Remember everything is temporary. When feeling overwhelmed, we often have an emotional and neurological response that makes us feel like we will always be in this space. No matter how long you may have been feeling burnout, remember this problem has a solution and does not have to be seen as a permanent way of existing. Making small changes while envisioning less stress helps lead the way towards greater balance.
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 Hillary Schoninger.
Hillary Schoninger is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker dedicated to providing approachable and compassionate psychotherapy to individuals and families. She uses a client-centered approach that is personalized based on individual needs, desires, and strengths. She is passionate about offering compassion, support, and guidance to those she works with, while creating an open and positive environment where her clients can feel comfortable to grow. Hillary completed her undergraduate degree in political science at Lake Forest College in 2007 and went on to receive her MSW from Loyola University Chicago in 2010. Prior to founding her private psychotherapy practice, she worked as a Crisis Therapist at Community Counseling Centers of Chicago. In 2017, she received her Yoga Instructor Certification through Yoga Now Chicago. Today, she incorporates yoga and its mindfulness-based principles into her private psychotherapy practice. She also has training in and experience with CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) and incorporates these modalities into her approach. Hillary believes in working with her clients to develop and enhance healthy coping skills, recognize, and redirect negative patterns, and cultivate acceptance and self-awareness to heal holistically.
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?
I grew up with a genuine love of books, movies, and storytelling. I discovered early on as a child that I am a natural empath which always helped guide me to my interests. As a child, I remember wanting to be a social worker because I always knew they helped people while fostering meaningful connection. I struggled with acute asthma and obesity as a child, which informed how I saw myself growing up. Finding ways to cope that promote kinship and healing was something that I discovered early on while empowering me.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
As a child, I was always drawn to social work and therapy. Though I had some experiences in these areas as a child, I felt called to do this work. Being an empath and wanting to help others has always been a source of purpose for me. I saw many helpers as a child, and I think that it was this in of itself that inspired me to pursue social work.
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?
This person undoubtedly would be my therapist, Alisa. When I was 19, I started working with her on my emotional traumas and issues with depression. Through this therapeutic alliance, I formed not only a love for psychotherapy but also myself.
As I find myself writing my first book, Let Me Ask My Therapist: Lessons In Mental Health and Healing, I am revisiting how much therapy, including Alisa, has helped me transform. I am excited to read the forward she is planning on writing in my upcoming book. The therapeutic alliance I have built with Alisa over the years has fostered my ability to be an approachable and empathic psychotherapist.
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?
When I first became a social worker, I once was paged to a hospital to assess a teenager, and I accidentally went to the wrong hospital. Little did I know that the hospital I had gone to was about to call for a crisis worker, so I was able to stay and help.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
One of my favorite adages of all time is “Make Your Mess Your Message.” I have heard this motivational quote throughout my life, and it has provided me with personal motivation to keep going when I have been struggling. Often more than not, once I can find my way through whatever mess I am struggling with, I come to see it in a new way where it actually wasn’t that messy.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am writing a book about the importance of cultivating strong mental health. As someone who has been in therapy since I was nineteen years old, I have a personal connection to the work I do with my clients. Providing education to those who want to improve their mental health is my greatest passion. When I can help others see the power that comes with emboldening your mental health, I know that I am making a difference and sharing my gifts.
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?
1) Be resilient. At the onset of the pandemic, I went from seeing clients every week to providing Telehealth. It was not difficult to transition on a technical level; however, I had to show resilience in adopting a newer way to connect to my clients while not being in the same physical space. As I gained more experience conducting online sessions, I realized how my resilience helped me accommodate this pivot.
2) Don’t take things personally. When we take things personally, we limit ourselves and take on something that might have nothing to do with us. I have had many clients in the past who have not found therapy with me productive. Although there is always an inkling to take it personally, I do my best to realize that I don’t have to take it personally. I can let these feelings of doubt go while reconnecting my work and the clients who show great treatment motivation.
3) Be curious. I believe in the power of asking meaningful questions. When we are genuinely passionate about something, I think it’s our benefit towards understanding why we feel so drawn to it while challenging ourselves to go further with our passion. When we ask questions and show curiosity about things that make us feel good, we position ourselves to feel an even more significant connection. As someone who loves books, and authors, I have found it incredibly satisfying over the years to go to these events, where I have been able to ask productive questions.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of burnout?
As a therapist, I have worked with individuals and families who have struggled with many life stressors. Burnout results when we expend too much energy in one area, often leaving the other areas of our life unattended. Working with clients in recognizing how they want to adopt better balance within their lives is a central part of my work. When someone is feeling burned out, it can lead to remarkable changes.
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?
A candle’s wick burns from the top; it is here where we can observe balance while feeling the therapeutic benefits of its flame. What if that same candle was burning from both ends? Would we be able to recognize the harmony and beauty it provides? Doubtful. A candle is not meant to be burned on both ends, and if it does, it will soon evaporate and burn itself out, taking its ability to shine with it.
We can understand burnout when we think of this image while seeing how we inherently set ourselves in the same position. Burnout is more than just a feeling; it is a debilitating space to occupy that does not serve our physical or mental health. We can be mindful in choosing not to burn ourselves out by ensuring that we are doing the work to maintain our flame so that we are ignited while ensuring that our flame is manageable and not out of control.
How would you define or describe the opposite of burnout?
Feeling balanced, I would say, is the opposite of burnout. When we feel connected to what we are doing while also feeling energetic, we show ourselves how to live in balance.
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?
Burnout is a feeling of deep feelings of being overwhelmed, often due to exerting too much energy while not finding any form of respite to cope. Those who argue that burnout is an annoyance do not consider how hyper-vigilant society is. What we often forget, however, is that when people are feeling balanced and in tune with their mental health, they are producing quality work.
From your experience, perspective, or research, what are the main causes of burnout?
Stress often leads to anxiety and other feelings of intense fear. Burnout has long been a part of the equation, and the pandemic has uncovered it more. We are a society that does not apply the best boundaries in regards to our professional lives. Due to our often insatiable need to produce, work, and grind, we struggle to find balance while attending to our personal needs.
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?”.
It is human to feel burnout, and the pandemic has made it easier than ever for us to have this experience. Here are some tips for recognizing your burnout while making conscious choices to reverse this feeling.
1) Say No, when your Gut Tells You Too- If you feel as if taking something on that you know will cause you to feel burned out, it is your responsibility to execute those boundaries by saying no. Many people are afraid to say no to things, but we open the door to feel depleted when we say yes to everything.
2) Ask for support. Everyone can relate on some level to the stress and collective anxiety we have been experiencing throughout the pandemic. Not asking for help is a way to feel not seen quickly, or heard which will make things harder when maybe they don’t have to be.
3) Walk away from tasks when you are feeling overwhelmed. We will always have a to-do list; however, we often forget to include meaningful breaks. Make it a habit towards not being as available as you might have been in the past and see if this shift allows you to have more time to prioritize your needs,
4) Find something joyful to engage with regularly. When connecting to things that bring us joy, our endorphins increase, elevating our mood and feelings of purpose. Let whatever brings you joy lead the way towards feeling more grounded, as this can be utilized and seen as your secret weapon towards protecting your inner peace.
5) Remember everything is temporary. When feeling overwhelmed, we often have an emotional and neurological response that makes us feel like we will always be in this space. No matter how long you may have been feeling burnout, remember this problem has a solution and does not have to be seen as a permanent way of existing. Making small changes while envisioning less stress helps lead the way towards greater balance.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to help someone they care about reverse burnout?
The best way to help others not feel burned out is by making sure we are doing the things we need to be doing for ourselves. When we can model a good work/life balance for ourselves, we permit them. After we are sure about how we are taking care of ourselves, we can encourage others in their lives to do the same.
What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
Employers can encourage wellness to happen in the workplace and also enable it to happen outside. When an employer prioritizes the health and happiness of their employees, they are positioning everyone up for tremendous success. By discussing mental health, self-care, and physical health, employers show they care and that their employee’s overall health and happiness matter. Letting employees know that they can practice wellness within the work week by taking a nice lunch, breaking up the day with a walk, or making sure that everyone knows that their door is open will usher in greater awareness.
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?
Being an employer who is open towards having an open dialogue about mental health, work, and life balance is a beautiful place to start. When employers show that they are available to improve the lives of those working for them, they are inviting wellness into the workplace. Hearing burnout from an employee can be a powerful lesson in understanding how burnt is real.
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?
When we are in a place of burnout, we have been too vigilant, meaning that we have a mindset that keeps pushing us to keep going. When we employ this mindset, we are not producing the best work because we feel burned out. Instead of continuing the hyper-vigilant mindset, encourage yourself to slow down by permitting yourself to pause so that you can realign. When we are working through burnout, we aren’t working smarter; we are working harder.
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 helping people heal from their past traumas. To help people understand what individuation is and its benefits towards breaking cycles that are toxic and harmful. Individuating means, in its simplest terms, allowing ourselves to heal our past emotional pains, with the ability to create greater possibilities on our terms. Individuating will enable us to live life in accordance with what is most meaningful to us. More than not, when we feel the need to individuate, it is often rooted in not feeling seen or heard in healthy ways. We are individuating when we can step away, learn something different, or end a harmful cycle.
It takes great courage to individuate and to create a life that is based on your values. In my book, I cover individuation extensively while showing you how it is a thread that, over the years, helps us weave the lives we want to create.
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 recently attended a “Life With Vision Tour” with Bevy Smith here in Chicago. Bevy discussed her book “Bevelations” which I found to be so rewarding to read. Her ability to connect and bring community together is a beautiful thing, which made me feel empowered. I have missed attending events such as these that bring together individuals looking to learn and grow. Bevy has a beautiful way of relating to everyone while harnessing her ability to see people and the gifts they have. I would love to brainstorm with Bevy about everything, including our shared love of all things therapy, Judy Garland, and hip-hop music. Her humor, grace, and integrity are flawless, and I find her to be someone who models authenticity in all ways.
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!