As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the nation, there is increasing demand from the employees of essential businesses to continually perform and care for others.
From first responders, nurses and doctors, and grocery store employees to journalists, many are putting their own health and safety on the line to provide for others, to keep others safe and to keep their communities informed. This is an incredibly strenuous task both physically and emotionally, and can often feel thankless.
Many employees, those of essential and nonessential businesses, can experience burnout even during times when the nation isn’t battling a pandemic. Factor in the added stress of an international health crisis, elongated work hours and added responsibilities and many employees feel incredibly overwhelmed.
Shantala Boss is a licensed mental health counselor and registered play therapist who is well versed in the realms of helping people cope with burnout and compassion fatigue.
“Burnout is physical, emotional and mental exhaustion due to exposure to prolonged periods of stress,” Boss said. " It is often caused by consistently being behind and not catching up and not having enough support to do one’s job."
According to Boss, burnout comes with a variety of physical and mental side-effects, such as mental fogginess, physical lethargy, lack of focus, constant anxiety and stress, panic, lack of sleep, possible changes in eating patterns, neglect of things once loved, emotional numbness to work and possible headaches or stomach aches.
In addition to burnout, compassion fatigue is another common symptom that many people in high-stress careers also experience.
“Compassion fatigue results in the inability to separate work from home, consistent worry about clients, not able to sleep... taking on more responsibility than (one) should for others issues,” Boss said. “Stressful situations bring this on for workers due to lack of support, overwhelming need and lack of understanding from outside peers.”
Boss added that limiting these feelings that accompany burnout and compassion fatigue are hard to avoid, especially in times of intense need from the general public such as in a pandemic. While prevention might not be possible, addressing these feelings is essential.
“Preventing burnout comes with self-awareness, that number one you can recognize what it is, once that occurs and taking steps for self-care to stop it,” Boss said. “This includes taking time out for things that one loves, getting adequate exercise, sleep and eating well, separating work from home, asking family and friends for support, talking to boss and co-workers and asking for help, limiting hours if needed.”
There are free and convenient resources available to Florida residents that have been set up with the sole purpose of helping people get through this pandemic.
Florida Blue has established a 24-hour bilingual hotline to provide emotional support. The line is toll-free and connects individuals with trained behavioral health counselors. Those counselors are available to assist anyone experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety, trauma, and grief due to the health crisis.
The Florida Blue emotional support line can be reached at 833-848-1762.
The Disaster Distress Helpline can also be reached at 800-985-5990.
It is especially difficult to care for others when finding the time to care for yourself seems impossible.
“Being an essential employee is difficult because one often feels alienated from family and/or friends,” Boss said. "Others do not always understand what one is going through and essential employees don’t want to “burden” others. This feeling of alienation can lead to increased burnout and depression"
Boss is currently working to provide an online support group for first responders during this time so that these groups can derive support from one another.