Mental Health

Black Burnout

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WHAT IS BURNOUT?

By Nasalifya Namwinga

What we know of burnout come mostly from research on job burnout. Burnout is defined as the experience of chronic emotional and interpersonal distress within a job. It is characterised by three dimensions – exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. A 2019 study looked at causes for burnout among US racial justice activists . The study found four main causes. These were emotional, structural, backlash, and in-movement causes and implications for movement sustainability. This article will combine findings from studies, as well as anecdotal evidence from my therapeutic work. The anecdotal evidence will hopefully make this relevant to the Australian context rather than blindly importing the US context onto a place with a distinct colonial history, brand of systemic racism, white-supremacy, and anti-blackness.

Causes of Burnout

Emotional: People engage in activism in part because of a strong emotion, connection to the cause, and a sense of morality. As a result, they expend emotional labour as well as other forms of labour doing the work which makes them uniquely susceptible to emotional exhaustion and overworking, resulting in burnout. Poor self care as a result of no work-life balance can also become a feature. I have found that there is also social glorification of being overworked, and people feel guilt and sometimes shame about resting. This creates a cycle of overworking, getting burnout, and retreating just long enough to re-engage in overworking.   

What Helps? Being aware of your own capacity and setting boundaries that protect you from going beyond it. That looks different for everyone, but you need enough self-compassion to recognise your needs and to meet them.  

Structural: Systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, anti-blackness, transphobia, ableism, Islamophobia…etc… If you need more information on how these and other systemic issues have a negative impact on the physical, mental, spiritual, economical, and emotional health of people, you can ask Beyonce’s Google.  

What Helps? Social change. It is not the responsibility of the victim to learn how to better cope with their abuser. 

Backlash: People who speak out often become target of violence/abuse. This can come in various forms depending on the context. Abuse comes in many forms including physical and verbal mistreatment, unjust practices, micro-aggressions, abuse of power, and financial. It is important to note that marginalised-identity activists are targeted at higher rates that privileged-identity activists. This is often where white feminism is criticised for its lack of intersectionality, which often results in it perpetuating harm.

What Helps? “Allies” having an intersectional approach and where possible using their privilege to block/buffer abuse e.g. donations can help reduce the financial cost of activism (e.g. legal fees). If ‘allies’ continue to enact harm on you sometimes all you can do is disengage where possible.

In-Movement: As noted above, marginalised-identity activists are not safe from oppression within movements. The absence of intersectionality can be excluding and even unsafe for activists that are, for example, queer, non-binary, trans, and/or have a disability. For these activists, the exclusion of part of their identity and the harm enacted as a result is often a contributing factor to burnout.   

What helps? Same as above. 

Burnout is not the result of a personal failing, but rather a culmination of the aforementioned factors. In order to help enact change, we must first preserve our own health and well being, to be effective as advocates for your self and others.

Mental Health

Adulting

“Being an adult is all about life admin”

 

Let’s be honest being an ‘adult’ can be tough but so was being a kid in its own way! Being a functional adult requires work and effort. It doesn’t just happen. unfortunately.

Here are a few things that I think help (from personal experience but also from my experience working with clients):

  • Create a sleep routine that does not involve falling asleep with a phone on your face. Rituals are important and help as cope better with day to day stress, often it matters more to have a routine than what that routine includes but there a few things that will help you sleep better.  For example don’t work where you sleep.

 

  • Have a diary. Electronic or paper, keep a log of things you have to do so you are not having to put pressure on yourself to remember it all. Also try to journal as frequently as is needed.

 

  • 80-20 rule. You do not need to do things ‘right’ 100 percent of the time. You can (and probably will) mess up 20 percent of the time so you might as well be nicer to yourself about it.

 

  • Take it one goal, one day, and one thing at a time.

 

  • And of course – look after your mental health – whatever that looks like for you.
Mental Health

How To Get More Out Of Therapy

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So, you’ve started therapy or have been in therapy for a while, awesome! Here are three ways to get the most out of those 50-60 minutes.

  1. Turn up.

This may seem like an obvious one, but its a biggie. We all run late sometimes and that’s understandable. However, your chosen therapist may have a number of clients that day and if you are late, they will likely have to cut the session short to see the next client on time, which may mean you get less out of that session.

Turning up mentally is also key to getting the most out of the session. I know it may be hard to not think about the last episode of House you watched, but try, or at least share what’s actually on your mind (nothing is too odd or silly.) It may actually lead to an interesting discussion or insight!

Equally important is turning up emotionally. You’ve made the decision to invest time and money into this process, so give it a solid shot. Therapy can be emotional at times, which can be daunting, but it pays off more when we are emotionally present. Yes, that sometimes means you may cry and that is okay, we are Costco-style stocked up on tissues. It is also not a waste of time if you do cry, so no need to apologize for it.

    2. Do the homework.headspace

I swear we don’t set homework to get you to regress into your adolescence experience of completing algebra on the way to school. Although, that may be an interesting thing to explore if it does come up!

Therapy typically only makes up one hour of the 168 hours in a week and it’s often the 167 hours that we want to look different. Personally, I set ‘between session tasks’ (it sounds nicer than homework) as a way for clients to begin to generalize skills from therapy to the rest of your life, which is critical for change.

Also, if you happen to not have done the homework, be honest and talk about why not. It may be that what we are setting is too much or impractical, and that discussion can lead to this improving.

    home-2  3. Give honest feedback.

If the thought of a follow up appointment with your therapist starts to feels similar to going to the dentist knowing you’ll need to get an extraction, something’s up.  You may know what the ‘thing’ is, but sometimes all you have is the feeling. Either way, turn up (see number one) and be honest about how you feel about attending. A good therapist should be one you can openly share how you feel with and that includes how you feel about therapy. This may be a great opportunity to give your therapist feedback, ESPECIALLY if something they do is not working for you. So much of what the therapist does CAN change, be it approach, pace, or even manner (within reason).

We cannot read minds (although I will hear this joke at least 1875 more times at Christmas parties this year alone).  A good therapist will talk you through options of changing the approach, pace of therapy, or they may even recommend you to someone else who they feel you may work better with. Therapy can be hard, so you want to do it with someone who is responsive to what you need and the best way to get that is through feedback about what does and does not work for you.

Don’t worry, we are tougher than we look and if not, that is why we have supervision (someone who supports us to become better therapists) and emergency chocolate.

So turn up, do homework and give feedback to get the most out of therapy!

Mental Health

Seeking Mentor?

In the second year of my clinical training at the University of Waikato the Tuakana/ Teina was introduced, a mentor program where more senior students supported new students in the program. This was an incredible process for me as it provided space to share my learning but also my concerns through the program. At this point, I had already been at university for four or so years and I did it without a mentor, which meant I had to fumble my way around navigating the university system and processes alone.

Here’s a bit of background about me. My parents migrated to Aotearoa in 2000s, they completed their University in Zambia, UK and recently Aotearoa (well done mum!). They were supportive but were often unable to assist me to navigate a university system that was new to all of us. I was also going into an industry that was unfamiliar to many of the people around me. When I started engaging in the Tuakana/ Teina program, I reflected on how much easier those first four years would have been had I had a Tuakana. I also realised that I had found some mentors along the way in lecturers, supervisors, and researchers. These people, some of whom I only had contact with through their writing, were they people I wanted to be when I grew up (or at least finished university). They gave me an idea of the sort of therapist I wanted to become and a key part of that included playing the role of a guide for those coming up.

So this is my open letter to those first year and beyond psychology students –  find Tuakana(s) who can help you navigate the education, placement, internships, and early years of practice. And if you can’t find one where you are, email me.