Jade Mansfield, The Worsley Centre, offers some top tips on how key workers can avoid burnout during these challenging times
One of the major causes of burnout is when we are placed in situations where we do not have much control over the work we do. Nowadays, it can seem like stress and burnout are a normal part of modern working life. The WHO listed burnout as an occupational phenomenon and they described it as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.
Long before COVID-19, 50% more staff in the NHS were already reporting debilitating levels of work stress compared with the general working population, stress that affects both their well-being and patient outcomes.
Burnout is often caused by long-lasting issues within the workplace, as well as overload. It’s no secret that key workers are under immense pressure at the moment and stress will be hard to deal with in such environments. Key workers will need a type of output to control their stress level and look after their mental health.
We already know that some key workers in the NHS are experiencing burnout. A survey of more than 2,000 anaesthetists revealed that 33% of them have felt physically unwell in the last month. 40% admitted they are suffering from mental distress as a result of the stress involved in treating COVID-19 patients. A further 14% are so mentally or physically exhausted that they are at risk of burnout.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that is caused by long term involvement of emotionally demanding situations.
The first key part of burnout is the part that exhaustion plays in it. The second key part of burnout is the sense of disillusionment that is at its core. Burnout is often experienced when someone is highly committed to their work. People can experience exhaustion and they can overcome it by rest.
The disillusionment of true burnout may cause someone who loved their job to become cynical about their role. Burnout reduces productivity and key workers may feel as though energy is being drained from them, leaving sufferers feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful.
How key workers can avoid burnout
The majority of the power for relieving stress on key workers does rely on the government. But, when that isn’t possible, what can key workers do to avoid burnout?
Get enough sleep
Key workers need sufficient sleep, this can be particularly difficult for those with unusual shift patterns. Typically you need 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night. If you’re doing more than your usual routine you will typically need 8 hours a night, with one period of relaxation during the day such as sitting somewhere quiet. If you’re approaching burnout you need 8 to 9 hours of sleep each night, plus two breaks.
Stress can make it difficult to sleep, so be mindful that to get a good night’s sleep you will need to combat your stress levels.
Exercise more or less
Exercise helps alleviate stress and creates a good sense of well-being. Those who exercise can experience increased energy and productivity. Regular exercise will help you get a good night’s sleep, which can go a really long way for your mental health.
Certain shift patterns can make exercising harder to find time for, so do it when you can.
The most important thing here is that you only exercise when you’ve had enough rest. Otherwise, you could plummet yourself further into burnout, especially if you don’t usually exercise. You need to listen to your body, no one ever tells you to exercise less, but if you’re burned out, you should.
Don’t ignore stress
When stress is not managed, short-term stress can contribute to burnout.
Keeping your mind on track and continuing to practice positive thinking does work surprisingly well. It can be very very difficult to remove ourselves from high stress and demanding roles, but just taking 5 minutes out where you can really make a difference in terms of mental health. This will positively impact on your ability to do your role.
Outside of work, try and not put yourself in situations that may cause your stress. Your brain can only take so much psychological stress.