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Time to Take Burnout Seriously: Dealing with the Side Effects of Covid-19

Covid-19 has challenged the world in ways that most of us have never experienced. It has been compared to a war and most of us are fortunate enough not to live in warn torn countries. So it has hit us hard and unlike a war the entire population is engaged in fighting against an invisible enemy. Suddenly you and your next door neighbour are smiling at each other while taking a wide berth when you see each other and customers and colleagues are treated as potential carriers. Indeed, a recent study identified that a quarter of American workers feared bringing the virus home to their families. The fight is relentless and all consuming. In my home when we bring in groceries we leave them in an outer area and disinfect them before bringing them into the house and after every contact point we sanitise. The worst thing is that this may go on for months or perhaps years according to the specialists.

We delude ourselves if we don't believe that this has an impact on the psyche of individuals. As we reopen our doors we need to be aware that those people who work on the front line are not the same people that they were before the advent of Covid-19. They are burnt out after months of fear about germs, droplets and each other. Now we are asking them to return to normal. Of course there will be differences such as hand sanitisers, face masks and social distancing rules but many managers will be expecting their employees to look beyond these and be friendly, polite, helpful and so on.

The evidence so far does not suggest that this is going to be possible. We see police around the world over reacting with people who violate social distance rules. we see citizens stigmatising or even worse attacking health care workers and most troublingly we are seeing a few armed confrontations between legislators and citizens. Most of these people are who we would call regular citizens. They are just reacting to the exigencies of the greatest challenge that they have ever experienced. They are afraid of catching the disease, they are afraid of their families getting it, they are afraid of what will happen when their savings run out or their credit cards are maxed out, they are afraid that their workplaces may downsize or simply fold leaving them out of a job. Fear has two responses - fight or flight and they are exhibiting the fight response.

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Article by: Dr. Anne Crick, Senior Lecturer, MSBM

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