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Work Stress and Burnout – Finding a better Work-Life Balance

By Peter Gillogley

I enjoy my work as a psychologist, using ACT psychotherapy skills to help clients struggling with anxiety, depression, PTSD along with other common and often highly distressing psychological problems. Yet, some days at the workplace seem full of vitality and purpose, and other days leave me feeling emotionally and physically drained. I know I am not alone.

The other day, I showed up at the workplace with plans to be super productive in helping my clients, by using mindfulness and other ACT psychological flexibility skills, to better handle their thoughts and feelings, and live their lives more fully. I had a manageable number of appointments and a few letters and administrative tasks that needed finishing. However, I spent much of the day struggling with what seemed at the time, unexpected detours and distractions. My mind kept saying that it shouldn’t be like this and there must be something wrong with me if I can’t get organised. Instead of productively focusing on the next most important thing, I found my mind wandering off topic, ruminating and worrying that I couldn’t get everything done.

When things don’t happen in the workplace how I expected, I can find myself investing lots of energy into playing the same events over and over in my mind, but not really making any progress. Worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, can rob me of being really present and tuned into the people around me. It’s all too easy to take my work issues home in my head, and so miss out on precious moments with my family and friends. Unchecked, this pattern of struggling with my thoughts and feelings about work, can leave me feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, detached and questioning my career, and less effective in my professional and personal life. What was work-life balance can turn into the feeling of pressure and being overwhelmed. Being human, the path of burnout can easily take a heavy toll on my physical and mental health.

Fortunately, ACT skills can help. When I notice myself struggling at work, I can use mindfulness to take time to take a step back to cultivate a sense of kind, compassionate curiosity, simply observing my thoughts and feelings. In doing so, I find that I am a little less consumed with my thoughts, and have more energy to focus on what is actually going on around me and focus more effectively on what needs doing next. Increased work productivity leads to less workplace pressure, enabling me to spend more time at home and reclaim a sense of work-life balance. By gently making space for stress, frustrations and irritations, I find I might even get a buzz about getting things done. By being more present in each moment, I can become more connected with those around me. And by connecting with my values and purpose in each moment – in this context “why I became a psychologist” – I am more willing to do what’s needed even in the presence of difficult emotions.

Many of us spend a third or more of our waking hours at the workplace for much of our lives. ACT gives us effective psychological tools and the ability to flexibly shift perspective, enabling us to feel engaged while at work and connected with friends and family when the work day is over. ACT can help you live a more vital working life. You are welcome to make an appointment with me today (Book an Appointment with Peter Gillogley) or one of my fellow ACT therapists at the Brisbane ACT Centre.   

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