than I can ever recall feeling. I recently discovered that my baseline stress level is now so high and so normalized that even the slightest of increased stressors can set me off into a panic attack that sends me to the doctor; ultimately indignantly arguing with my primary care physician that I *know* what-my-panic-attacks-are-like-and-this-was-not-one-of-them. [Fun fact: panic attack symptoms can change over time and with age].

What I do think is helpful is to normalize what others may be experiencing and to simply say, you are likely not alone. Here are some things I’ve either thought about or acted on intentionally over the last couple of months in order to adapt.

  1. Recognize and accept your moments of countertransference. Wowzers. I don’t know about you but I have never combatted countertransference to the level I have this year. Ask any of my previous interns – I normally have a pretty tough therapeutic exterior. Working in a highly acute pediatric setting has never truly shaken me up as much as it has in the last year. A kiddo having an anxiety attack? Welp, here comes mine…. A family sharing their difficult decisions about their loved one’s care? Dang it – now I’m in tears. Experiencing countertransference does not make you a bad therapist. As long as you recognize it in the moment and you act intentionally, it is normal. If you are tired, stressed, or confused about your own life and experiences, it’s only natural that you wouldn’t have the same level of “tough” exterior as you might normally.
  2. Which leads us, of course, to your coping skills. Let’s face it. What’s worked in the past probably isn’t working any more. And it’s likely pretty frustrating. I am a fairly avid gym-goer, which I’m no longer doing to the level that I once did. Not exercising was hurting me mentally to the point where it was hurting me physically (see aforementioned panic attack). We are all learning how to adapt our previous coping skills and exploring new coping skills. Like with anything, it’s okay if things aren’t working or you are experiencing setbacks with new strategies.
  3. Many people are trying new things like therapy or clinical supervision. Most of us need both. Personal therapy is our space to divulge and work through personal and professional matters and the complexities of their interplay in our lives. Clinical supervision is our opportunity to discuss music therapy-specific cases, feelings, and questions about our work. We all benefit from either opportunity and we might be finding that we need both more than ever. During a time when we are forced to be isolated from one another, it is okay to disclose that you need more ears to hear what is going on with you personally and professionally and insight to be gained around that.
  4. Sometimes, we might find that grace and mantras might be a simple way to give ourselves some of that insight. I’ve recently found myself ending my work day with, “I’ll try again tomorrow.” Often I’m stating this aloud to others in the room as a joke but it usually feels true. Many days are spent feeling like I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do, or I was unhappy with the work that was done. But if I tell myself aloud at the end of the day that I’ll try again tomorrow, that simple act makes me a feel a whole lot better. I feel a greater sense of grace for myself and my humanness, which doesn’t always come easily.
  5. And finally, looking for small pockets of hope. Despite the many difficulties, there are still areas to find hope. I find great hope in a number of things occurring in our world, in my professional life, and personally. The importance is not in finding them to share with others but in identifying them for yourself. What continues to give you drive and resilience? Draw on those pockets of hope to allow you to continue to do the work that is most meaningful to you. And if you find yourself struggling with that today, just remind yourself, “I’ll try again tomorrow.”

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