One day as I watched a fellow dietitian speak in a professional private Facebook group, I thought “Wow! She’s got it all figured out.” This RD was able to allocate six weeks of personal time off from her private practice during the summer to avoid burnout. She used that time to relax, reset, and travel. On the other hand, I’ve been going, going, going. When was the last time I took a break? Completely unplugged? Made time for me? Am I burnt out?
As dietitians, we tend to be workaholics—we have an ongoing need and desire to help people feel better through nutrition. On top of that, we may have families to care for, CEUs to maintain, and food and diet trends to keep abreast of. (Just when I think I’m familiar with all the fad diets, a client tells me about one I’m unfamiliar with.) We’re constantly educating ourselves and developing our skills, even if we’ve been in the field for years. So when is enough enough?
As part of the latest International Classification of Diseases, the World Health Organization declared burnout a phenomenon with an official diagnosis code. According to the Mayo Clinic, burnout is best defined as “a special type of “work-related stress—a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”
So how do you know if you’re burnt out or at risk of burnout? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Have you become cynical or critical at work? Is it no longer bringing you joy?
- Do you have feelings of depletion or exhaustion?
- Have you become irritable or impatient with coworkers, customers, or clients, or even friends and family members?
- Have you been distancing yourself from friends or participating in activities outside of work?
- Do you have trouble concentrating or being productive?
- Do your achievements leave you feeling unsatisfied?
- Have your sleep habits changed? Are you experiencing insomnia or keep waking up in the middle of the night for no reason?
For me, when all the things I love about being a dietitian stop being fun, I know I’m headed down the path to burnout.
If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, here’s how to prevent burnout before it’s too late.
1. Fit yourself into your schedule. Try to “make time for you” twice a day. It doesn’t have to be a big block of time—maybe 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening. Put your devices on “Do Not Disturb” mode and allow yourself time to do something you enjoy, such as stretching, walking, meditating, or just sitting outside and feeling the warmth of the sun. Don’t use this time to scroll social media. If you can give yourself 30 minutes or longer at once, do physical movement that you enjoy and allot yourself 15 minutes for leisure later in the day.
2. Talk to your supporters. Who are your biggest fans? Your best friend, a family member, a spouse or significant other? Whoever has your back, talk to them about difficulties you’re facing. We often feel we have to carry the weight of our troubles so as not to burden others, but that’s usually the farthest thing from the truth.
3. Say no. Dietitians tend to fit too much on their plates, so when you’re feeling overwhelmed, say no. It just may not be the right time for you to take on a new task or opportunity.
4. Ask for help. This goes back to talking to and relying on your supporters. It’s OK to ask for help, whether it’s with household chores or a professional project. Whatever it is, don’t be shy.
5. Limit social media. This one is hard because if you’re in private practice, platforms such as Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram are flooded with nutrition coaches, wellness coaches, nutrition influencers, and fellow RDs you must compete with for potential clients’ attention. If you’re not on social media all the time promoting your practice and trying to attract your ideal customer, you might experience “FOMO” (fear of missing out) on that next client. But social media can eat up a huge chunk of precious time; before you know it, you’ve spent 45 minutes on Instagram when you could have been doing something for you. When you check social media, set a timer for 15 to 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, it’s time to move on.
As summer rolls into fall, make time for you. Enjoy the remaining warm nights, the evening crickets. Read a fiction book and take joy in listening to your breath. Surround yourself with family and friends and relish each moment.
If you feel these tips aren’t enough and you’re struggling more than you think after answering the questions in this blog, consider talking to a doctor or a mental health provider because these symptoms also can be related to health conditions, such as depression.
— Marissa Perrotta, RDN, RYT, is a registered dietitian, registered yoga teacher, and owner of Plantable Palate Nutrition in Wayne, New Jersey. She’s a family nutritionist working with moms to help them achieve their health goals with a nondiet approach so they can finally stop the dieting cycle. She also helps their children with picky eating and always encourages more intake of fruits and vegetables.