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How to define, identify and cope with pandemic burnout

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Nearly two years into the pandemic many nurses are facing burnout amid staffing shortages and surges caused by new variants.
Nathan Howard
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Nearly two years into the pandemic many nurses are facing burnout amid staffing shortages and surges caused by new variants.

As we enter year three of the pandemic, the U.S. population has now endured the ups and downs of five surges, more than 900,000 COVID deaths, and an enormous amount of frustration and uncertainty about the future.

The prolonging of stressful conditions introduced by the pandemic to nearly every domain of life have led to heightened rates of burnout – a condition that results from chronic exposure to emotionally draining environments and leads to “emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a decrease in self-fulfillment.”

According to the World Health Organization, burnout is specifically considered an “occupational phenomenon” brought on by chronic workplace stress and characterized by feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced efficacy at work.

Ongoing staffing shortages in schools and hospitals are exacerbating conditions for educators and health care workers, who were more prone to high rates of burnout even before the pandemic.

Nearly 3 in 5 U.S. adult workers surveyed in 2021 by the American Psychological Association reported negative impacts of work-related stress, including a lack of interest, motivation, energy and effort.

Employees also reported experiencing cognitive weariness (36%), emotional exhaustion (32%) and physical fatigue (44%).

Parental burnout is also on the rise during the pandemic, and experts now say people are also suffering from related phenomenon like decision and compassion fatigue.

What is burnout, really? Is it similar to experiencing depression, anxiety or stress? What adverse effects can it have? Can it be prevented or mitigated?

What causes burnout? Why are some people more likely to experience it? Is worker burnout to blame for what’s been dubbed The Great Resignation?

What can be done to support doctors, nurses, teachers, other workers and even parents who are experiencing burnout?

What if you have symptoms? How is burnout remedied? What are healthy ways to cope?

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*This interview was recorded on Wednesday, February 9.

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