By Scott R. Mote, Esq., Executive Director of the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program
She calls it the Sunday Night Special. It’s the feeling she gets the evening before she has to return to work on Monday. It feels like someone is punching her in the stomach each time she thinks about going into the courtroom tomorrow. She tries to think about other good things in her life, but the sinking feeling of returning to work keeps distracting her.
When she gets to work on Monday, she’s tired, unmotivated and disengaged. She snaps at court personnel when they try to small-talk. She thinks about what she will do this weekend.
She is suffering from burnout.
How did she get here?
She is a full-time judge with a family, and many responsibilities at work and home. Many events led her to feel this way.
She lacks work-life balance. Her work at the court takes up so much of her time that she doesn’t have the time or energy to spend quality time with her family.
She is an elected official who feels as if she is always being criticized or talked about.
She has no control over her schedule, assignments and the ever-increasing docket.
As a criminal court judge, she witnesses the uglier side of life on a daily basis. She sees murder weapons, rape victims, photos of mangled people who were injured or killed. Being exposed to others’ traumatic events can cause compassion fatigue, which leads to burnout.
Because she is a public official, she feels isolated at work. She must remain neutral and professional at all times.
All of these signs can lead to stress, which can lead to burnout. If left unchecked, burnout can affect your health, happiness, relationships and job performance. If you think you are having symptoms of burnout, try some of these steps.
Think about what is relaxing to you. Maybe it’s reading a book, going on a walk, playing an instrument, or binge-watching your favorite show. Designate a time each day to relax. Put it on your calendar.
Stay in tune with your emotional health.
It’s no secret that judges have stressful jobs and work long hours, sometimes even on weekends. Dealing with emotional lawyers and victims on the stand, tight deadlines, and a docket that seems never-ending all lead to stress, which can cause depression, anxiety and other issues, such as stomach problems, headaches, increased alcohol and drug use, and family conflict. It is important to pay attention to your own thoughts. If you notice that your thoughts are mainly negative, try to turn those thoughts into something positive. Think of all of the accomplishments you have had as a judge. If you find it challenging to reverse your negative outlook, the first step is to talk about it. This can be through a counselor, a co-worker, the Judicial Advisory Group or a significant other.
If you get fewer than six hours of sleep a night, you are at a higher risk for burnout. Lack of sleep can have major implications when you are on the bench. It leads to fatigue, feeling unmotivated, makes you agitated, and can lead to major errors on the job. Shoot for at least seven hours of sleep a night and be consistent with your schedule.
Organization is key when dealing with burnout. If you are suffering from burnout, you are probably constantly worrying about what you’re forgetting to do. Keep a to-do list, either electronically or on paper, and work on high-priority items first. Make sure you cross off your tasks when you are finished; this gives you a good feeling of accomplishment.
Leave your work at the office. Turn off your cell phone and laptop when you are spending time with loved ones. If you have to check your email after work, do it at a time when you won’t be interrupted from doing things you enjoy.
Know when it is time to re-evaluate your job.
Make a list of pros and cons about your current job. If you find that the cons outweigh the pros, then it is probably time to either change the things you can to make your current job better, or start searching for other opportunities.
Burnout is not just a trending topic. It is real, and it will not go away on its own. If you ignore it, it will only get worse. Remember that when you are burned out, you are not performing at your best and your belief in yourself is compromised. Take the steps necessary to get back to being yourself.
If you are suffering from burnout and cannot get past it, contact the Judicial Advisory Group, a peer-based confidential assistance group that helps judges with personal and professional issues. All inquiries are confidential.