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Supporting a Friend or a Loved One Through Burn Out

Everyone at some point or another experiences burnout. Being a loved one, a support partner or a friend on the sidelines can make you feel helpless. Witnessing their decline or their outright suffering is extremely challenging. The loss of vibrancy is evident, but sometimes it is hard to call it by its name. The very nature of burnout camouflages itself cryptically. Your loved one /friend longs to meet your expectation of normality, also to return to feeling like themselves again, but does not seem to have the know-how. Burnout drains your energy, hope, and drive, making it difficult to take the steps that will help you to feel better*. Here is where you come into support. Understanding that their burnout arises out of adaptive or mitigating patterns of response. Over time their response may become habituated or automatic thinking, emoting, and behaving. It is also vital for you to notice when your loved one/friend is withdrawing or is seeking isolation. If you notice they are exhausted often or are frequently expressing feelings of tiredness, it maybe time for you to intervene.

The first consideration as the carer is to inquire, listen, and reflect back their thoughts. You may find, what they have been experiencing may be met with a common rationale and promises of a turnaround. For example, “I just need to get through this period and things will get better”, or “once we wrap up with these projects things can return to normal”.

The second consideration is to value the people, items, projects, or goals that they rate as important. Although this may very well be the source of their burnout, we invest our time and energy into things or people we deem significant, so devaluating here will be met with resistance.

The third consideration is to ask how or where to help. It is never a good idea to tell your loved one/your friend ‘to stop working so hard’ as this may signal disbelief in their ability to succeed or to complete what they have started, at the very least. Additionally, the beforementioned comment has an adverse effect, motivating them to work harder and/or create isolation.

Instead, take a helping approach:

  • Use positive language
  • Give and encourage them to accept compliments freely
  • Point to manageable levels of responsibility and for them to delegate
  • Take note of their achievements and your abilities, to help them build confidence (see point 2)
  • Observe yourself, as well as your moods and feelings. Do this together as a couple or within your friendship.
  • Help them learn to recognize when emotion is beginning to interfere with their decision-making by gently pointing it out in the moment.
    • Inspire them to keep a journal. This will help order their thoughts and to add narrative structure to their life. Encourage them to share it with you.  

While coping skills for burnout are indeed helpful, an even more ideal solution is for them to live within their emotional limits, physical capacity, and for them to let go of tension whenever they can. This may be beyond your scope of support. In such cases, it may be time for them to seek the aid of a professional. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for the carer to also experience burnout in tandem. It is recommended that you also reach out. Schedule an appointment for you and your loved one/ friend here.

Being a carer, from time to time, may be a thankless job, while your loved one/ friend may appreciate you, please allow me to thank you also. Thank you for reading this article, for your willingness to support them, and for the kindness of heart to act upon that will.

Thank you again,

Dr. Garraway

*Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D

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