June 29, 2017

The communication sciences and disorders professions attract driven people who are passionate about helping others. In my experience, this combination of traits can lead to feeling overwhelmed and burned out. I’ve struggled with work/life balance at times, and I imagine many of my fellow speech-language pathologists in health care and private practice can relate.

Flailing at work? Determine how your job can better draw on your strengths. If that’s not possible, it may be time to look elsewhere.

Tips for Battling Burnout: Suggestions from a school-based SLP for school-based SLPs.

Whether you balance a private practice with another job (such as  a health care position) or parenthood, or any combination of multiple high-responsibility roles, I find these strategies helpful to prevent feeling overwhelmed and burned out:

  1. Finding self-awareness—Feeling overwhelmed is your mind's way of telling you to slow down, and that perhaps you took on too much. Once you notice this feeling, acknowledge and appreciate it as your way of protecting yourself. We learn from our clients that the key to improvement involves self-awareness. When we acknowledge our overwhelming workload, we can calmly make more sustainable professional and lifestyle choices.
  2. Learning to say no—Saying "no" is the next step to easing conditions that lead to perpetual busyness. There are an unlimited number tasks that we could be doing and there are only so many hours in a day. Practice saying no and assertively declining more that you can handle. You are only one person and you can only do so much.
  3. Avoiding false busyness—Admittedly, there are times when I found myself relabeling files with neater labels. I’m accustomed to staying busy, so when I’m not, it feels uncomfortable. If you can relate to this situation, I recommend being mindful of the "why" behind tasks on your to-do list. Anything non-essential on your list? Scratch it out. Simplify. It might be fun to do at some other time, but not if you already feel overwhelmed.
  4. Be present in your downtime—Practice being present during precious downtime. You don’t have to meditate, although meditation is great for mindfulness and decreasing anxiety and stress. Just enjoy taking a bath, walking, reading for fun, watching junk TV, napping or whatever lets you turn off. Give yourself permission to truly disconnect your thoughts from what you have to do in the future and redirect those thoughts to how lovely it feels to bask in the right now.
  5. Following your flow—Give yourself the flexibility to work when you’re in the zone and give yourself permission to not work when you’re not feeling productive. There’s no use in sitting in front of the computer forcing yourself to work, at snail’s pace, while checking social media or email every five minutes. If you really can't get into work mode, give yourself permission to walk away for the moment (or whole afternoon). By following your own productivity cues, you’ll be more efficient overall.
  6. Making healthy choices—Back to basics: eating healthy and exercising regularly help your mood, decrease anxiety, promote mental clarity and give you energy to keep doing amazing things.
  7. Staying in your own lane—Resist temptation to compare your productivity to that of others. Yes, this is certainly a tall order in a world of Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest, where the success of our professional peers get posted, shared and promoted. Don't pay attention to or try to compete with what they are doing. Concentrate on doing your thing in a way that feels authentic to you.
  8. Delegating—When you have more work than hours in the day, try delegating tasks to someone else. This is easier to do in private practice than in other work settings. Nonetheless, try hiring someone to pick up housework for a month or a meal-delivery service. Taking respite from some responsibilities lets you recharge your mental health and overall productivity. If you can’t hire someone at the moment, it might be worthwhile to reach out to volunteers, students, family, friends or neighbors. You’d be surprised at how many people would be happy to help you out!
  9. Banishing perfectionism—Some of us feel overwhelmed because we set impossibly high standards for ourselves. Occasionally, try to accept just being good enough. No one will fault you.

If you feel burned out or overwhelmed, fret not. You’re already self-aware, and I hope reading this starts you thinking about some shifts to make your high-octane lifestyle more sustainable. After all, we can only be as good at helping others as we are at treating ourselves!


Melissa James, MHSc., Reg. CASLPO, focuses on speech, social and communication skills within her Toronto-based private practice, Well Said: Toronto Speech Therapy. She provides services to high-functioning adults with autism spectrum disorder in person and via telepractice. [email protected].


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