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How to avoid burnout amid emotionally draining work and ‘generally existing in America right now’

Alyson Thompson (left) and Kathryn Stinson (right) give advice and stress the importance of avoiding physical and emotional burnout.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Alyson Thompson (left) and Kathryn Stinson (right) give advice and stress the importance of avoiding physical and emotional burnout.

Burnout, or the physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress, is an issue many people face in their day-to-day lives. Among those commonly susceptible to it are teachers, social service workers, activists and first responders.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed ways in which people who are invested in emotionally draining work can avoid burnout and practice self-care. Joining the conversation were licensed professional counselor Kathryn Stinson and Alyson Thompson, co-founder of The 4A Project.

Stinson explained that burnout is “a state of chronic exhaustion that comes from being under too much stress for too long of a period of time.” It can lead to a lack of energy, sleep, concentration, motivation and an overall feeling of cynicism.

Underserved workers at higher risk

Born in the wake of the Stockley verdictin 2017, the 4A Project works to create healing spaces for people, such as change agents, who are involved in sometimes-traumatic events. Among those who are at high risk for burnout are activists, teachers and those in underpaid and underserved jobs.

The organization first focused on activists, but “[4A] has had people come in that are teachers and social workers,” Thompson said, adding that “just [with] generally existing in America right now, the conversations we’re having on the public spheres and individual level can be draining.” She said the group helps organize healing spaces and reminds people to heal and rest.

The terms “self-care” or “treat yourself” have become buzzwords that some might not take seriously. Or they may see it as a privilege to engage in or “feel … they haven't done enough or aren’t burnout enough,” Thompson said. She emphasized that preventive care is just as important as reactionary care.

One self-care option tied to privilege is the ability to leave a job that has a problematic work environment.

“Not everybody has the opportunity to leave their job,” Stinson explained. “We have to be having conversations about how to take care of people as a society and as a culture … and how to take care of ourselves as individuals when we’re doing high-stress work.”

Self-care can present itself in different ways, such as writing, art, singing, music, yoga, walking in nature and not skipping out on sleep and healthy meals.

The guests emphasized several key ways to begin putting such practices into place:

  • Speak up when things aren’t going well
  • Reevaluate how much time and energy is going into your job
  • Find support in personal and professional lives

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan, Caitlin Lally and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.
Caitlin Lally is thrilled to join St. Louis Public Radio as the summer production intern for "St. Louis on the Air." With a bachelor's degree in journalism from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Caitlin also freelances for area publications like Sauce Magazine and the Belleville News-Democrat. In her career, she's covered topics such as Trump's travel ban, political protests and community activism. When she's not producing audio segments or transcribing interviews, Caitlin enjoys practicing yoga, seeing live music, and cooking plant-based meals.
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