Ask Ann


(Ann Houck is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience working with at-risk children in the foster care system and in orphanages. Her childcare approach uses Trust-Based Relational Intervention, a framework for parenting children of trauma, developed at Texas Christian University.)

I'm almost to the breaking point, honestly. I don't know how much longer I can continue working with these kids. It breaks my heart!

By Ann Houck • 3 min read

Ann says:

Burnout. Aggressive word. I am fond of dictionary definitions—

“A fire that is totally destructive of something.” “Fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from prolonged stress, overwork, or intense activity.”

Burnout feels like you don’t have enough of many things: motivation, energy, attention, ability to care; etc. Any of you feeling that way? Is it a recurring experience? However frequently it visits you, are you prepared to deal with it? What are the warning signs? Can you “catch” it early? Do you have coping mechanisms in place?

Think about it. What is your most prevalent source of prolonged stress:

Meeting the needs of these children? Constant question, our hearts are hurt by our own inadequacies; and the environmental issues facing us every day. Do we have adequate funding? Can we meet nutritional and physical needs; basic items like soap and water and food. Do I have appropriate connection with the children? Do we have enough time for play?

Am I stressing over government requirements? How to meet government licensure requirements? How to meet reporting requirements? How can we possibly keep up with the paperwork? I have a headache just thinking about them.

Legal Issues? If a parent, or other family member, is inappropriate with a child in our care, how do we deal with that? What if a family member sues us? Do we have legal representation?

Burnout is very common in orphan care. It is a big (gigantic) responsibility and, often, we are not fully prepared for the stress and strain of it. According to Integris Health ( there are five stages of burnout. Read and do a regular check. What phase am I experiencing; what do I do to help myself?

1. Honeymoon phase

Like a honeymoon phase in a marriage, this stage comes with energy and optimism. Whether it is starting a new job or tackling a new task, it’s common to experience satisfaction that leads to periods of productivity and the ability to tap into your creative side.

2. Onset of stress phase

Eventually, the honeymoon phase dwindles, and you begin to experience stress. Not every second of your day is stressful, but there are more frequent times when stress takes over. As this stage begins, take notice of any physical or mental signs. You may start to lose focus more easily or be less productive when completing tasks. Physically, fatigue can start to set in, making it more difficult to sleep or enjoy activities outside of work.

3. Chronic stress phase

You’ll reach a point where the stress becomes more persistent, or chronic. The stress is likely to consistently affect your work. Examples include feelings of apathy, not completing work on time, being late for work or procrastinating during tasks. Socially, you may withdraw from normal work-related conversations. In other cases, you may become angry and lash out at coworkers. Sometimes, these feelings follow you home and can affect relationships with friends and family.

4. Burnout phase

This phase is when you reach your limit and can no longer function as you normally would. Problems at work begin to consume you to the point where you obsess over them. At times, you may also feel numb and experience extreme self-doubt. Physical symptoms will become intense, leading to chronic headaches, stomach issues and gastrointestinal problems. Friends and family members may also notice behavioral changes.

5. Habitual burnout phase

If left untreated, burnout can become a part of your everyday life and eventually lead to anxiety or depression. You can also begin to experience chronic mental and physical fatigue that prevents you from being present for the children.

OK, so how do I take care of myself? Am I headed for burnout? Maybe, if you are asking yourself the question, chances are you need to put some corrective measures into place. Here are a few ideas you just might helpful—

Find someone in whom you can confide. This is neither the time nor the place to keep your feelings to yourself. You need a nonjudgmental buddy at work with whom you can share your frustrations.

Watch your eating habits. Are you eating nutritious food, food that can help relieve your stress?

Use the internet to find relaxation techniques that are comfortable for you. Engage in a meditation and/or prayer practice and use it every day.

What about exercise? Take a few minutes for some stretching; take a walk; do some mental calisthenics.

Time for a hot bath? Immersing your body in warm water is very relaxing and soothing.

Get sufficient rest.

These are just a few ideas for counter acting the effects of burnout. Find something(s) that work for you. Find time every day to calm yourself. You are in control. Find supports that are empowering and bring a smile to your face and a release of tension in your body. You can do it; it takes practice, just like everything else.

Let me know some ideas you have tried that worked. We can share techniques and tips here. We are a community of child care workers and we can support each other.

Hope to hear from you soon!

Ann Houck

Licensed clinical social worker; volunteer social work supervisor for Oak Life interns; experience working with children of trauma in child protective services and school social work settings.

Ann Houck

Ann Houck

Licensed clinical social worker; volunteer social work supervisor for Oak Life interns; experience working with children of trauma in child protective services and school social work settings.

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2 thoughts on “Ask Ann: Burn-Out”

  1. Praise and Worship is an awesome way to relieve stress. When you focus on giving it all to God, it helps put everything in right perspective and fills you up with peace and joy!

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