Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., D.N.C.C.M., F.A.A.E.T.S.


It has been a year of chaos, confusion, and complete madness. The pandemic is not the only thing to blame for the pandemonium plaguing our global community. For many within the medical community, from the first responders, nurses, physicians, paramedics, psychologists, therapists, social workers, and other essential workers, there has been an increased demand upon their overall performance. The demands have included an increase workload, a decrease in support staff and the list goes on. The demands have created a perfect storm arising from a number of negative and unpredictable factors. Then there are the effects of a political season that has been unlike any other. It has been the icing on the cake for many throughout our global community and for many, the onset of burnout.

The onset of burnout occurs when an individual is feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and completely depleted. It may feel as though they have been submerged into a bottomless abyss unable to return to the surface. For many individuals who are experiencing burnout, there is a lack of personal support. The lack of support may cause an individual to feel an increased sense of vulnerability, hopelessness, and an overwhelming sense of impeding endangerment. For many individuals with preexisting mental health conditions, such a calamity of concern, may only perpetuate their looming sense of doom.

Even for those without preexisting mental health conditions, the year of 2020 has been a lesson in vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma occurs when an individual has been exposed to a traumatic event indirectly. Unfortunately, there has been no escaping
this water-cooler conversation. The vicarious trauma has been prolonged by the uncertainty of this pandemic.

While burnout is a very common issue for nurses, social workers, and clinicians of all types; it can have an effect upon anyone, at any time, and any age. In simple, burnout occurs when an individual has experienced prolonged demands, chronic stress, fatigue, a lack of support, and a decrease satisfaction in what they are doing. Children have been known to experience burnout with the demands of school and their extracurricular activities. There has been a recent uptick in the reported number of cases of burnout amongst children and youth. Given the pandemic and remote schooling, children are now being expected to perform at a higher pace and with greater productivity. The demands not only affect the children, but the demands are overflowing onto their parental caregivers. The flooding of these demands are causing parents to feel a heftier obligation, and an increase of expectations of the school and society in general. It too has been a perfect storm placing greater demands upon children and the family.

The Warning Signs of Burnout

• An overwhelming sense of despair.
• Self-imposed isolation.
• Procrastination or lack of motivation.
• Detachment or feeling withdrawn.
• Decreased enthusiasm or pleasure.
• Increasingly cynical or having a negative outlook.
• Chronic fatigue.
• Significant change in appetite or sleep habits.
• Emotional exhaustion.
• Feelings of entrapment, despair, and helplessness.
• Lack of personal responsibility.
• Decreased ability to feel pleasure.
• Reliance on drugs, alcohol, or other substances to cope.
• Feeling emotionally disengaged from others.

It is always important to rule-out conditions that may be the causation of your burnout. Burnout may be caused by other significant medical or psychological conditions. Please be certain to always consult a medical or psychological physician regarding your concerns.

Recognizing the early onset of burnout is of the utmost importance. Burnout has significantly risen throughout our global community. It has been reported that there are many individuals feeling isolation burnout. There has been a significant number of individuals choosing to be around others despite the risk of being exposed to COVID.

Self-awareness is an essential ingredient in preventing or combating “burnout.” Burnout is often driven by the demands that are placed upon an individual. Burnout is not caused by lack of motivation or a weakness of one’s character. Rather, it is an issue that is fueled by one’s environment. When demands are placed upon an individual, they can prove detrimental to an individual’s ability to cope and manage.

Burnout is a combination of issues involving one’s physical, emotional, and psychological self. It is most commonly experienced when an individual has had prolonged stress or demands placed upon them. It is not uncommon for an individual to experience burnout when they have a preexisting psychological or mental health condition.

Burnout can be prevented with proper self-care and a supportive environment. When children are supported, they are equipped to fend off negativity. Refrain from constantly watching or engaging in conversations about COVID, the political atmosphere, or negatively fueled conversations. While it is important to be aware of our surroundings, do not make this your mainstay. It is best to do everything through moderation.

In some cases, an individual may experience burnout without any underlying conditions. Yet, burnout is commonly experienced when an individual is not receiving adequate support and the demands outweigh the benefits. When an individual is experiencing burnout, they are not only feeling hopeless, but they approach each day with a cautious hesitation.

Bringing Calmness to the Storm

What does your environment look like? Are you living or working in a hostile environment? Do not accept or identify with messages that are blatantly negative or hostile. It is not only important to establish healthy boundaries, but to understand that you do not have to take ownership of other people’s messages. Likewise, avoid allowing your own mind to create such negative messages. Remember that positive self-talk is an intrinsic part of a healthy mind.

An individual’s social environment has a tremendous impact upon their ability to prove resilient. It is critical that you reduce your exposure to negativity. Be a driving force behind empowerment. Empowerment is giving someone the authority, or the power, to prove triumphant. What supports do you have in place? An individual that is well insulated and empowered, is a person who is less likely to develop burnout. Be certain to limit your exposure to negative people and environments.

Focus on areas of your life that bring peace. The following tools have been proven to provide comfort or reprieve from stress: meditation, breathing, journaling, singing, exercise and psychotherapy. It is important that you listen to messages that are uplifting, inspiring and that provide a new skillset.

Self-care is essential to combating burnout.

At the end of the day, be certain to establish healthy boundaries and relationships; to request help when it is needed; to avoid taking on more than you are capable of managing; and to implement an exercise routine that involves your physical and psychological self.

Dr. Asa Don Brown is a prolific author, an engaging speaker, human rights advocate, and clinical psychologist. He serves as first responder in New York and he has held university faculty positions teaching incoming freshmen to those completing their graduate work.