Facing Burnout in the Midst of a Pandemic? Tips to Keep it at Bay

Burnout can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, reduced immunity, heart disease, anxiety even death.

Updated
Mind It
4 min read
It is not uncommon to hear someone in the corridors of hospitals and corporate offices strike a note of caution, that burnout has become a commonplace.
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With a large number of people working from home, in isolation, on long zoom calls, days merging into nights and work life balance upended by the pandemic, employers are worried about burnout. If you work in hospitals, exhausted to the bone, with no end in sight, it's not surprising that burnout has become commonplace.

What Is Burnout?

The term “burnout” was coined in 1974 by an American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, and was used to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in ‘human service professions’, for example, doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers etc. The term is no longer used for these ‘helping’ professions only. It is now being recognised that it can affect anyone, from stressed-out career-driven people and celebrities, to overworked employees and homemakers.

Are You Having Any or Some of These Symptoms?

The term “burnout” was used to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in ‘human service professions’, like doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers etc.
The term “burnout” was used to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in ‘human service professions’, like doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers etc.
(Photo: iStock)

Burn out is a reaction to chronic stress and in this context it is a work related syndrome that is characterised by a low sense of personal accomplishment, energy depletion, emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation to a point that one finds nothing enjoyable or engaging. In the professional setting, especially in case of doctors, it can lead to disruptive behaviour, decreased productivity, increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job leading to reduced professional efficacy and a decrease in client or patient satisfaction. Physical symptoms like headaches and sleeplessness, "quickness to anger," and closed thinking push the efficacy further southwards.

The Implications Can Be Scary

The biologic implications of sustained excess stress certainly cannot be ignored. These include lifestyle diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis (rarefied bones), reduced immunity, heart disease, depression and anxiety and in some extreme cases, even death.

4 Things You Can Do to Keep Burnout at Bay:

Understanding the factors that contribute to burn out is probably the most important first step in combatting burnout. People and their personality traits and processes followed in your workplace play a huge role in determining whether you would fall prey to or come out winner from this cesspool.

1. Have an Honest Discussion With Your Manager

It is important to remember that most often, burnout is not entirely your fault. Unfortunately, like in the West, in India also it has become fashionable to glorify stress. According to Dr Christina Maslach, creator of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, “This leads people to be quiet and shut up about some of the stress causing factors they are facing because they don’t want to be viewed as not doing their best.”

Most people are scared of talking to their manager about the unrealistic deadlines they are compelled to keep. But the key lies in having an honest conversation with your manager. A reasonable manager would understand how, in order to hit these deadlines, something will have to be delegated, delayed, or dropped altogether. Especially in case of human service professionals, like doctors and teachers, shared appointments and shared working with flexible hours can help reduce the work burden and ultimately reduce stress and improve job satisfaction.

2. Make a Habit of Doing Time Audit

On your part, a time audit would help you find out which all non-productive activities and useless distractions, read social media, are eating away your time. While prioritising your activities keep aside an hour or so as ‘my time’, where no phones are allowed and no office gadgets are around. This is the time you should utilise for something you enjoy like reading, music, painting or whatever you fancy. Let this scheduling based on the time audit be your daily routine.

3. Diet Deserves More Attention From You

Diet plays an important role in warding off tiredness and exhaustion. A balanced nutritious diet rich in fibre, taken at regular meal timings goes a long way in keeping a sound mind in a sound body.

4. Bring in the Necessary Lifestyle Changes

Certain practices to improve lifestyle can help you not only prevent but overcome the symptoms of burnout such as regular exercise. Breathing exercises like pranayama and mindfulness practices like yog nidra and meditation help achieve a good pattern of restful sleep. These will help reduce the impact of stress and decrease the chances of burnout.

With some determined effort, it would not be difficult to keep burnout at bay.

(Dr Ashwini Setya is a Gastroenterologist and Programme Director in Delhi’s Max Super Speciality Hospital. His endeavor is to help people lead a healthy life without medication. He can be reached at ashwini.setya@gmail.com)

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