2020 was a year unlike any other and the pandemic has taken a toll on everyone. We are all struggling to just keep moving forward and some days, that feels like too much. But as frontline workers, you know there is still work to be done. Despite the challenges, you get up every day to continue the fight against COVID-19.
Healthcare professionals on the frontlines face an unprecedented amount of stress. With this stress often comes a higher level of burnout than many other professions. Professional burnout is characterized by physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long-term involvement in emotionally demanding or stressful work. It typically presents in three main dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of a reduced sense of accomplishment or ability.
How to Spot It
This isn’t just a problem of being dissatisfied with your job. The effects of burnout can negatively impact patient care which is exacerbated with many hospitals running at near full capacity. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the symptoms of burnout can be identified by asking yourself:
- Have you become cynical or critical at work?
- Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?
- Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers or patients?
- Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
- Do you find it hard to concentrate?
- Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
- Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
- Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
- Have your sleep habits changed?
- Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?
If you find yourself answering yes to these questions, consider talking to your doctor or mental health provider.
Dealing with Burnout
Feeling extra burnout during this pandemic is completely normal. And you're not alone; many feel like you do. Outside of seeking professional help, there are self-care and mindfulness practices that can alleviate or even prevent burnout. A few suggestions are:
- Set boundaries: Not just social distancing, but when your shift ends, create a routine that separates you from your job. It can be blasting the radio to a certain genre of music on the way home, or simply a shower and change of clothes. Commit to disengage from work and focus on your time with family and friends.
- Take time for yourself: You spend all of your time working hard for other people, don’t forget self care. Plan a staycation on the weekend, even if you plop on the couch with a book, take the time to unwind.
- Find a non-work escape: It may seem silly to pick up a new hobby now, but it’s critical to create a life outside of work. Many people tried baking for the first time during the pandemic. Maybe the kitchen isn’t for you but it’s important to find an outlet.
- Find your community: We are still all in this together. There are multiple Facebook groups for healthcare professionals tailored to your discipline and setting. A professional support system is just as important as a personal one. Find a group that can provide advice or just simply relate to your struggle in a more complete way.
- Other resources: This pandemic has caused unprecedented hardship for healthcare workers. Take the time to asses where your are physically and emotionally. There are many mental health and wellness resources available for you.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. Multiple vaccines are now available for healthcare workers and thousands (roughly 200,000) are getting vaccinated every day. This pandemic has turned a corner and we will all get through this together. Stay strong, continue taking precautions and leading by example.