Our heroes have been asked to adapt to several new realities, while also maintaining their composure to be able to deliver their work perfectly. Our clapping, and the fact that we are saying they are our heroes, might make them feel that they can’t break down or burn out. That they are not allowed to have a bad day or to feel overwhelmed by the situation.
Considering that our front liners are working around the clock, and have been dealing head on with the situation, learning information from one hour to the next, there is heightened stress and anxiety. These individuals have friends and colleagues that have been found positive for the virus, this alone can cause anxiety, and some have even had to quarantine away from their family and friends, meaning they are disconnected from their physical support system. Common coping strategies, such as going to the gym, or having a coffee with a friend in a cafeteria, have also been taken away.
What can cause our front liners to burn out?
Burnout is particularly evident when discussing work-stress that is difficult to cut down on. It is characterised by long working hours, emergencies, work-home interferences, unexpected changes, high levels of job complexities, among other stressors. When adding a pandemic to the mix, which heightens all of the mentioned stressors, one can understand how a nurse or doctor could end up becoming burnt out.
What is burn-out?
Burnout is described as both a state and a process (Stoewen, 2018). This is because burnout is a combination of physical, psychological and emotional exhaustion. It is a process that creates a heavy strain on you, which generally generates from a particular stressor such as work, but can affect all areas of your life. Stress is an important factor in burnout as periods of moderate to high levels of stress seriously increases the risk for you to burnout.
Burnout; the dreaded phrase that we hear when we have struggled with a long period of stress. What does burnout look like when we throw COVID-19 into the mix? It has been three months since the first case of COVID-19 hit Malta. Over these last months, the entire population has been through a lot of changing, adapting, unlearning and relearning. Some that had to adapt the most, were the front liners, who over the past months we have referred to as our heroes.
Don’t let the burnout kick in
The reality is, if you are a front liner, you can experience burnout, especially as it is difficult to avoid stress at the moment. It is important that you do take care of yourself. It is okay to take a day off and find ways to de-stress. It is okay to call in sick if you are feeling unwell. It is okay to take care of your mental health.
A quick search shows you that the percentages of people experiencing burn out are rather high. While burnout prevalence is not high as a medical criteria, it is highly linked with anxiety, in fact 59% of those diagnosed with burnout are also struggling with anxiety (Eurofound, 2018). Do not be afraid to take care of yourself and seek help if you need it.
Eurofound (2018), Burnout in the workplace: A review of data and policy responses in the EU, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2016). Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 15(2), 103–111. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20311
Stoewen D. L. (2018). Burnout: Prescription for a happier healthier you. The Canadian veterinary journal = La revue veterinaire canadienne, 59(5), 537–540.
Matthew Bartolo is a warranted counsellor, sex & relationship psychotherapist and sex educator. He travels to give professional training in sexology and multi-disciplinary work. He is founder of Willingness Team and Sex Clinic Malta.