We Are All in This Together

30.06.2021 |

Episode #1 of the course Life in the time of burnout by Dr. Kimberlee Bethany Bonura


According to burnout expert, psychologist Dr. Christina Maslach, burnout has three primary components: 1. overwhelming exhaustion, 2. cynicism and detachment, and 3. a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. [1]

Whether you are taking this course while the chaos of COVID-19 is still spreading around the world, or in the months and years to come, it is likely that the emotional, physical and financial toll of living through a global pandemic has left you feeling exactly that way: exhausted, cynical and detached, and unable to accomplish change in the world around you.

For instance, research indicates that Canadian healthcare workers who worked through the 2003 SARS outbreak had significantly higher rates of burnout, distress, and posttraumatic stress (PTSD) than healthcare workers in other cities which were not impacted by SARS during the same time period. [2] For Chinese individuals who survived SARS infection in 2003, PTSD was also high – in fact, up to 59% of individuals who survive an illness requiring intensive care will experience PTSD. [3] The consequences of working in, surviving, or living in the time of an epidemic can lead to both extreme and sustained emotional and psychological distress.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that we may be living in the time of burnout. Feeling exhausted, detached, and ineffective may, unfortunately, feel like just another day.


Defining Burnout

The 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) lists burnout as an occupational phenomenon. [4] Essentially, burnout is what happens when the stress or work-related obligations exceed your capacity to effectively cope. Burnout is characterized by three specific emotional conditions:

1. Energy depletion or exhaustion;

2. Psychological detachment, and/or feelings of negativism or cynicism;

3. Reduced sense of competence and efficacy.

The ICD says burnout only applies to professional settings, but other researchers note that burnout can apply in other areas of life, such as caregiving. For healthcare workers and family caregivers working in near-constant care settings, for instance during a pandemic; for frontline workers; for working parents balancing work-from-home with virtual school – the risk of burnout is drastically increased. Psychology Today defines burnout as “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress” [5] and notes that it can appear across all the domains of life.


The Bottom Line

If you’re feeling exhausted, cynical, and incompetent, you may well be burned out. But burnout is not something we just have to accept. We can, instead, look to the psychological and medical literature about burnout to better understand what it is, how we can cope with it, and how we can make ourselves resilient in these times. Together, we can make progress back toward happiness, engagement, and satisfaction with life.

Tomorrow, we’ll put burnout into context with our current social and environmental climate. You’ll be relieved to know – it’s not just you. And we’ll review strategies for mitigating the environmental factors that are exacerbating your emotional state.

For today, do me (and yourself) a favor, and take twenty minutes off to laugh. Do something that makes you laugh out loud, even if it means locking yourself in the bathroom to watch YouTube videos about crazy cats.



[1] From the American Psychological Association, Are you burned out?

[2] Long-term Psychological and Occupational Effects of Providing Hospital Healthcare during SARS Outbreak

[3] Posttraumatic Stress after SARS

[4] World Health Organization defines Burnout

[5] Definition of Burnout from Psychology Today


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