Burnout during war: how to save yourself if you're professionally in a whirlwind of events
Doctors, journalists, volunteers, firefighters, specialists of repair teams—we explain how people of professions, which constantly interact with war, can protect themselves psychologically.
What is the problem?
Each of us has been under stress since the beginning of the war, and we live through various emotional states that change one after the other, whether we like it or not. Loss of strength is felt not only mentally but also physically. Someone has gone through the hell of war and occupation, someone is exhausted by endless air strikes in Ukraine, someone is frightened by a foreign country, and everyone is uncertain about the future. Society and social media are going from triumphant moods to pessimism, which seems to be for a long time. Such a psychological swing hits people's psyche.
For the sake of mental balance and to prevent emotional burnout, some psychologists advise not to watch bloody pictures of tortured people, not to read tragic news, stop turning on the TV and constantly monitor the Internet. At least take a little distance from the destructive flow of negative information. Such tips can work for many. But what should people who cannot do this because of the work do? Doctors, journalists, volunteers, firefighters, specialists of repair teams… How can people constantly at the epicenter of war-related events not burn out? How to help yourself stay whole for the sake of helping others?
What is the solution?
Emotional burnout syndrome—a state of physical and mental exhaustion—is a response to emotional overstrain. In addition, the syndrome of emotional burnout can be a mechanism of psychological protection as partial or complete turning off of emotions in response to traumatic influences. It's believed that women face emotional burnout more often than men. But neither women nor men can withstand what the war with the rabid russian horde brought us.
Helping a person "burning out" can be provided not only by a specialist. Even though a systematic approach will be much more effective, you can help yourself. Psychologist Olha Shablovska told Rubryka how to escape emotional and resource failure.
How does it work?
Emotional burnout—a state when emotions are significantly dulled—is a protective mechanism that the human psyche turns on. We begin to perceive everything in terms of facts and get emotionally involved as little as possible. It doesn't hurt us to look at roasted russians, although earlier, these shots would have caused us completely different feelings. We react more calmly to shelling than a month ago. We're entering a phase of emotional indifference. We need it to survive; our psyche needs it, so we don't go crazy. In this phase, our efficiency is reduced (compared to what it was before the start of a full-scale war). We can still do routine work, which helps us live and helps our psyche relieve emotions through activity. But it's becoming more and more difficult for us to do something more complicated, create something new, improvise, and find solutions, which is called to work "at full speed."
"It is important to understand," the psychologist emphasizes, "and not to demand from ourselves what we could do without the war. Trying to work as before because you may be less productive now can lead to emotional and physical exhaustion. Ahead is a depressive state, apathy and, in the end, a complete loss of working capacity, which is so necessary now."
In a peaceful time, the cycle of 7 days a week, which is natural for us, should have provided our body with sufficient emotional stress and allowed us to recover during the weekend. However, we are currently experiencing a rhythm unusual for our bodies. Experiencing the horrors of war daily, people are in terrible resource collapse. Being okay, and having enough time for recovery for soldiers on the front lines of the Ukrainian struggle against the occupiers, is not easy now; it is practically impossible.
Experts advise people who constantly interact with war by profession:
- Learn to recognize the symptoms of psychological stress and burnout;
- Know and understand the negative consequences of burnout processes;
- Having a desire to resist the adverse effects of stress is to develop motivation.
- Master the techniques of self-regulation (self-organization) and overcoming the critical causes of burnout—the lack of personal and professional competencies and overcoming the alienation of personal life meanings from the meanings of professional activity. In simple words, try to separate professional life from personal life.
Will it work?
What should you do to remain "resourced" and preserve your psyche and work capacity? Olha Shablovska advises:
- Setting yourself more routine tasks and less creative ones;
- Make sure that you have a sleep—at least six hours—and three meals (if possible in the conditions in which you are);
- Organize breaks in the fresh air during the working day because the lack of oxygen reduces your work capacity even more;
- Allow yourself to experience the emotions you feel: talk about your anger, talk about your fears, share with others when you feel uplifted and energized, and don't stay alone with yourself when you feel powerless and depressed;
- Cry when you feel it's challenging; you should not forbid yourself tears; on the contrary, allow yourself to cry. It helps to release those emotions that are building up, even when they are more blunted than we felt before. Everything unsaid/uncried is encapsulated and can further develop into much worse problems. So, if possible, "release the spring";
- It's better to say what you feel than to stay silent. You can share with a friend, partner, colleague, or psychologist. It is crucial here that the person with whom you share your feelings should be in a better psycho-emotional state than you at this time. So you can stabilize yourself;
- A person needs to control something, so now you can manage your plan for the day: set yourself a task, but remember that now you may need more time to complete this or that task. It is normal to be less productive than before in the current environment! Take this into account so that you don't feel guilty later that your productivity has decreased.
- Consult a psychologist when you feel it is difficult for you and cannot do your work. If you do not currently have the financial ability to pay for the services of a psychologist, look for a psychologist or a psychological center that provides crisis psychological assistance on a volunteer basis (there are many such initiatives now).
Each of us is doing an essential thing by doing our jobs. We are contributing to the country's fight against russia's invasion. When we work, we support our soldiers because we cover the rear, which is very important.
The expert emphasizes that the main task now is to work, caring for your psycho-emotional state. Our children need healthy parents, our country needs psychologically stable citizens, and we need ourselves with the ability to take care of ourselves, our loved ones, and those who work close to us.
The following tips will help you be effective in any job and prevent professional burnout during the war:
- Take on only those tasks that you are capable of;
- Do the work you are good at;
- Spend more time on chores than you spent on them before;
- Ask for help when needed. Don't pretend the war hasn't changed anything; it hasn't. We need more support now than before;
- If possible, do everyday things: cook food, wash windows, do repairs, work in the garden;
- Rest and leisure should become a duty, a part of every day. To restore psychological resources, go for walks, watch movies, and play games;
- Joke, browse humorous posts and memes for the day. Humor is an excellent protective mechanism of the psyche.
- You should not think that we will return to everyday life merely tomorrow, the one that existed before the full-scale war. Take the situation as it is and do the best you can.
Even more helpful solutions!
The enemy needs us to be pushed, emotionally exhausted, demoralized, with a severe form of PTSD and endless guilt for our inability to influence the situation or even "not as serious as others'" trials. You cannot allow it in any case! It is necessary to preserve common sense and strength for our joint victory.
Don't give in to the "I'm not doing enough" feeling that comes with the war and constant stress we're all under right now.
Unfortunately, no one now has a magic wand to stop the russian onslaught immediately. Therefore, we begin to grab everything that can speed up the process and do at least something in our power: help refugees, work harder to support the country's economy, volunteer, and help the Ukrainian forces. We invest and often do it with our last strength, but the desired result does not come. One day replaces another day, and we have not yet defeated and expelled the ruscists from our land. So, more often, the feeling begins to arise that we are not doing enough.
"Escaping" to work brings relief because something is constantly being done. But, as Olha Shablovska repeats, you need to remember that although our work is precious for our country, at the same time, it is essential for the country that each of us is in a normal psychological state and not in total exhaustion.
We will be able to help the country more when we care for ourselves, rest, and focus on family, home, and children. So our internal resources will last longer, and then we will be able to do more.
Taking care of one's mental health is one of the main tasks of everyone in the conditions of war. Thus, we will win!