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The Impact of Emotional Burnout

The Impact Of Emotional Burnout

**The following article is not medical advice and does not replace medical guidance**

The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns meant that our daily routines were changed continually. The distinctions between work and home became faded, weekends and weekdays blended into one, and for many the activities and hobbies which they utilised for their well-being and social interactions were directly impacted.

For many, as the lockdown lifts, there is a sense of not ‘knowing’ what they want to do. For others, the lack of enthusiasm and excitement for the world opening up has left them confused. Whilst for some, they are quickly resuming their old routines with enthusiasm and vigour.

So, what is the impact emotionally and psychologically of a year in and out of lockdowns?

When the brain experiences a situation that it does not recognise it adapts to manage the scenario. In February and March 2020, when the pandemic was slowly growing, a large majority of people’s brains experienced a physiological response to it. The amygdala (internal alarm) the hippocampus (decision of threat) and the hypothalamus (reactor to trauma) were activated and many experienced an increase of stress, anxiety and adrenaline. Casting a mind back to early 2020, we witnessed:

  • anger
  • agitation
  • panic
  • distress
  • disorganised responses and thinking
  • fight – flight – freeze
  • avoidance

The rush of adrenaline and cortisol flooded the brain and for many, the sense of fear and concern affected their mental and emotional well-being. The ongoing reminders of the risk of threat which proceeded for the coming months, meant that the fear response became imprinted in the brain for many individuals and can easily be triggered by different inputs through out senses. Over time, this becomes overwhelming as we enter a state of survival.

What impact does a year of survival mode have?

After a year of being taken in and out of lockdown. Daily reminders of death and infection numbers. The development of regular changes of routines and the changes to our routines means that there has yet to be a significant period with no triggers to allow individual’s brains to relax, feel safe and process the challenges of the last year. For those who have been working on the frontline, have experienced covid themselves, or have lost loved one to the virus, the level of stress and adrenaline response is further heightened.

This accumulation of stress can lead to emotional and psychological burnout. This can creep into an individual’s world and leave them feeling drained and exhausted.

Stress versus burnout

The Mental Health Foundation define stress as ‘Stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure’. It is the situation of having too many pressures and too many demands acting on you.

The World Health Organisation define burnout as ‘Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy’.

An individual who is stressed has a sense that ‘if they can’ get on top of their demands things will be ok. In comparison, an individual with burnout has a sense that they are drowning or trapped in their responsibilities. It can be coupled with feeling empty or apathetic.

What are the symptoms of burnout?

Emotional burnout can be seen through:

  • Feelings of being drained
  • Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted
  • Feeling ‘trapped’
  • Poor sleep
  • Lack of energy
  • Decreased motivation
  • Difficulty finding energy or bouncing back
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Sense of failure
  • Procrastination
  • Avoidance of tasks
  • Avoiding or withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Agitation
  • Headaches
  • Feeling cynical
  • Apathy
  • Feeling absentminded
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of low mood or depression

Symptoms of burnout vary between individuals and can be diagnosed by a medical professional.

How can we support our well-being?

Some steps that can be taken to support yourself, a child or teenager who is struggling include:

#1 – Remove stressors – If there are any stressors which can be removed temporarily or on a long term basis can reduce the pressure which needs to be managed.

#2 – Set boundaries – Set clear boundaries between home and work, study and downtime to ensure that there is adequate time to rest and take time out. Prioritise tasks and focus only on those which are necessary and feel confident that saying no is for your benefit and well-being.

#3 – Take a tech break – Take regular time away from technology, particularly in the hours before bedtime.

#4 – Implement relaxation – Using relaxation techniques such as yoga, nature walks, hypnotherapy or meditation can support the individual to develop a sense of rest.

#5 – Exercise and fresh air – Regular exercise and fresh air such as walks or low impact sport help reduce stress and release endorphins for mood and well-being.

#6 – Support your body with good nutrition – When we are exhausted it can be easy to rely on convenience or high sugar or caffeine foods/drinks. Ensuring that nutrition is well considered, such as reducing sugar, alcohol, nicotine and caffeine, increasing water and eating a well balanced diet supports the bodies natural immune system.

#7 – Ask for help and support – Reaching out to loved ones, employers or a professional to support you to reduce stress and overwhelm through support at home or professional input for strategies or therapy to help manage feelings.


Further help 

For more articles about mental health visit – ARTICLES 

To learn more about child and adolescent mental health visit – COURSES 

For resources to support child and adolescent mental health visit –RESOURCES 


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Bremner J. D. (2006). Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 8(4), 445–461. [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Depression: What is burnout? [Updated 2020 Jun 18]. Available from:

Papathanasiou I. V. (2015). Work-related Mental Consequences: Implications of Burnout on Mental Health Status Among Health Care Providers. Acta informatica medica : AIM : journal of the Society for Medical Informatics of Bosnia & Herzegovina : casopis Drustva za medicinsku informatiku BiH, 23(1), 22–28.

Salvagioni, D., Melanda, F. N., Mesas, A. E., González, A. D., Gabani, F. L., & Andrade, S. M. (2017). Physical, psychological and occupational consequences of job burnout: A systematic review of prospective studies. PloS one, 12(10), e0185781.

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