Winter Burnout

Written by Isabel Aldiss

The arrival of winter signals the seasonal adjustment to our routines. Add to this the fall out and resounding economic uncertainty COVID-19 has delivered there is no doubt Winter 2020 will test our mental resilience, our empathy and our compassion, in ways we may not have experienced before.

In this time of exceptional uncertainty, we might also miss the signs that we are heading for burnout.

Burnout is a continuum of reactions to psychological and emotional stress, and it emerges insidiously throughout the caring professions. So, mediators and family lawyers for example are at risk because working in family conflict is not dissimilar to working in the ER department of a hospital. We are working with trauma and grief, and burnout often begins with the decline of empathic listening, signs of compassion collapse and with a general sense of weariness and fatigue.

Body talk is our intuition, the inner compass we need to guide and inform our actions although we can often choose not to listen to it and instead numb out. At the beginning of the burnout journey we can become slaves to our addiction of needing to show up for clients, taking on more cases than we necessarily need and armoring up to convince ourselves of invincibility. The emotional toll the burnout journey takes on the body and mind can be frightening. A friend described seeing burnout in a client as the neural pathways being fried. Her client was unable to formulate sentences, unable to make decisions about what to wear or what to eat. Ultimately burnout costs marriages, jobs and can require medication.

The obvious need for self-care to allow mediators and family lawyers to work at their optimum cannot be overstated. This includes regular supervision, good nutrition, quality sleep and exercise in an activity that you enjoy. Contemplative practices such as meditation, yoga, or expressive and creative arts such as writing, or painting invites us into stillness. In stillness, an attention to the breath and the integration of the mind and body allows us to notice what needs to be heard and attended to as we move into winter.

If at the end of a day you are feeling particularly stressed, I can highly recommend a one-minute rant on the page. There is nothing like letting it all out and then follow up with your own dance party while no-one is watching. Burnout affects the ability to connect with friends, so an antidote is having real conversations with friends in person rather than text. In fact, limiting social media, television and news right now helps reduce the negative noise. Instead might I suggest read a good book!

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert is one book I could certainly recommend.

Gilbert is best known for her books Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic. City of Girls is a superbly written, well researched book.  Gilbert’s hugely compelling story takes the reader on a journey through Bohemian theatre and introduces a cast of unforgettable characters in New York from 1940.

Finally never underestimate the effect of a good hearty laugh with your peers, as a quote from Elizbeth Gilbert in a podcast with Tim Ferris (highly recommended ) suggests “I feel like that humour has to be shot through the entirety of your life or else you really are not going to make it through earth school, because earth school’s a hard, hard school, and it’s a hard assignment. And I think the humour is that, is quite literally grace. It’s these pieces of grace that are shot through the nightmare”

About the author

Isabel Aldiss is a Resolution Practitioner at FairWay, who specialises in mediation and Preparation for Mediation.

She is an accredited Family Dispute Resolution provider through AMINZ. Isabel is also an accredited counsellor with the New Zealand Association of Counsellors.

If you would like to get in touch with Isabel, please contact her by email at