While COVID 19 spreads through our communities, something more insidious spreads through those expected to care for those communities. COVID burnout is spreading through schools, hospitals, and other front line agencies. The burnout crisis continues rising and threatens your ability to maintain the high standards expected in helping professions.
COVID Burnout Doesn’t Discriminate
Burnout is ravaging front line workers. Nurses, paramedics, teachers, therapists… it doesn’t matter. The work itself might be different, but the struggles are the same. There are not enough staff. Resources are scarce. You feel worn out. And there is no end in sight. This isn’t a typical crisis.
During a typical crisis, resources are exhausted or strained. Fortunately, this exhaustion is usually short lived. And it is followed by a period of recovery. The COVID 19 pandemic has changed that. You, your coworkers, and your resources have been at their max for over two years. Any lulls in the crisis are temporary, and they don’t truly give you the rest you need for the next wave.
As if the COVID 19 pandemic was not enough for you to manage, the co-occurring crisis of the great resignation has added to the strain. You face shortages from people leaving for better opportunities and the challenges of coworkers taking time off for rest or illness. Also staff shortages, low pay, and lack of safety measures leave you feeling unappreciated.
And then there is the public. They started the pandemic by calling you a hero. Now, they scoff at safety measures and continue their lives as if there isn’t a contagious virus passing among them. As if that’s not enough, they cuss you out and insult you for doing your job. Sometimes, they even threaten to physically hurt you. It doesn’t even feel like real life anymore.
What Does Burnout Look Like?
Burnout, at its simplest, looks like exhaustion. You feel exhausted, emotionally and physically. Your interest and motivation for work has vanished. As a result, your work performance suffers. Maybe you miss things you would have caught otherwise. Or perhaps you are doing the bare minimum and letting someone else carry the slack. You might even start calling in “sick” because you’re “sick” of work.
As if that wasn’t enough, your attitude has changed. In fact, you view the world from a cynical lens now. You expect people to be morons and expect your day to suck. It’s hard to see the positive things, even when there are positives. You’re even starting to feel hopeless that you can even make a difference. It feels like everything sucks and nothing will change.
These changes don’t just affect your time at work. They also affect your life at home. You are short with family members and friends. It feels like loved ones don’t really listen to you, and you feel more disconnected from your family and friends than ever before. Because of your inability to concentrate, you can’t get anything done at home either. You might even be drinking more than you usually do. Overall, your behavior is out of character.
What Happens If You Ignore Burnout?
Ignoring burnout doesn’t usually help it go away. Instead, it puts you at risk for developing several other concerns. For example, your immune system responds to the higher levels of stress. As a result, you may be more susceptible to be getting sick because your immune system is not as strong as it usually is. That’s probably not something you want when coping with COVID burnout.
Additionally, you are at higher risk of developing compassion fatigue. While burnout and compassion fatigue are often confused, they are not the same. Instead, compassion fatigue is a combination of burnout plus the effects of secondary trauma. So, you start experiencing PTSD symptoms on top of the burnout because of your exposure to other people’s trauma.
Depression and anxiety can also result from ignoring burnout. You may start experiencing anxiety around certain aspects of your job, such as anxiety about talking to people or anxiety about patient care. You might start showing signs of depression, such as changes in your mood and enjoyment of things or a change in sleep or your appetite. And sometimes, you may even start to think the world is better off without you. (Please note, if you are having thoughts of suicide, your life matters. Contact 741741 by text or 800-273-8255 by phone to talk to someone now.)
How Do You Fix COVID Burnout?
Prevention is obviously the best solution to burnout. Prevention requires advance planning and often a little help from your employer. First, you want to avoid overworking. It is important for you to not only have rest time, but also to have time to spend with family and friends. Working five or six 12-hour shifts in a week probably does not allow you the downtime needed to be well-rested and supported.
Another key factor in preventing burnout is resilience. This helps you tolerate difficulties when they do arise. Resilience includes things such as having adequate support from friends and family, having coping skills that help you dissipate stress, and having strong communication skills.
Sometimes, quitting seems like the only feasible solution when you are already burnt out. But that isn’t always the best solution. Instead, try counseling first. Counseling for burnout can help you work through some of the feelings, determine whether there are any other issues complicating the burnout, and gives you support while you’re in a period where it feels others in your life aren’t so supportive. A therapist can also help you decide if leaving your job actually is the best decision for you.
In conclusion, burnout is emotional and physical exhaustion that changes your attitude and affects multiple areas of your life. Burnout puts you at risk of more significant mental health concerns, such as PTSD, compassion fatigue, and depression. And while prevention is the best way to help COVID burnout, counseling can help if prevention efforts have not been successful.