The Season of the Slow Burn

Those of us in the mental health profession are not new to stress or hardship nor are we immune to it. In fact, most professionals in our field have experienced painful life experiences, thus drawing us into a profession that entails walking alongside others on their healing journey. Therapists and healers are some of the most awe-inspiring people I have met with a profound ability to hold space for others. Truly, this community is as resilient as they come.

Yet, may I remind you of the fable of the boiling frog? If we were to place a frog in a boiling pot of water, it would swiftly jump to safety. If we were to place the same frog in a pot of lukewarm water and incrementally increase the temperature until it organically reached a boil, that sweet frog would perish without any clear indication that something was wrong.

While those of us in this profession have witnessed or personally experienced the inequities, social injustice and human suffering long before this year, it has certainly brought the culmination of simmering human and environmental injustices to a rapid boil.  As nature and humans confront a multitude of existential threats simultaneously, it has become clear that there is no distinct beginning, middle and end to the stressors we face. This year we have lived the dichotomy of the slow-burning acute crises. This is not a stressful test, nor a stressful session, nor a stressful single event. 

Stress is the water.

Sitting in ambiguity with clients is a skill we have cultivated. Working from our home environment on a screen while sitting in ambiguity with clients who are experiencing the same ambiguity and uncertainty that we’re experiencing…Then ending our day and finding time to nourish our body with a healthy meal…Spending time with loved ones…Practicing self-care so we can be a container of ambiguity tomorrow for our clients and ourselves, and still finding time to effectively move this through our nervous system since we know this level of trauma and stress in the long term can lead to poor mental and physical health outcomes.

*Take a DEEP EXHALE here*

I feel you. This is an empath in 2020. My experience as someone who needs tie and space to process my work as a therapist has at times felt like 2020 does. Not. Quit. I remember a day earlier in quarantine when I reached my boiling point. I sat at the park sobbing because I desperately needed a day of reprieve to sit by the water with a delicious burrito, and get this; the burrito order was (gasp) incorrect! The stress response was so exaggerated and so disconnected from the source, I had to pause and ask, “Okay, what is what here? Am I hungry? Tired? Overextended? Under-stimulated? Am I grieving? Am I scared? Do I just really, really, really like black beans?” 

Classic burnout. I had ignored the indicators, the gradual overheating.  

This is the reality for many therapists holding space for our clients while simultaneously trying to hold space for ourselves and loved ones.  When our resources are low and our bandwidth is less, our capacity to hold space is diminished. When incoming information is not effectively processed or moved through our systems, it can blow out sideways in the most unassuming ways. Self- and mindful practices do not often happen by accident; they require intentionality.  Be mindful of the water in which we currently sit. This is the sly slow burn. 

If you can relate to this experience, stay tuned for more tips on ways to navigate burnout in the next blog…
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Written By Molly Pike

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