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Burnout is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that is brought about by repetitively facing highly stressful situations. Some professions are at a higher risk of burn out due to the nature of the job. Due to added pressures that COVID-19 presented, healthcare professionals are currently at inevitable higher risk of experiencing burnout, even in countries with low numbers of COVID-19 caseloads (Hawari et al., 2020).

Burnout is not only about working long hours. It often also includes juggling multiple tasks, feeling unable to cope emotionally with the pressures faced, an inability to reach goals set, and a sense of not being in control of what is happening around you. It can feel like things are happening to you, rather than you are in control of what you are doing. As a result, you can feel overwhelmed, exhausted, physically ill, feel dread going to work, apathy, or even lose interest in your job. Healthcare professionals are also more likely to suffer compassion fatigue, where they become numb to the suffering of others, leading them to feel helpless to help them or lose interest in trying to help.

The first step of combatting burnout is to recognise these symptoms and taking note of what is the source of the added stress. Setting boundaries with colleagues, clients, family and friends can be a way of regaining that sense of control that being burnt out often comes with. Saying “no” when you feel like you have too many responsibilities, setting clear and regular breaks and minimizing multi-taking are ways of setting boundaries and recreating a better work-life balance.

The next step is to find ways of including more rest into your day. A break is not necessarily a long one, it can be a stretch break in between clients, such as taking 5 minutes and looking at nature while having your coffee, or having your lunch amongst colleagues, rather than at your desk. Starting the day off with 10 minutes of yoga can help you focus your energy and mentally prepare you for a long day. By strengthening your relationships and investing more in your own self-care, you will work on restoring your sense of balance and reducing the effects of stress.

Burn out can cause you to wonder whether you should quit your job. Although this is not necessarily the only way to eliminate burn out, it is one possibility that you may want to consider if you find it difficult to change your conditions or find too much resistance when trying to implement these changes to better your mental health.

References:

Haas, S.B. (2018, April 16). 3 Critical signs of Burnout. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/prescriptions-life/201804/3-critical-signs-burnout

Hawari, F.B., Obeidat, N.A., Dodin, Y.I., Albtoosh, A.S., Manasrah, R.M., Alaqeel, I.O., & Mansour, A.H. (2020, June). The inevitability of Covid-19 related distress among healthcare workers: findings from a low caseload country under lockdown. Research Gate. DOI:10.1101/2020.06.14.20130724

Psychology Today. (2020, June). Burnout. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/basics/burnout

Petra Borgis a Trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist currently reading for a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy from the Gestalt Therapy Institute Malta (GPTIM) and working at Willingness as a Trainee Psychotherapist. She has experience as a Triage Officer and has also worked closely with Willingness over several years, coordinating the international internship programme and providing support over diverse events and initiatives.