​Employment and Paralysis: What Is Workplace Burnout and How Can We Maintain Mental Wellness?

Posted by Lauren Presutti in Life After Paralysis on February 07, 2022 # Employment

Woman working on a laptop and using a wheelchairWith the right support and resources, most individuals living with paralysis are able to seek employment after injury and build fulfilling careers. Using a wheelchair at work might require asking for accommodations to make your workspace fully accessible, but thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are required by law to make reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities in the workplace. With assistive technology and other equipment available today, it is amazing how much more accessible we can make the workplace today compared to previous decades. But even with a fully accessible work environment, you may begin to feel stressed out on the job. Even those with the most “able” bodies experience stress relating to work. Let’s talk about workplace burnout and how we can maintain our mental wellness to keep ourselves healthy in our careers.

Have you ever had a stressful day, and you came home feeling drained, but after a good night of sleep, you wake up the next day and feel refreshed? With a little self-care, you were able to recover from your stress relatively quickly. On the other hand, burnout is a chronic state of mind – rather than a temporary state. Burnout usually includes ongoing, prolonged feelings of exhaustion or dread. It occurs when we arrive at the point where even when we try to have a good night of sleep or take care of ourselves, we still end up feeling an overwhelming sense of exhaustion. Burnout may be the result of having repeated stressful experiences, over and over again, without achieving stress-relief.

Although feelings of burnout can occur in any area of our lives (social burnout, activity burnout, relationship burnout, among other forms), discussing workplace burnout can be especially important given how many hours we spend each week in our careers. There are three main signs that I think about when it comes to workplace burnout: 1) feelings of exhaustion, 2) identifying less and less with your job, and 3) feelings of reduced professional ability.

If you’re feeling exhausted, you might notice that it takes more and more energy to do simple tasks. You might feel like you require more downtime outside of work than usual. Starting to identify less and less with your job might mean that you are losing your sense of pride at work. You might start caring less about your job, losing interest, and you might start to grow resentment at work. Finally, feelings of reduced professional ability might cause you to feel like the demands of the job are too much. You might start to wonder if you’re not the right person for the job, you may grow increasingly frustrated, and you may question your role at work.

In other words, if you feel exhausted, start to hate your job, and begin to feel less capable at work, you are showing signs of burnout. How can we prevent workplace burnout from occurring? It’s so important to understand tips and strategies for creating a mentally healthy workplace. This topic is especially relevant to those living with paralysis because sometimes it’s easy to blame physical limitations as being the reason why we are experiencing workplace burnout. Sometimes we may fall into the trap of thinking that our paralysis is the problem, and we may unintentionally limit ourselves unnecessarily. I want to challenge you to think about other factors (besides paralysis-related challenges) that may be leading to your workplace stress. Sometimes we can find more effective ways to handle stress at work and experience more positive outcomes when we have greater attention to mental health coping skills. Use the list below to integrate some healthier practices into your work life to maintain your job satisfaction and guard against mental fatigue.

Feeling frustrated by work policies that don’t make sense? Learn the rationale or motivations behind certain policies or procedures to better understand why things operate the way they do. If there’s a policy that’s interfering with your accessibility or independence on the job, speak up about it and ask for accommodations.

Feeling like you don’t have a say? Be engaged in workplace decisions, get more involved, and support initiatives aimed at improving both productivity and mental health in the workplace. Having a disability at work doesn’t mean that you should stay on the sidelines.

Be a positive role model. Strive to be genuine in your actions and promote the kind of workplace culture that inspires people to do their best. You may be surprised what kind of impact you can have.

Noticing signs of unfair treatment? Speak up if you see instances of bullying, harassment, or discrimination. Don’t be a bystander, and don’t stay silent if you’re being targeted, especially if you’re noticing unfair treatment due to your paralysis.

Be aware of successful best practices from other similar organizations, so that you can decrease or eliminate unnecessary work patterns that stress you out. In other words, don’t reinvent the wheel or waste your energy on things that aren’t going to produce good results. Disability or not, showing initiative at work is sure to bring positive feedback from others.

Frustrated by ongoing issues? When problems arise, use the opportunity to explore a variety of alternatives, and seek input from everybody on the team to brainstorm how to eliminate similar problems in the future. With paralysis, you probably have an innate set of superior adaptation and problem-solving skills.

Try to understand your needs and the needs of your coworkers, so that you can encourage open communication about what you and your coworkers need to perform your best. Be open-minded about the experiences and feelings of colleagues. Respond with empathy and offer peer support. This will likely lead to others offering you the same type of empathy and support in return.

Celebrate your wins. Take time with others to reflect on positive performance success and feel good about collective goals accomplished.

Talk openly about mental health in the workplace. Suggest positive wellness routines for colleagues during lunch hours or after work. Share personal experiences with managing stress to help reduce stigma, when appropriate. Remember it’s okay to open up about your challenges as someone living with paralysis.

Be aware of resources where people can find help. Research your options for getting mental health support, so you know it’s available when you or your colleagues are showing signs of burnout.

If you have questions or if I can be a resource for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Your mental health matters.

To learn about River Oaks Psychology, visit www.riveroakspsychology.com and follow River Oaks Psychology on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.