Burnout: Don’t Think It Won’t Happen To You

Music therapy is exciting, invigorating, …

Music therapy is also, at times, exhausting.

Constantly advocating, pushing for contracts, searching for jobs that in any way relate to your degree and experience are just a few of the challenges that music therapists face. Whoever said this job was easy: I seriously urge you to step into our shoes.

Not so long ago, I scoffed at the idea of self-care being important in music therapy. At conferences I never chose to go to a session on self-care, thinking pah! I know how to take care of myself, thank you! Oh, how pride cometh before the fall.

Within the past month-and-a-half, a number of stressors have caused me to feel a heavy burden that I haven’t felt in a very long time. One minute you think you have everything under control and things are going great, then the next minute life throws you too many curve balls to handle. I feel like the entire month of May, I was a huge walking bundle of stress and nerves. The pressure of a research project, a full case-load, the job hunt, grad school applications, and studying for the GRE and music therapy certification simultaneously seemed to all weigh in on me at once. Add a few worries from my personal life to the plate and you’ve got a recipe for an extremely spazzed-out intern!

Month 5 of internship is the month that you realize you’re about to leave to graduate. I can’t remember the specific day or moment it sank in that the “real world” was just a few months away, but when it hit me, I seemed to spiral into a decent of stress and anxiety. The funny thing about stress is that it makes you act crazy and you will have no idea why you are doing crazy things, thus reinforcing the idea that you are, in fact, going crazy. When you ignore the warning signs of stress, it WILL appear in your life in sneaky little ways. My eating patterns suffered; one day all I wanted to eat/drink was protein shakes, then the next day I wanted to inhale an entire cake. I also would find myself spacing out and spending 3 hours in Kroger, returning with nothing but a bag of cat food and herbal tea. When you find yourself so stressed that any moment of peace and normality comes as a surprise, it’s time to make self-care a priority.

“Burnout” is very much a real thing that many music therapists, interns, and students experience sometimes. I have learned that not only is it normal to feel this way, but it is perfectly alright to take a rest and do something about it. If you don’t treat it, either your body will tell you to take a rest by becoming sick, your professional work will suffer, or a combination of both. In light of the recent discovery that I am shockingly not SuperGirl, here are my tips and ways to recouperate from the dreaded burnout:

1. Exercise, and do something you absolutely love.

I absolutely believe that we were meant to be active, no exceptions. I could go on and on about the benefits of exercise. It’s tough to make exercise a priority, especially with important deadlines and other job-related duties. But for me, physical activity gives me an outlet to unwind and makes me feel so much stronger. A good jog also gives me time to shut out the world for an hour or two and listen to the music that I want to listen to (SUPER important for any music-driven person).

2. Give yourself a treat.

Everybody has their vices/ guilty pleasures. My indulgences: a well-crafted cupcake, a few hours of Big Bang Theory, and retail therapy (aka window shopping). Just remember not to go overboard.

No money? Treat yourself to the gift of time. Spend the day with no forms of communication such as your cellphone or social media. Clear your mind. Just breathing is a gift in itself.

3. Get just the right amount of sleep.

I suggest no less than 7 hours and no more than 9. The older you get, the more necessary and luxurious a good night’s sleep becomes. In addition to quantity, consider the quality of your snoozing as well. Pop a melatonin supplement, listen to whatever calms you the most (Chuck Wild, a fan, silence, ect.), and sink into some soft, comfy sheets 30 minutes or more before you want to begin to fall asleep. Reward yourself for a hard day’s work and recharge your batteries for tomorrow’s work.

4. Take a short trip anywhere.

One day I crossed the state line to Tennessee just to chill in a different Starbucks. The adventure and change of scenery was a breath of fresh air. So find a local park you’ve never visited, go see a movie solo, or bum the couches of some good friends.

5. Make time for friends and family.

This is especially important if you haven’t seen them in a while. Your friends and family are the ears you need to vent to and the shoulders you need to cry on. Sometimes it’s possible to be so busy that you forget you miss them until you see their faces or hear their voices. I got the luxury of going home two weekends in a row. I got to meet my newborn nephew in person, have a family cook out, attend my niece’s 1st birthday party, lay out by the pool, go to my favorite Mexican restaurant, and hang out with some of my friends that I haven’t seen in a long time. I came back feeling refreshed and ready to take on my internship.

6. Listen to or practice only your absolute favorite music for a day.

Give yourself permission to be completely selfish in what you listen/jam out to. Revisit the music that was so powerful that it inspired you to pursue music therapy in the first place. The mustard seed that starts a career in music therapy is the music that inspires, motivates, and changes us. What is yours?

7. Don’t forget to eat well!

Bad diets will cause more stress in the long run than if you let yourself go and get the oh-so-convenient cheeseburger and fries. That my-jeans-are-too-tight-but-I-have-no-time/money-to-buy-more feeling is THE worst. You’ll thank yourself later if you eat your fruits and veggies today.

8. Do not compromise your spirituality.

If you do not consider yourself a spiritual person, this of course does not apply. However, I urge you to prioritize the god of your understanding. For me, it is Jesus Christ. Jesus’ two biggest commandments are to first love our God above all things, then love others as you love yourself. When I find myself putting myself or other priorities above that, I find myself getting out of sorts and really struggling. We are also taught that we don’t have to carry our burdens, because our future is already secure. When I allow that truth to sink-in, I have so much peace, which in turn allows me to better follow His commandment of loving others. There is so much truth in the phrase “Let go and let God.”

9. Laugh and make others laugh. It is the best medicine, after all!

On that note, I leave you with my favorite scene from Big Bang Theory. Bazinga!



Below I have provided links to some awesome blog posts concerning the topic of burnout in music therapy: