APA members answer the question:
When you feel overwhelmed or burned out, what do you do to re-energize?
Nancy Dess, PhD
Chair, department of psychology Occidental College
When we can, my husband, dogs and I head out of town to camp, hike, fish, get sunburned and wind-whipped, and spy on critters. Spotting a coyote or finding a bleached jawbone makes a whole morning. I believe in the restorative power of wilderness.
Charles Brewer, PhD
Kenan Professor of Psychology Furman University
Being a conscientious teacher is often overwhelming, but I never feel burned out. Several situations help to maintain a semblance of equanimity. First, I have coffee at a fast-food restaurant on my way to work at 6 a.m. Members of this regular klatch include two retired textile mill workers, a warehouse supervisor, a bus driver and a house painter. Second, I regularly have lunch with a few perspicacious psychologists and faculty members in other disciplines. Third, talks with my wife, a pianist and teacher who has never taken a psychology course, are especially helpful. Fourth, reading poetry and listening to Bach, Beethoven and Brahms help to preserve a balanced perspective on important aspects of life beyond the university.
Feeling overwhelmed is a chronic condition among teachers. When I start feeling burned out, however, I will stop teaching and become a house painter, a football coach or a rock star.
Patricia Puccico, EdD
Professor of Psychology College of DuPage
Rejuvenation for me comes in three sizes: mini, midi and maxi. For "mini" re-energizing, I keep a bottle of children's bubbles on my desk. It's amazing how much blowing bubbles in the middle of a hectic day can relax the spirit. I also keep an aerial photo of my favorite island over my desk. When I feel overwhelmed, I lean back in my chair and reminisce about the wonderful times I have spent there. Next to my island is the "Serenity Prayer"--a constant reminder of the importance of perception to mental health. "Midi" refreshers include exercise, movies (preferably comedies) and meals with friends and family. "Maxi" relief for my body comes in my yearly island visit. Attending regional and national conferences reminds me why the teaching of psychology at the community college is the career I love.
Ed Lundeen, PhD
Practitioner in Allentown, Pa.
I read at least one nonpsychology book or article for every psychology related piece. I started a "classics" book club, with nonpsychologist members, which lets me think a lot about psychology without the direct reference. I devote each night after dinner until bedtime as "kids" time, where my 3-, 6- and 9-year-olds get to pick what we do. They remind me about play and carefree living.
Doctoral student Nova Southeastern University
One of the best ways I have found to rejuvenate my spirit and decrease burnout is to attend a mentoring workshop. During these monthly meetings, doctoral students gather with three psychologists in the community. We discuss and debate our insights, philosophies and experiences on various topics over good food and drink. These times have been incredibly beneficial in that we are not being graded and the pressure to perform is eliminated.
A. Toy Caldwell-Colbert, PhD
Provost Howard University
I play tennis for a good release and for friendly competitive interaction. As an administrator, I also try to keep a variety of interests on my plate, (e.g., APA professional activities, service and social organization volunteering, writing, private consulting, serving on boards) so that I don't become dependent on just one thing to keep me going during the work week or day.
Louis Perrott, PhD
Practitioner in Roanoke, Va.
In addition to clinical activities in my office, I do corporate training and consultations. Using my clinical skills to enhance workplace performance and to resolve business problems sparks me to think outside the box. I'm also a football nut! I really enjoy the everyday banter with my office mates (I'm in a group practice of 12) about players and games. It helps me keep other more serious matters in proper perspective. I "tailgate" to home Virginia Tech games and follow my alma mater Pittsburgh Panthers--and the Steelers, too.
Ludy Benjamin, PhD
Professor of psychology and educational psychology Texas A&M University
I say "no" to a lot of opportunities, many of which I would enjoy undertaking. But, even so, I say "yes" to more than someone with reasonable intelligence would do. What makes it work for me is that I have always greatly enjoyed what I do. I do spend time with my wife of 37 years and our children and grandchildren. But I spend too many hours wondering why I take on all these projects. Perhaps I really like it this way. The alternative is to accept the fact that I'm too dumb to do anything about it.
James Quick, PhD
Professor of organizational behaviors University of Texas at Arlington
For me, the answer to burnout lies in engagement, hope and renewal. Energy recovery is equally, if not more, important than energy expenditure. So, I look for times and places to really let go, such as travel with family, so I can drain my tank. I use diary and expressive writing to empty my emotions. Then I seek renewal and energy recovery with my wife Sheri, Men's Bible Study at First Presbyterian, with professional colleagues and faith-family fellowship. The source of all renewal is always available to me.
Wilbert McKeachie, PhD
Director, Center for Research, Learning and TeachingUniversity of Michigan
I don't think I've ever felt burnt out. Overwhelmed is more frequent, but I simply handle it by putting everything in piles (sometimes 30 or more) in order of priority and tackling them in order. Just organizing them gives me the feeling that I can handle things.
High school psychology teacher, Westville, N.J.
After working with high school students every day for 10 months, dealing with their stress over exams, college and the everyday personal dilemmas that find their way into my office, I really need time to myself. I love waking up at 5:30 a.m. to watch the sunrise and read. In the winter I enjoy skiing; weekends in the mountains are great for rejuvenating the body and mind. I started a journal a few years ago, and I write in it whenever I feel the need. And I know I can always rely on my two beloved American Eskimo dogs, Fox and Scully, to give me their unconditional love and undivided attention.
Jessica Henderson-Daniel, PhD
Assistant professor of psychology Harvard Medical School
During the academic year, I meet regularly with two reading groups of black professional women I founded 22 and 14 years ago. The meetings are filled with laughter, warmth, intellectual stimulation and affirmation. The other consistent re-charging experience is attending my church. It feels like home to me. After church is great--the exchanges in the forms of hugs, kisses and smiles are "soul food."
Baking is a wonderful time for me. With jazz playing in the background and a good cup of herbal tea, I enjoy creating sweets. The aromas of chocolate-chip cookies, pound cake and lemon chess pie complete the feel-good picture.
Jo Johnson, PhD
Practitioner in Livonia, Mich.
To keep my spark, I have a strong spiritual life. I exercise four to five days a week. I have a hobby about which I am passionate: I make jewelry--I've sold a number of articles and plan to have a show this year. Every Tuesday I have coffee with four or five friends. We provide a sounding board for one another on whatever life hands us.
Last, and equally important, I seek out humor. I laugh every day--usually aloud.
Doctoral student University of Kansas, clinical child psychology program
I like to spend time with my classmates outside of school and try to avoid talking about psychology when engaging in extracurricular activities (e.g., a dinner party at one of our apartments, going to a club, having a barbeque, etc.). My true passion outside of psychology is music, and I like to write and record a CD each summer that reflects all of the emotions I have experienced over the past year. I also keep "transitional objects" on display in my office at home to remind me of the importance of continuing to stay on top of my studies in an effort to offer the highest quality of care to my therapy clients. These objects are little "tokens" of appreciation (I guess) that clients have given to me over the years (e.g., drawings, stickers, etc.).
High school psychology teacher, Portage, Mich.
One of my favorite activities is going to the country and taking a long bike ride. The combination of the aerobic exercise along with seeing the countryside is very therapeutic. Music also re-energizes me. While I am not much of a musician (as my family would be most eager to tell you), I feel revitalized after playing my guitar. I often go to the basement, close all of the doors and play whatever songs inspire me. And even though I'm not much of a talker, a positive connection with another person gives me a great deal of energy.
High school psychology teacher Montgomery County, Md.
What really helps me is listening to Motown music and combining a little jazzercise with some jitterbug steps, alone, in my living room. Fast walks around my neighborhood give me a chance to think about my problems, which don't look so ominous outdoors. Another stress reliever is my weekly bridge game with three of my best friends--none of whom are teachers!
Antonette Zeiss, PhD
Clinical coordinator and director of training Psychology services, VA Palo Alto, Calif.
This weekend included many of the ingredients in my recipe for balance: My husband and I began a major landscaping project (our garden is one of the major stress reducers in our lives). We drove to Santa Cruz to see extended, multigenerational family. We talked, laughed, ate and enjoyed my mother's beautiful garden (this is a family heritage stress-reducer). Then we went to a fundraiser for Opera San Jose. We saw friends and listened to wonderful music. If we could have fit in a hike, camping, an ocean swim and reading a novel, my major pleasure groups would all have been covered!
The Ohio State University
The things I really enjoy doing alone (going for long runs, practicing yoga, working on pottery, writing letters in coffee shops and browsing my favorite consignment shops for bargains) are at the top of my list of things to do. However, if my burnout stems from academic demands, time spent with friends is the best thing to relieve my stress. I've also tried to find new hobbies here and there to keep my sanity. Finally, I always have my staple stress relievers: spending time with God in prayer, taking long hot baths and reading "mind-candy" magazines like Cosmopolitan or Jane--two pleasures in life that I will not soon give up regardless of how soon my degree appears in sight!
Jonathan C. Smith, PhD
Director and founder of the Stress Institute Roosevelt University
I find deep recovery requires three steps: withdrawal or disengagement from my current work pressures, centering (in meditation, leisure activities or any form of renewing rest) and re-energizing for work through yoga or breathing exercises. I call this the "cycle of renewal," a basic human process of healing and recovery.
Letters to the Editor
- Send us a letter