An interview with Jessica Schmidt of Integrative Alchemists. https://integrativealchemists.com/
This week I sat down with Jessica Schmidt co-founder of Integrative Alchemists to discuss the topic of burnout. Jessica has an extensive background in the health care industry, she currently runs the Department of Medicine at a major Academic Medical Center in DC. She holds a credential in Clinical Sleep Health and is the current President of the International sleep technologist credentialing agency.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got on this path:
The usual way to answer a question like this is by saying what you do. I’ve been working in healthcare (an industry known for burnout) for all of my adult life. I’ve found as I age that my identification with my career is less and less relevant to who I am. In the past year, I’ve tried to cultivate more hobbies and to dissociate my sense of self with my career. It’s hard though to know how to say who you are outside of that. I suppose I am a generalist- interested in a lot of topics. A master of nothing and a dabbler in almost everything. I’m someone who likes warm weather and being in the water. Someone recovering from PTSD and anxiety issues. Someone who’s lived in around a dozen states and India but who’s fairly settled now in Maryland (if I can hang with these winters).
I always say it’s never about the workload, which is usually the first thing people think of. They think it’s just when you hit a wall from having too much on your plate. I’d characterize it as losing the ability to be resilient or to bounce back from stressors. Often there’s a demoralization component. There’s a concept called allostatic load. Usually some event triggers you and this interrupts your ability to cope with any more stress or pressure.
In healthcare, people speak of ‘moral injury’ because this industry can inflict harm on caregivers over time. There’s also research that a major corollary of burnout is your relationship with your immediate supervisor. Having that particular work relationship being toxic or unsupportive can be a major driver of burnout.
Another dynamic with burnout often unique to women is the roles we play outside of work as caregivers. For many women that means having kids. For others (including myself), it can be the responsibility of caring for aging parents on top of whatever work stress we have. Sometimes a physical change can exacerbate things. I tore a ligament and couldn’t run for a year. Running was a primary outlet for me. When that got taken away, it was very challenging to adapt. I substituted swimming but now that I’m cleared to run again, I can tell how there really was no substitution for the relief that brought.
What are some results of burnout:
It’s probably different for everyone. For me, I nearly quit my job and marriage. I ended up hanging onto both but I’m still fairly disengaged at work compared to what I was. I don’t find myself bringing the same enthusiasm to the job. It can also have physical effects. It showed up as panic attacks and auto-immune disease in me. I guess an upside is it does serve as a bit of a wake up call. I workout more now not because I want to get thinner (though that would be lovely), but because it keeps my nervous system in check. It’s also costly. I see a therapist and that can cost around $700 per month. I see that as something of a necessary expense to maintain my job and improve my relationships, but it’s not something I needed before the burnout hit.
How can I spot burnout in myself or others:
If you are experiencing less satisfaction in one or more key areas of your life (job, marriage, family, friendships), that’s a good indication you may be feeling effects of burnout. If you have the feeling that you just need to get out or escape something. If you feel like you’ve lost the ability to bounce back and can barely make it through routine tasks of the day-all good indicators. Burnout can also show up as outbursts of anger or simply disconnecting emotionally from relationships. Often, people become pretty good at hiding their suffering. I’ve found the best way to help others is to talk openly about your own struggles, thereby creating a safe space for folks to open up. I’ve had many people approach me since becoming the ‘burnout guru.’ Sometimes the opening line is just that they’re not sleeping. Often it opens up a whole lot more behind the safety of closed doors.
What can I do to mitigate burnout:
I’ve found it’s not just one thing, it’s a whole reworking of my approach to life. Physically, I swim, run and sometimes wail on a punching bag. A therapist can be crucial for learning better coping mechanisms and internal dialogue. I am a strong believer in integrative medicine: acupuncture, reiki, meditation, qi gong. All of these practices can help ground you.
Anything else you would like to share with our readers:
First, there’s a spectrum between burnout and bigger mental health issues. Not everyone is comfortable talking about mental illness but I think we need to be attuned to the fact these can overlap significantly. Burnout can be a safe word to start the dialogue and to take some positive steps towards change but sometimes it’s just a symptom of something more. Finally, healing from this is not linear. There will be times when you sink back in and when things still suck. But hopefully the overall trajectory takes you towards healing.
Thank you to Jessica for taking the time to discuss burnout. Burnout is an individualized experience we will all likely experience at some point in our lives. It’s important to recognize, address and keep moving. Unaddressed burnout can lead to relationship struggles, low energy, depression and a poor quality of life. This topic is being discussed on a professional level and there are more resources available than ever to help. Below are some resources to aid in burnout relief and recognition, remember you are not alone and we are forever evolving creatures. Feel free to reach out to me to discuss personalized resources if you are feeling overwhelmed with life, I am here to help.
Talkspace.com and betterhelp.com are online counseling resources that offer convenient therapy services. Many insurance companies offer coverage for therapy services, call your company to ask for specific benefits. I know betterhelp.com offers sliding scale services based on income and I believe some insurers cover talkspace.com.
Signs/symptoms of job burnout: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642
Link to Burnout Prevention & Treatment: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/burnout-prevention-and-recovery.htm