Work Burnout During COVID-19 – How to Identify it and Control it

Work Burnout During COVID-19 – How to Identify it and Control it

What happens to a person when they experience prolonged physical, emotional, and mental stress related to their job? For starters, they may experience work burnout during COVID-19.

The language we use to describe COVID-19’s impact on healthcare workers gives us great insight. We say healthcare workers are “going to war” are “on the front lines” and “step into battle.” These words emphasize the emotional and physical exhaustion that is required to get through a work shift. It is no wonder, then, why so many healthcare workers are experiencing work burnout.

People continue to seek treatment for COVID-19 and the virus is yet to be contained. Therefore, healthcare workers continue to have to give their all with little breaks in-between. However, in order for someone to give their all, they must have an appropriate amount of physical, emotional, and mental energy available. This is why it is so important for healthcare workers to be able to identify their own burnout and ways to control or minimize it.

So, what does burnout look like and how do you control it? Symptoms can vary. Here are a few examples:


When our bodies and minds feel drained, we often experience fatigue. Healthcare workers are working longer hours and treating more patients due to the number of people seeking treatment, therefore fatigue and burnout is common.

How do you prevent and control fatigue?

When you have a set work schedule, the best way to combat fatigue is to minimize factors that contribute to feeling tired. Skipping meals or eating a heavy lunch will fast track your body to feeling rundown.

Drinking enough water is just as important as eating well. Spend some time thinking about the best way you could incorporate drinking more water in your daily routine. Perhaps you can keep a bottle by your station or incorporate water rich foods (ex: watermelon, cucumber, apple) into your meals.

If you’re wondering what foods would help improve energy and prevent fatigue, Check out our post on energizing ingredients to help you plan your next meal.

Lack of Motivation, Detachment, or Numbness

One of the symptoms of burnout is losing motivation to get the job done. This may also include feeling detached or indifferent to your responsibilities or patients. Some people may experience this as feeling “numb.” One reason a healthcare worker may feel detached or have limited motivation is because the number of people seeking treatment and who have passed due to COVID-19 is startling. These numbers may feel crippling, as if the work that is being done to help isn’t enough.

How do you prevent and control a lack of motivation or detachment?

The first step to combatting detachment and restoring motivation starts with reflection. Reflecting on your career will allow you to dig deep and discover what factors impact your motivation.

Here are a few reflection questions to get you started:

  1. What made you decide to become a healthcare worker?
  2. What moments of joy have you experienced in the workplace?
  3. Can you think of all the people you have helped throughout your career?
  4. How do you know when you impact someone’s life?
  5. Who on your team do you admire the most? why?

The second step is to identify small actions you could make daily that relate back to your reflection questions and answers. For example, perhaps you realized that making patients laugh was a theme that was coming up in your answers. A small step you could take daily is to try to make a co-worker or patient laugh.

The third step is to reconnect with yourself and the world when you are not at work. This is an important step for healthcare workers because it is essential that what is done outside of work is meaningful.

“Disconnecting with reality and reconnecting with the sun, the water, the general freedom of wide open spaces…”

Occupational therapist, Jillian Cutone, spending quality time with her dogs out on the lake.

Take it from occupational therapist Jillian Cutone, who chose to spend her day off outdoors with her dogs. She states “disconnecting with reality and reconnecting with the sun, the water, the general freedom of wide open spaces has always been a way for me to return to myself in times of stress, it is beneficial now more than ever and I’m fortunate to find these little escapes in my own neighborhood.” It is no surprise that the fresh air, sunlight, and quality dog time was the fix she needed to be able to return to work and provide quality care. You can follow Jillian on Instagram where she has an astonishing collection of healthcare workers and her experiences outdoors.

Poor Sleep or Over Sleeping

For some, burnout may lead to excessive sleeping (and possibly showing up to work late!) or difficulty falling asleep or sleeping well. Racing thoughts, difficulty separating work and personal life, or excessive fatigue can contribute to poor sleep patterns.

How can you prevent poor sleep or over sleeping?

Establishing a good sleep routine is essential. Consider the following things:

  1. Is your bedroom conducive to restful sleep?
    • If you’re having trouble falling asleep perhaps consider investing in blackout curtains, comfortable airy sheets, playing soothing music like rain, and incorporating fragrances like lavender or vanilla into your room.
  2. Are you having difficulty waking up?
    • Try to incorporate “alerting” elements into your room. Perhaps sheer curtains that allow the light to come in, smells that are stimulating like citrus or earthy fragrances, and a bottle of water near your bed can help you wake up quicker.
  3. How many hours is ideal for you?
    • Although many people would like to sleep for 10 or more hours, most people function best with 5-7 hours of sleep. Consider using the Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock to determine what is the best time for you to fall asleep based on your wake up time.

Fatigue, lack of motivation, detachment, and poor sleep or over sleeping are just a few symptoms people may experience during work burnout. Other symptoms may include:

  1. Headaches
  2. Difficulty thinking/concentration
  3. Anxiety
  4. Irritability

Above all else, if you are feeling work burnout, it is important to talk to your supervisor and co-workers. There may be some flexibility or support they can provide to you to help alleviate the exhaustion. Using these tips here, making small lifestyle changes, and seeking help through work and/or a professional is critical to navigating these uncertain times.

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About the author

Kristie Cabrera

Kristie is an occupational therapist, mental health advocate, and amateur urban farmer. Her experience with taking care of others in the healthcare setting and taking care of the land are both important pieces that make up who she is. As a life-long learner and creative, she hopes to create content that is centered around wellness and healing.

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