Burnout: The Journey from Exhaustion to Exhilaration


Ever have days that you have to remind yourself to BREATHE?

This morning I was able to attend an excellent presentation giving by Shellie Ruge, a member of our MTA chapter who is just a couple of months away from finishing her counseling internship.  I walked away from that meeting feeling that I am first- not alone, that there is hope and enlightened how to recognize the burnout stages and how to combat them.

What are some of the words you think about when you hear the word burnout?  Some for me are:  Exhausted, my brain is fried/hurts, frustrated, anxious, stressed, etc.

These are burnout words.  It is important to be aware of these as it is the first indication that something is changing.

In the our field, a people/service orientated field it is very easy to get burned out.  I’m sure I’m not the only one that gets attached to my students.  Why is that?  Because we want the best for them, we want them to learn and grow, we teach them for years which often results in not only getting to know the student well, but often the whole family.  Think about your studio for a minute.  Are you always giving?  Are you always trying to please the student that consistently doesn’t show up for lessons but wants a make up or maybe the family that doesn’t pay on time, but you are afraid to ask for the payment?  Shellie reminds us that these kind of things are taking out of our emotional bank accounts.  And when they are constantly being taken out and there is no deposits being made boundaries are being crossed and burnout can be right around the corner.

Environmental/organizational issues

Physically exhausted
Mentally exhausted
Contempt for self and client
Can lead to depression, anxiety, unethical behavior, poor health, family problems etc.

4 burnout stages and the way to intervene…

1– Compulsive to prove- over enthusiasm, the best, driven quality, subtle deprivations
Intervention- realism; set realistic expectations, focus on small success not failures, process instead of outcome, over responsibility for change etc
*I personally struggle a bit in this area as I find myself having a hard time of letting piano “go” when I am on vacation or on a break.  I have to force myself to leave piano at home both in mind and body.
2– Stagnation- no thrill, emphasis on personal needs, not a substitute for other things.
Intervention – movement forward; education, adjustments, hobbies, adjustments, create stimulating environments
*This is a great reason to be part of an MTA organization but I also have to remind myself that I need to find things I enjoy outside piano.
3– Frustration- emotional, physical, behavioral issues, job setting can contribute, powerless, question effectiveness
Intervention- satisfaction; making adjustments, discontent motivates change if there is movement
*I think as teachers, we probably feel this most when a family challenges our studio policy and if we give in thinking the problem will go away, we find out that what actually happens instead is it escalates into a bigger problem later.
4– Apathy- defense against frustration, doing minimum…
Intervention- involvement; diversify involvement, finding meaning, strong network friends/colleagues
*I think this is when we just throw our hands up and thoughts of just quitting all together start to happen.

Shellie highly recommended the book, “Burnout” by Christina Maslach.  Inside the book there is a burnout assessment where you can see where you are.

Here are a few that I found by quickly googling online that you can try out…

“Happiness is identifying and measuring what makes you happy; You only have control over you.”  I liked this quote by Shellie.  She reminds us that nobody can make you happy or unhappy.  Often we’ll here, “She MADE me mad”.  Well, she can’t MAKE you mad, only you can do that.  It’s up to you how you want to react.  Next time you are having a problem and need to respond to someone follow this formula:  Fact, feeling and need formula.  Give them the fact (ie: Suzy must attend lessons weekly), your feeling (ie:  I worry that Suzy will fall behind), and need (I need you to respect my policy and bring Suzy each week).

Automatic thoughts are positioned with a belief system “should”.  Be aware.

3 dimensions
1- Emotional exhaustion -Feeling overextended and drained
2- Depersonalization- I know how you feel but I don’t care
3- Reduced personal accomplishment- a decline in one’s feelings of competence and successful achievement in one’s work with people.

Self care is very important.  Keep in mind your Mind, Body, Spirit, Feelings, Kid

Mind- Reading, Crosswords, Writing,
Body- Exercise, Stretching, Eating
Spirit- Crying, Singing, Meditation,
Feelings, Crying, Sharing, Journaling
Kid- Painting, Games, Laugh

Be careful when venting, venting is problem focused.  You want solution focused.  I think this was interesting because for me venting helps me hear others points of thoughts and views and allows me to think things through a little bit before responding.  It’s also nice to get it out and then release.  But at the same time I can understand why venting would be considered problem focused.  So I think to vent just to vent is unhealthy; but to have an open mind ready to hear other views, focusing on a solution instead is okay.  That’s just my thought anyway.

Balance- enthusiasm, realistic expectations

Boundaries- say no/reciprocal transaction

24 hour rule- write that letter, email etc. if needed but wait 24 hours before sending it.  Often times when we wait we will be more solution focused rather than problem focused.  Sometimes we may decide that sending that letter/email isn’t even worth it, but it felt good just writing it.

Discontent + Movement= Change

Be aware of burnout symptoms and plan

Remember Self care and FUN

…”How to beat burnout in one word- balance”   Christina Maslach

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.  I think it is very important for teachers to realize that burnout is something we all feel at one time or another at some level.  But it is important to recognize it and figure out ways to get through and combat it so it doesn’t take control of our lives.


  1. Jennifer Fink

    What a great topic for a teacher’s workshop, and a great topic for all of us to consider as we dive into a new school year. Thanks for sharing! (And I LOVE you pic!)

  2. Genny

    Look at you skinny minny! Great post, wish I could have been there. I like the 24 hour rule too, it’s saved me a few times. And I agree with her point about venting, but you are still gonna catch my vents from time to time :o)

  3. Kelly

    Wow, you just hit the nail on the head!! Boy, did I need to have this right now….I have been on the verge of quitting teaching for so many reasons….thank you for this… I am encouraged to look at how & why I am teaching…

  4. Gail Quackenbush

    Great post, Jennifer. Thanks for sharing. I forwarded to a teacher who wasn’t able to attend the meeting . . . but was feeling burned out.

  5. susankayej

    So grateful to have discovered these words of wisdom. Cannot thankyou enough for sharing them, Jennifer.


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