by Fayaz Ahmad Paul

Burnout in the course of dealing with a pandemic can make you feel emotionally drained and unable to function in the context of many aspects of life. It can lower your motivation and cause you to feel helpless, hopeless, and resentful.

Burnout is what happens when we have reached our limits mentally, emotionally, and physically. It is a state of physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.

Even after more than two years of the pandemic, burnout is still very much around but it looks a little different right now.

Coping with a pandemic can feel overwhelming and exhausting and leave you feeling drained or anxious or even both. Many have lost their jobs, while those lucky enough to keep them have to do so while working in the confines of home, some simultaneously balancing family pressing needs, such as childcare.

For mental health professionals like psychiatric social workers burnout has become part of everyday vocabulary and is essentially a synonym for stress caused by being overburdened and overtaxed by work duties. While dedicating a career to helping others, multiple challenges can arise that can affect an individual’s overall wellbeing and job satisfaction.

Common themes that emerged from various findings may indicate the factors that can lead to increased burnout among psychiatric social workers are heavy caseloads in outpatient and inpatient departments, clinical presentations, tele-follow-ups, limited resources, time constraints and deadlines, conflict within work climate and ethical predicaments.

A doctor and health workers cross a wooden bridge during a Covid-19 vaccination drive in Doodhpathri in Central Kashmir Budgam district on June 9, 2021. The government started a door-to-door vaccination drive to stop the spread of Coronavirus. This meadow is one of the favourite destinations for day picnickers. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Burnout in the course of dealing with a pandemic can make you feel emotionally drained and unable to function in the context of many aspects of life. It can lower your motivation and cause you to feel helpless, hopeless, and resentful. It may appear to show up suddenly during the recent weeks of dealing with the social isolation brought on by the pandemic. Most of us are no strangers to stress and anxiety, however, when this is a sustained event it can be overwhelming especially in a pandemic, where there is a high level of stress being prolonged over a period of time without opportunities to carry out the simple tasks of normal life.

During the time of pandemics an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus, burnout is no longer exclusively associated with job-related stress. Symptoms of Covid19 include fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhoea. These symptoms are also associated with more diagnoses like influenza, common cold, allergies, etc and have caused increased panic and anxiety among individuals misinterpreting symptoms as those for that of Covid-19.

Psychiatric social workers are expected to be on the front lines of the current public and mental health crises resulting from the coronavirus. Various factors are causing societal burnout it may differ from those that cause personal or professional burnout, but they may frequently overlap and interact for those in the Psychiatric social work profession.

Health workers talking rest after a day-long duty in COVID hospital on Friday, July 21, 2020. KL Image: Special Arrangement

The response to pandemics 2019 is a marathon, not a sprint. Physicians, psychiatrists, psychiatric social workers, and other health professionals are desperately needed during the global response to the Covid19 pandemic, but they also represent one of the populations at most risk of burning out as they are experiencing surges in care demands, equipment challenges, ongoing risk of infection, physical isolation, longer hours, increasing stress levels, and an extreme risk of burnout.

Some signs of burnout include feeling overwhelmed, emotionally drained, lacking energy, empty and unmotivated, and unable to meet your daily demands. You may feel an increase in irritability, notice increased conflict in your relationships. This may even be accompanied by physical symptoms they may have backaches, headaches, and maybe even a loss of appetite.

One way to reduce burnout is to reach out to others rather than withdraw. There are some other ways regarding its identification and mitigation. It is important that we have a strong social network to call on and people to talk to when we are going through harsh times.

Fayaz Ahmad Paul

While you have to socially distance yourself, there are many methods to connect like connecting with family and friends through social media. It is important to try to socialize with your friends and colleagues, so you do not feel isolated. Exercise is also important to boost energy and mood. Try to find something in the work you do that you feel is interesting and helps you gain more of a purpose and value. Eating healthy is also an important way to stay healthy, mentally and physically, and can prevent burnout.

When stress builds up, it can lead to feelings of extreme exhaustion and being overwhelmed. It is very important to watch the early warning signs of career burnout, such as feeling withdrawn, sleep disruption, loss of appetite, low mood, and feeling somewhat helpless in the situation. If you start to see some of these signs, put the strategies in gear and start working toward a healthier balanced lifestyle to prevent it from becoming worse.

(Author is a research scholar in the Psychiatric Social Work, stream at the Department of Psychiatry, Government Medical College and Hospital in Srinagar. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)


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