According to Webster’s dictionary, burnout is the exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration. You may face burnout if you become overwhelmed with too many responsibilities or feel unable to meet demands. As your stress increases, your motivation and interest decreases. You may start feeling that nothing you do is ever enough or that you’re simply spinning your wheels while no one notices or appreciates your efforts. Sound familiar?

Until now, burnout has been called a stress syndrome, however, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently updated their definition. It now refers to burnout as “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Redefining this condition can set the stage for organizations like hospitals, schools, and businesses to make workplace modifications that can work to prevent burnout in the first place.

Did you know that injury and burnout are the two leading reasons why a massage therapy career may end early? Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals has reported that the burnout rate within the industry is estimated at 50% to 88% within the first 3-5 years. The truth is, as a massage therapist or manual osteopathic therapist, you are in a profession where the risk for burnout is high, which means you need to be extra vigilant about self-care. With knowledge and awareness, you can create an arsenal of physical, emotional and mental strategies to help keep burnout at bay.


Burnout may appear within a range of symptoms. Knowing what they are can help you to identify and deal with the problem before it gets out of hand. Symptoms  may include the following:

  1. Becoming short-tempered or impatient in situations that would not normally cause or warrant this behavior
  2. Experiencing unusual aches and pains
  3. Daily tasks either seem boring or completely overwhelming
  4. Physical or mental exhaustion despite getting adequate rest
  5. Loss of interest in a job or relationship that was once important
  6. Eating habits become unhealthy or total loss of appetite
  7. Days seem to be identical or predictable

A therapist should try their best to take a preventative approach to this. Here are some tips to apply to your professional and personal life.


Listen to your mind and body. “Our bodies send us messages: ‘Take a break, get exercise, or get rest’, but we have disconnected that mind-body connection. Our mind says, ‘Keep going, keep going,'” says Sheila Patel, MD, medical director of the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, California. In short, we are ignoring the very signs we should be heeding. Be sure to track your energy level so you have a good idea when you’re feeling most tired, irritable or unproductive and adjust your schedule accordingly. Always take time for yourself before you begin your massage schedule. Collect your thoughts, eat complete meals, stay hydrated and exercise. Yoga, stretching and aerobics help to reduce your risk of injury. When your mind and body is off, your massage therapy will be too. Take care of yourself first before taking care of your clients.

Stay organized. Simple ways to be organized include keeping a calendar, updating client folders regularly, following up on client questions within 24 hours, and using a computer-generated spreadsheet or system to record expenses.


Let it go. The ability to leave work at work is an important part of combatting burnout and one that so many of us struggle with. If you can’t walk out of your office or work environment without continuing to thing about work, your clients, tomorrow’s schedule or pinpointing that tough spot for that one client, than you are a prime candidate for burnout. Stop checking work emails – they will still be there tomorrow. Set limits on how you will interact with work after work hours, and let your clients know so you can manage their expectations.

Educate yourself by keeping up to date on the latest massage therapy techniques. Attend one or two monthly massage seminars. Network with other therapists in your community. Review your textbooks regularly. Subscribe to a few blogs or newsletters. Knowing the latest information in massage therapy will keep you on your game and you may learn new techniques that will help you avoid injury or extend your career.

Learn to say no. Don’t push yourself to work when you need a break. Schedule regular days off and time away from work as regularly as possible.

Be kind to yourself. No matter how many breaks we take, or how well we take care of ourselves, if we are not able to care for ourselves when it comes to our work, we may never break the cycle of exhaustion. The key is to stay present with everything that comes up during the day. Learn to take care of yourself so you don’t get overwhelmed by both the little and big occurrences that will always be a part of your professional and personal life. Most of us are actually nicer to others that to ourselves. When we are able to show ourselves compassion and love throughout the day – whether things go well, or don’t – we will start to see the benefits ripple. This self-kindness can translate into all sorts of good things for ourselves, including a resiliency that helps to burnout-proof a career.

Remember, the therapist matters just as much as the client and a therapist can’t help anyone by letting themselves burnout. Staying in tune with your mind and body will result in a long and successful career.

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