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  • Writer's pictureFarhana Goga

Burnout....Trauma.... rising mental health concerns in a pandemic - and what to do about them

In South Africa, the daily rate of Covid-19 infections is increasing. Government, urged by business and various sectors took a decision to lower lockdown to alert 5 to alert 3. People are tired, anxious, angry, lost, confused, critical.

These are all emotions appropriate to a time of prolonged uncertainty, a time when our resources may not be enough to cope with what we are faced with. These are the conditions for burnout and trauma. You may experience this time as fear, anxiety, freeze. Our autonomic nervous system may be moving from a place of green/blue which is healthy to orange or even red which is letting us know that it is over-loaded.

Burnout is a emotional, mental and often physical exhaustion. The symptoms often reported with burnout is irritability, cynicism, anger, exhaustion and a loss of sense of meaning and purpose in life, work and relationships. Sounds familiar?

Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and isolated can result in trauma, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. If your Brain-Body system is unable to cope with the situation that they are faced with and goes into freeze. Trauma can be caused by a one-time event, a prolonged exposure to stress or other events - such as death of a loved one, break-up of a relationship, surgery, a difficult situation.

Reading this, you may realise that as infections increase and we head to the peak, the conditions are ripe for burnout and trauma. Added to this, social isolation leaves us feeling potentially more disconnected and lost. More of this on my next blog - Lockdown Fatigue.

So, what can you do to build your resilience during this time and reduce the risk of burnout and Trauma? I won't discuss the science of these, but know that these suggestions are steeped in research and science:

  1. Think through what you can control, what you can't control, and what you can influence, use that as your action or lets park it map

  2. Find some sort of meaning and purpose in your work, life and home - even when its difficult to do that, curve out time and space to reflect on the meaning whatever you are doing has during this time and beyond. Remember - staying at home is meaningful and purposeful at this time - this is how you are being called to act.

  3. Ask for help - talk to your friends, family, company and express what your reality is and what need. And if you are in that position, listen and hear with understanding and a willingness to find a flexible solution

  4. Be flexible - at this time, it is important to give yourself and others a break - remember we are all doing the best we can.

  5. If you realise that your best isn't great right now, stop, reflect and ask yourself, what I am needing, what am I missing, what am I longing for and see how you can give those to yourself, or ask for it

  6. Breathe - deep and in and out through your belly - imagine that there is a balloon in it, in your inhale you inflate your balloon and on your exhale it deflates. As you get used to doing this, breathe in for the count of 3 and out for the count of 5. Do this 5 times. This resets your autonomic nervous system.

  7. Do some HeartMath - quick coherence technique - do deep diaphragmatic breathing - breathing in and out via your tummy, 5 counts in and 5 counts out, do this for a while, until you feel yourself calm, and then bring your attention to your heart as you continue breathing. While you continue this, feel calm, neutral or appreciation in your heart. Do this for 5 minutes, twice a day.

  8. Seek professional help

Through gentleness, kindness, clarity, and correct action, burnout and trauma does not have to overtake you during this time of uncertainty and changing goal-posts.

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