If you have ever wondered how “Speech-Language Pathology” has frequently ended up on the lists of “Least Stressful Jobs,” then you’re most likely not alone. Chronic stress of school-based SLPs is a considerable factor in overall burnout, leading to shortages across the nation. Whether or not you are new to this field or have been practicing for years, chronic stress is something that may have steadily and sneakily crept up on you without any immediate symptoms. Signs of burnout include disassociation from staff and clients; increased cynicism about the effectiveness of one’s job; emotional fatigue; decreased productivity; frequent absences or tardies; dread of returning to work; increased irritability; or even physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach pain, fatigue, dehydration, etc. Occasional bouts of stress are normal and can even be beneficial, helping you overcome those moments of procrastination. But it should come as no shock that chronic stress, which is stress that the body has been exposed to for long periods of time resulting in an inability to perform functional life tasks, can have significant negative effects on one’s health.
Chronic stress on the SLP should come as no surprise considering the multitude of factors we are exposed to on a daily basis, including high caseloads, lack of administrative support, minimal or absent resources (i.e., therapy rooms, computers, printers, etc.), high expectations from parents and teachers to “cure” students, constant pressure to respond to emails and texts all day, unnecessary meetings, and contentious parents. These factors, as well as being immersed within the chaos that is the school day, leaves us frazzled and unable to effectively decompress. Thankfully you are not alone when it comes to job burnout. Although adequate sleep, balanced diets, and exercise are all excellent strategies for warding off burnout and boosting mental health, below are a few different strategies that could potentially help with overall mental health and wellness, helping you maintain your sense of self amidst a world of daily disorder:
Connect with others: I know many SLPs are tossed around schools year after year, which doesn’t help our overall feelings of self-worth. The first thing I generally try and do within the first month or two of the school year is slowly reveal aspects of myself to teachers and administration. I share my hobbies, likes, dislikes, interests, etc., in an effort to reveal that I am also human, just as they are, and am trying my best in the same environment. Conveying a sense of teamwork seems to also be beneficial – it's appreciated by staff and results in an overall warmer reception and environment. Reaching out to other SLPs is also helpful, whether it be to exchange complaints, ideas, or materials. Forming a group text or conversation is something I always strive to do, especially within a new district.
Be transparent with others: When it comes to high-demand parents and teachers, I find that being open and honest can generally relieve the tension in the air. If you’re unsure as to an answer, be honest about it and provide a follow-up with them after researching the answer. Reliability and transparency are very much appreciated and you’ll gain respect in the long-term sense, eliminating an input of stress.
Don’t forget that you’re a person: Is there a hobby or interest that defines you? Make sure to reserve some time during the day to engage in that activity. If we strictly become SLPs 24/7, then we leave no room for the things that helped develop us before we entered this profession. View it as a selfless investment in yourself – if you nurture your interests with the same gusto that we nurture our students’ education, then we can return to work re-energized and ready to give back. If you’re presented with something that interferes with your ability to engage in your interests, have zero guilt in saying “no.” After all, no one would fault you for taking bedrest while having the flu, would they?