Have you ever felt like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders while supporting others? A career in peer support is rewarding, but it’s not without its challenges.
The emotional toll, the constant giving of oneself, and the relentless demands can lead to a state of burnout. Which in turn, threatens both your well-being and your ability to provide effective support.
Don’t worry, we will unveil the secrets to preventing burnout in peer support. This is a comprehensive collection of self-care strategies specifically tailored to empower you, the unsung heroes of compassion.
Recognizing Burnout In Peer Support
Alright, let’s get real for a moment, because this is actually a fairly serious topic. Burnout is sneaky and can creep up on anyone, especially those who dedicate themselves to supporting others.
Right now, you are probably in one of two positions.
Position A– Your probably thinking, “I love my job! There is no way I could ever get burnt out doing this”. Well, hopefully you won’t. I don’t say this to be pessimistic but statistically, there is a good chance of it happening. Some studies show that burn out rates among mental health workers is as high as
Position B– You are already feeling it.
We don’t say these things to be discouraging. In reality, we just want to give you the best chance to avoid ending up in position C: Fed up, tired, and ready to scream at the next person you see.
No one wants to end up there.
But how can you tell if you are experiencing burnout in peer support? Well, there are some telltale signs that you should keep an eye out for.
Signs Of Burnout
First off, pay attention to your body. Are you constantly feeling exhausted, even after a good night’s sleep? Is your energy tank running on fumes? That could be a red flag. Burnout can manifest as physical fatigue, headaches, or even a weakened immune system.
Next, let’s talk about emotions. Are you finding it hard to shake off negative feelings like irritability, cynicism, or a general sense of IDGAF? Are you starting to question your own effectiveness and abilities?
These emotional signs could be clear indicators of burnout lurking around the corner.
In all reality, it’s not just about feeling tired or moody. Burnout can spill over into your personal relationships, your job performance, and just life in general. It’s like a dark cloud that follows you everywhere, making it harder to see the positive aspects of your role.
The good news is that by recognizing these signs, you’re already one step closer to combating burnout.
Self-awareness is key.
The Role of Self-Care in Avoiding Burnout
Now that we’ve uncovered the signs of burnout, it’s time to introduce our secret weapon: self-care. Okay, so maybe it’s not a secret, but it can save the day. Self-care is not just a luxury for when we have spare time.
No, it’s a vital necessity for anyone working in peer support
So, what exactly is self-care and how does it help in avoiding burnout? Well, think of it as a toolkit that includes strategies and practices to nurture your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
It’s all about taking intentional steps to recharge, rejuvenate, and replenish yourself.
Your Shield Against Burnout in Peer Support
Self-care acts as a shield, protecting you from the detrimental effects of burnout. When you prioritize self-care, you’re essentially refilling your own cup so that you can continue to pour into others.
You can’t pour from an empty cup, right?
By practicing self-care, you’re actively investing in yourself and your ability to provide high-quality support. It’s not selfish; it’s self-preservation. Remember, you are worthy of care and compassion too.
But self-care isn’t just about bubble baths and days at the spa (although those can be great!). It’s about developing a holistic approach that addresses all your needs.
It’s about finding what truly nourishes your soul and incorporating those practices into your daily life.
So, as we continue, we’ll explore effective strategies to not only identify burnout but also tackle it head-on.
Creating a Foundation for Self-Care
Okay, so now that you understand what burnout is and the importance of self-care, lets get to the good stuff. It’s time to lay the groundwork and build a strong foundation that will keep you in a positive and constructive mindset.
No doubt, as you read this you will probably notice something. Much of the following is stuff we try and teach the individuals we work with.
You would be surprised how easy it is to forget to put these things into practice, even after talking about them all day.
In truth, this only makes them that much more important to maintain in your own life. Not only will they keep you in a positive mindset, but it models good self-care for those you support. So with this in mind, here are the first steps to avoiding burnout in peer support.
Establishing a Supportive Environment
Working in this field, you need to create an environment that nurtures and supports your well-being. This might be friends, family members, or like-minded individuals who share your passion for helping others.
Bottom line, surround yourself with positive influences.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
Connection is a key to maintaining a positive mindset. It can be easy to get stuck in the negative when we are isolated and spending to much time inside our head. If you are in a position where you require clinical supervision, this is the place to get some help, take advantage of it.
More than that, it’s a great way to get actionable advice specific to whatever you are going through.
Whoever your supervisor is, most likely they have been in a similar situation. Meaning, not only is the advice you are getting professional, it is from someone who has been there, done that, and come out on the other side.
Setting Realistic Expectations and Boundaries
Peer support can be demanding, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed when you’re constantly giving your time and energy. This makes it essential to set realistic expectations for yourself and learn to say no when necessary.
Just as important, establish clear boundaries to protect your personal space and avoid overextending yourself.
If you are the type of person who wants to help everyone who asks, this is meant for you. I only say this because I’ve been there. Anytime someone (co-workers included) asked me for help, I wanted to be the one to make it happen.
If your job is anything like mine, you are probably getting requests for help all day, every day. If you are always saying yes, it becomes super easy to get overwhelmed and lose track of everything people are asking you to do.
Feeling overwhelmed is one of the key ingredients for burnout in peer support.
The hard reality is that you can’t do everything. At least, not if you want to be truly effective. Set realistic expectations for what you can accomplish in a day or week. This will not only make sure you are giving people your best, but that you’re able to continue doing so.
Remember, it’s okay to prioritize your well-being.
It’s worth it to sit down and take the time to understand your own needs, triggers, and limitations. Practicing self-awareness allows you to recognize when you’re veering off balance and in need of self-care.
Pay attention to your emotions, thoughts and physical sensations. Furthermore, practice self-reflection to get a better understanding of yourself and your reactions.
Our mind and body give us hints that burnout is starting to creep up on us. Sometimes these hints a subtle, like tension in the neck or feeling a little irritable.
Other times they are blatantly obvious like migraine headaches or blowing up on a co-worker.
With self-awareness, the goal is to notice the more subtle hints and take action before they get worse. Practicing mindfulness and doing regular body scans can help bring these warning signs into focus.
As an added bonus, mindfulness itself can actually reduce some of that stress and help take care of the problem.
“Self-awareness allows you to self-correct.” – Bill Hybels
Self-Care Is Personal
By prioritizing self-care, you’re building a foundation that strengthens your efforts in preventing burnout in peer support. These initial steps lay the groundwork for implementing and embracing the self-care practices that will sustain you in the long run.
Remember, self-care is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
It’s about discovering what works best for you and tailoring your self-care practices to align with your unique needs and preferences. So, let’s move forward and explore specific self-care strategies for different aspects of your well-being.
Physical Self-Care Strategies
To achieve the goal of avoiding burnout and maintain a healthy balance in peer support, we can’t overlook the importance of physical self-care. Our physical well-being is where it all starts. Without it, we end up drained and exhausted, trying to keep up.
Improved physical health= improved energy, resilience, and overall vitality.
Getting Regular Exercise
Get involved with physical activities that you enjoy, whether it’s jogging, dancing, yoga, or any other form of exercise. Regular exercise not only improves your physical fitness but also releases endorphins, reducing stress and enhancing your mood.
If possible, aim for cardiovascular exercise three times a week and one session of strength training. With a busy schedule this can seem like a lot. If that’s the case, start small.
From personal experience, the boost in energy and mood is totally worth finding the time.
Eating A Balanced Diet
A healthy diet can do wonders, not only for your physical health but your mental wellbeing as well. Nourishing foods provide your body with the energy and nutrients it needs.
Moreover, your diet plays a key role in the production of the feel-good chemicals dopamine and serotonin.
Incorporate a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats into your meals. Additionally, you might try limiting your intake of sugar and caffeine.
The difference you will feel after just a few days of maintaining a balanced diet is amazing.
Just as important, don’t forget to stay hydrated and drink enough water throughout the day. Being dehydrated can lead to fatigue, and problems with concentration and focus.
Prioritizing Sleep and Rest
Who doesn’t love crawling into bed after a long day? Well, now you have an excuse to do so because getting enough sleep is a crucial part of self-care. Establish a consistent sleep schedule that allows you to get the recommended 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.
If you are someone who stays up late, this can take some practice to get used to.
One thing that can help, is creating a consistent and relaxing routine for going to bed. This might include turning off all screens and avoiding stimulating activities before trying to sleep.
Additionally, make time for little breaks and moments of rest during the day to recharge your batteries.
You might be thinking, “Really?! Exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep? That’s your advice for preventing burnout in peer support?”
Well, yes and no.
There is definitely more to it, and we will get to that soon. However, you might be surprised at how often these aspects are ignored. And honestly, more often than not, this is where a lot of our stress comes from.
Remember, self-care starts from within, and by nurturing your physical health, you’re setting the tone for overall well-being.
More than that, it’s a skill needed for peer support. One to be learned and practiced over time.
“Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.”
— Katie Reed
Emotional Self-Care Strategies
Emotional self-care is an essential aspect of preventing burnout and maintaining a healthy state of mind in peer support. Overall, this means nurturing your emotional well-being, building resilience, and finding healthy ways to process and express your emotions.
Let’s look at a few ideas.
Practicing Mindfulness and Meditation
As mentioned before, mindfulness, as well as meditation can reduce stress and help you stay aware in the present moment.
Personally, I am a huge advocate for mindfulness and have been practicing this technique for years. Believe me when I say, it has benefits that extend far beyond stress reduction.
If you are not familiar with mindfulness, here is simple way to get started.
Set aside dedicated time each day to focus on your breath and simply be present in the moment. Observe your thoughts without judgment and each time you notice them starting to wander, gently bring them back to your breath.
Obviously, this is a very basic set of instructions and there are numerous mindfulness techniques. However, these practices can help calm your mind, increase self-awareness, and promote emotional balance in your everyday life.
I genuinely recommend trying them out.
Engaging in Creative Outlets
Finding a creative outlet is an awesome way to practice self-care. Not only will it help you avoid burnout in peer support, it’s also just fun! Start by exploring creative activities that you enjoy and allow you to express yourself.
Whether it’s painting, writing, playing an instrument, or doing crafts, find something that truly resonates with you. If you are doing something creative but it still feels like a chore, then you might need to go back to the drawing board.
Try something else.
Creative expression can be therapeutic. It provides an avenue for self-discovery, emotional release, and personal growth.
Not to mention, it can create a sense of accomplishment when you start becoming talented at whatever it is your doing.
“Non-judgment quiets the internal dialogue, and this opens once again the doorway to creativity.” — Deepak Chopra
Seeking Therapy or Counseling
Remember, just because your job is helping others, doesn’t mean you won’t need help yourself. Don’t hesitate to seek professional support when needed. Therapy or counseling can provide a safe space for you to explore your emotions, gain insights, and develop new coping strategies.
Moreover, a trained therapist can guide you through the personal challenges you may encounter in your peer support role.
Remember, emotions are a natural part of the human experience, and it’s crucial to acknowledge and process them.
Getting a little help with that process from a professional can save you from ending up in position C.
You remember… Fed up, tired, and ready to scream at the next person you see.
Yea… it’s not pretty.
Additional Self-Care Strategies
By prioritizing your emotional and physical well-being, you should be fairly equipped to deal with any signs of burnout in peer support. However, lets continue and check out a few more self-care strategies just to make sure.
Cultivating a Positive Mindset
Keeping a positive mindset is important in peer support and really, just life in general. There isn’t much that can keep you down when you are constantly focused on the positive aspects of life.
To nurture this mindset, there are few techniques that are especially effective.
- Practicing Gratitude
- Using positive self-talk and self-affirmations
- Acknowledging and celebrating achievements
- Practicing self-compassion
- Embracing imperfections
Along with these practices, it is important to develop stress management techniques that work for you. These might include practicing deep breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation. Alternatively, it might be journaling or making time for hobbies.
Put together, these techniques will build resilience in your life. Plus, if you do experience burnout in peer support, they will help you bounce back.
Joining Peer Support Groups or Communities:
As human beings, we are wired for connection. It plays a significant role in our ability to deal with stress and overcome obstacles. More importantly, it creates meaning and a sense of belonging.
There is nothing saying that we can’t still participate in peer support groups ourselves. Similarly, we can look for communities where we can connect with others who are in the field.
These spaces provide great opportunities for sharing insights and finding inspirtation.
“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb
This is partly why we created MHAPSS. We noticed that there wasn’t really a dedicated space for peer support professionals.
Right now, our community is still small. That being said, we are working on building a platform where we can all connect, celebrate our achievements, and help each other succeed. Moreover, we are working on developing an arsenal of worksheets, discussion outlines, and curriculum.
All of it specifically designed for peer support.
If you are interested in being the first to know about these new developments be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
Final Thoughts On Burnout and Self-Care
As we conclude this comprehensive guide on self-care strategies to avoid burnout in peer support, we want to leave you with some final thoughts and a few resources you can look into.
- You Are Worthy: Remember that you are deserving of self-care. Your well-being matters, and investing in yourself is not selfish.
- Start Today: Self-care is not something to put off until tomorrow. Start incorporating self-care practices into your life today, even if it’s with small steps.
- Find What Resonates: Explore different self-care strategies and find what resonates with you personally. Everyone’s self-care needs are unique.
- Give Yourself Permission: Give yourself permission to prioritize self-care without guilt. Remember that taking care of yourself is not a luxury but a necessity.
Remember, self-care is not a destination but an ongoing process.
You have the power to make a difference. By caring for yourself, you are only amplifying the impact you have on others.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article and we wish you the best in your peer support journey. More than that, thank you for the work you do.
Continuous learning is a big part of peer support. The following resources can provide further insight and guidance into the topic of self-care and burnout.
- “The Self-Care Solution: A Year of Becoming Happier, Healthier, and Fitter–One Month at a Time” by Jennifer Ashton
- “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel van der Kolk
- “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are” by Brené Brown
- “The Self-Care Chronicles” hosted by Dr. Keita Joy: Explores various aspects of self-care and provides practical tips and insights.
- “The Social Work Podcast” hosted by Dr. Jonathan Singer: Covers a range of topics related to mental health, social work, and peer support.
- Peer Support Coalition of Florida (www.peersupportfl.org): Offers resources, training, and support for peer support professionals.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) (www.nami.org): Provides information, resources, and support for individuals and families affected by mental health conditions.
Please note that these references have been instrumental in shaping the content of this guide and can serve as valuable resources for further learning.
Elijah Meason is a Certified Peer Support Worker in the State of New Mexico. He is a SMART Recovery facilitator and is working toward getting his Masters degree in social work. He is currently working at a dual diagnosis treatment center helping individuals overcome mental health and addiction challenges.