Millions of Americans are returning back to work after being home during the pandemic. While this has been exciting for many, some are feeling burned out by their work. What do you do if you are feeling burned out by your work? How do you reverse it? How can you “get your mojo back”? What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
In this interview series called “Beating Burnout: 5 Things You Should Do If You Are Experiencing Work Burnout,” we are talking to successful business leaders, HR leaders and mental health leaders who can share insights from their experience about how we can “Beat Burnout”.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Cassandra Hutchins.
Dr. Cassandra Hutchins is a Licensed Psychologist (NJ #6032). Dr. Hutchins received her B.A. in Psychology from Rutgers University and her Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology from Capella University. She has experience in private practice and community mental health settings working with individuals experiencing numerous issues, including traumatic brain injury, depression, anxiety, trauma, and those involved with child protective services.
Throughout her training, Dr. Hutchins has gained experience working with adults, adolescents and young children providing intervention using cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic and play therapy techniques. Dr. Hutchins has an extensive background in clinical, forensic assessment, and she has experience in numerous clinical and clinical-forensic settings, including psychiatric and forensic-psychiatric centers and prisons. Her training has focused on working with adults who have suffered from traumatic brain injury using such techniques as cognitive rehabilitation, biofeedback and neurofeedback. Additionally, Dr. Hutchins is certified in Eye Movement Reprocessing and Desensitization (EMDR), which is helpful for the processing of traumatic experiences.
Furthermore, Dr. Hutchins is listed as a provider for the National Basketball Player’s Association (NBPA). She is also a Certified Divorce Mediator and is looking to utilize a portion of her practice to provide divorce mediation, divorce counseling, and parent-child supervised visits. Dr. Hutchins’ background with DCPP formally known as DYFS, provides her with an enhanced insight of family needs during delicate and possibly difficult times.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Iam an Afro-Cuban American female who was born and raised in Washington, D.C. I am the oldest of four siblings and have always been passionate about fashion, good food, sleep, and being the best big sibling that I can be.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story. Throughout my childhood, I was always the go-to person for helping others with their issues. I would always be asked for my opinion or to come up with helpful solutions. As an adult, random strangers would tell me sensitive details about their lives, seemingly with no other intent than vent their problems. Although I was annoyed by this at times, it all clicked for me after taking an elective psychology course at Rutgers University. Soon after this realization, I changed my major from Business to Psychology.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I have had quite a few guides and helpers along my path. My mother and late grandmother were always encouraging me and providing positive reinforcement. My husband helped by supporting my decision to quit my full-time job and pursue completing the remainder of my clinical training years full-time. Also, my siblings have always held me in high regard and given me unconditional support. I am very blessed in this area.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career?
What lesson or take away did you learn from that? I have always been socially introverted. After creating the YDIB therapy cards, I quickly realized that being the quietest person in the room, refusing to meet and speak to new people, and not talking about my product would lead to this venture being unsuccessful. Overcoming my introversion has been a fun challenge, and it has been quite interesting to see how well I have been able to progress with challenging my comfort levels over the past year.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Mahatma Gandhi. This quote has always resonated with me because it has served as a reminder that we need balance in this world. You must counter every negative with a positive. Regardless of what pains we have observed or directly experienced, we must counter with our strength, our power, and our free will to do good. It is with these positive actions that we can awaken the world.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I created a set of mental health therapy cards, and they are the only cards on the market that provide psychological-based responses. They are called YourDocInTheBox because I wanted people to feel like they can get advice from a doctor, the one in the box, during their most intimate times of need. So many people suffer in silence, so I hope that these cards stimulate change when people feel most alone.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Solution-focused, patient, grateful. I use all three of these traits in every facet of my life. For instance, while creating my YDIB therapy cards, I ran into a few snags along the way, but I used a solution-focused approach to navigate over every hurdle. In addition, I remained patient while I researched solutions and awaited success, and I remembered to be grateful for all the lessons learned along the way.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of burnout?
As a Clinical Psychologist, I am helping individuals learn stress management skills every day. Help includes treating anxiety and depression that is a result of burnout.
Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about beating burnout. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define a “Burnout”? Can you explain?
Burnout can be defined as feeling overwhelmed, overworked, stressed, or depleted. Burnout can feel like there is not enough time in a day to finish work, let alone think about self-care.
How would you define or describe the opposite of burnout?
The opposite of burnout is setting healthy boundaries that both ensure and foster an overall life balance. This could look like balancing all our life roles while also including and prioritizing our own self-care needs.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Some sceptics may argue that burnout is a minor annoyance and we should just “soldier on’’ and “grin and bear it.” Can you please share a few reasons why burnout can have long-term impacts on our individual health, as well as the health and productivity of our society?
Science explicitly explains that the mind and body are connected. When our mind is stressed, our body responds. By using biofeedback, I have been able to show patients how instantaneously their heart rate increased or physical tension ensued when their mind was intentionally stressed. If this happens so quickly in real-time, imagine what is happening to the body when it experiences chronic stress and burnout? Possible mental and physical health challenges include chronic headaches, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and gastrointestinal issues. Sometimes, depending on a person’s biology, personality, and other life hardships that may have already compounded in the body, even worse physical and psychological symptoms can occur. Before seeking treatment with me, one of my patients suffered two mild strokes from stress alone.
From your experience, perspective, or research, what are the main causes of burnout?
Some of the leading causes of burnout are a lack of boundaries and balance. In some ways, too much of anything can be unhealthy, so we must find the things and activities that make us feel like we are caring for ourselves and help us replenish our mental and physical energy throughout stressful days. To implement such a balance, we may need to learn the value of the boundary created by saying “no.” Saying “no” to that extra obligation, task, or request that could potentially offset your feeling of balance is crucial because you do not want to reduce the amount of allotted time for self-care.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. What can an individual do if they are feeling burned out by work? How does one reverse it? How can you “get your mojo back?” Can you please share your “5 Things You Should Do If You Are Experiencing Work Burnout?”. (Please share a story or an example for each.)
1 . We must acknowledge that being in a state of chronic stress is unhealthy; so, can we go ahead and remove the belief system that says that everything else is more important than our mental health?!?
2. Next, we can ask ourselves what we can realistically commit to in order to create balance? For example, if the workday is jam-packed, can we schedule and take brief, 5-minute breaks throughout our day to have a change of scenery, take a breath, and recenter and ground ourselves? Taking consistent small breaks can help replenish and refresh us so that we can return to work with more mental capacity. Think of it as not letting your tank empty before refilling it so that you stay fueled. Fuel means to go. An empty tank equals burnout, and you could figuratively be left stranded on the side of the road or, in reality, in the hospital. Who would do your work then?
3. Find a safe space to share your thoughts. This could be done through journaling, therapy, or with a healthy friend/loved one who already has a good grasp on their mental health.
4. Set daily intentions. We need to be reminded that we are worthy of peace, life satisfaction, and balance. The more we reinforce this belief system, the more we can replace the one that has told us it is acceptable to be in a state of chronic burnout.
5. Try to find what you love about life. What makes you happy? What makes you smile? What do you enjoy? Become unapologetic about frequently incorporating these things into your life.
A video of these five tips can be seen here.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to help someone they care about reverse burnout?
If there are any physical things you can do to help, offer. Examples are offering to handle a household responsibility if you live together, babysitting if your friend/loved one has children, or, if you are colleagues, taking a break together and being intentional about talking about anything but work. The YourDocInTheBox therapy cards could also be the perfect gift for a colleague, loved one, or friend, anyone who may need a jumpstart on their mental health.
What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
Employers can encourage breaks; implement self-care days, like a Wellness Wednesday; or give positive reinforcement when an employee has done good work and looks healthy. More specifically, a Wellness Wednesday could look like giving employees the option to choose a location to work from that brings them joy, scheduling a meditation or moment of silence period, bringing in mental health experts to talk about self-care, or perhaps bringing in a masseuse to provide brief massages to all the employees.
These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
Let’s turn to science. While we all know that it is crucial for employers to feel like their business is profitable, research shows employers the benefits of incorporating wellness into the workplace. More specifically, research shows that when employee wellness is factored into company culture, productivity increases, morale boosts, and teamwork increases (https://www.emeraldgrouppublishing.com/archived/realworldresearch/wellbeing/how-workplace-wellness-programmes-benefit-business.htm). Thus, I suggest that companies insist on their employees have a work-life balance by writing about it in their mission statement and reflecting this mentality in daily interactions. This would allow employees to feel comfortable enough to make work-life balance a priority. Employers could also support their employees’ work-life balance by creating a Wellness Day and encourage breaks throughout the day. The rewards from this would be two-fold. Employers would be helping employees satisfy both work and life obligations in a way that feels satisfactory.
What are a few of the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to reverse burnout in themselves or others? What can they do to avoid those mistakes?
One of the most common mistakes I see made is choosing the easier road and reverting to old belief systems that reinforce familiar behaviors. Change can come with its own challenges because it takes time for the brain to adopt them. So, at times, we revert to unhealthy, toxic behaviors because that’s what is most familiar to us. I like to tell my patients that change can be challenging, but this is a short-term adjustment period with rewarding experiences at the end compared to a longer-lasting unhealthy familiarity.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
My movement would be based on a slogan that says: “Let’s normalize all forms of health: Emotional, Physical, Spiritual, Social, Intellectual, Environmental and Occupational!” We all know to eat healthily. We all know about climate change. Most of us are raised with the idea of attaining a decent job to live a good life. But some of us are still struggling with acknowledging and prioritizing our mental and emotional health.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I would love to have lunch with Taraji P. Henson. Many people say that we look alike, even though I have never seen this similarity. We are both from Washington, D.C., and she is a huge advocate for mental health. We could do great things together.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!