Disaster Burnout – How to recognize it and what to do about it if it happens to you or the people in your group

Life in a state of global pandemic has taught us all a thing or two about stress, boredom, frustration, fear, anger, and grief.

In the early stages of the pandemic, people mounted shopping campaigns to secure as much toilet paper as possible. Frenzied shoppers scrambled to buy the last 20 pounds of flour and hoped there was still yeast left at the end of the grocery aisle.

Job hours were cut back or entire days trimmed from schedules until finally people were laid off for lack of work.

As the year wore on, people used credit to pay for expenses. Savings accounts were raided and left empty. Some countries offered financial assistance, but that assistance was finite. Those at the end of the pandemic financial programs stood on the precipice of a big, black void. What next?

When would this pandemic finally end and life would go back to normal?

Stress set in as the financial pressures mounted. Domestic relationships imploded under the weight of pandemic stress. Was it financial? Was it from spending just a little too much time together?

Or, were relationships failing because the pandemic had changed people? Partnerships are hard to maintain when the people in them turn inward and away from the other.

People had lost loved ones and were unable to even visit in the hospital as their family member lay dying. Proper funerals weren’t allowed and the associated community support for grief that comes with the ritual of a funeral.

The preppers who were better prepared at the onset of the pandemic still had to cope with many of the issues non-preppers faced, like job loss and grief.

I was prepared for pandemic and increased my preps before it was declared. It was nice to have PPE’s and a very well stocked pantry including non food items and I am grateful for that preparation. 

But, today I am as weary of the pandemic as everyone else. When the pandemic was declared, we were all given a new set of rules about how to live. Masks and social distancing became the equivalent of little bubbles around us, invisible boundaries never to be crossed. We lost the ability to connect with each other in a spontaneous and joyful way.

When was the last time you were truly, spontaneously happy and carefree?

Even a visit with a generous supply of preps doesn’t perk me up.

I feel like the kid in the back of the car: “Are we there yet?”

Burnout is present when you go to sleep knowing that the next morning will probably not be much different.

Burnout is knowing that other people feel the same way and they are as powerless to change the pandemic as you are.

If the pandemic were a bus, I want to get off now, please.

One definition of burnout is physical and mental collapse.

Whenever I peer over the edge into these dark corners of prepping that are easier to ignore, I learn something that makes me a stronger, wiser prepper.

I don’t hide from the mental and emotional aspects of disaster because if I did, then how could I recognize burnout and the need to address it? 

I feel my emotions and ride through the difficult ones so I can learn to manage them better when unpleasant situations provoke them.

So, here’s what I’ve figured out about burnout during this journey through a pandemic.

Any prolonged disaster is going to eventually provoke burnout. We are human and there is no point pretending that it won’t happen to us. Everyone will arrive at burnout sooner or later and want off the bus, too.

Remember the footage of the end of World War II from various countries? People were hugging and kissing and jumping into each other’s arms. Some were dancing in the streets. People were ecstatic because the war was over.

If all those people hadn’t been burned out, then their reactions would have been much different. “Oh, really, it’s over. *Yawn* How nice.” 

We need to plan for burn out in ourselves or in our group. Burnout looks like depression, hopelessness, and fatigue. A person who is burned out is a jaded person who has had enough of the circus and just wants to go home.

Burnout can cause us or members of our group to make mistakes and errors in judgement that can have dire consequences.

Burnout if not addressed can affect the morale of the person’s group. It adds to their stress.

Every person has a different way of coping with burnout. If it happened to me in a high stress job, I changed jobs, fields and went off in an entirely different direction in order to challenge my brain and skills. It became a way to learn new things in a new environment and shake off the heaviness of burnout.

If the burnout wasn’t from a job, I took up new hobbies and taught myself new things from college level books that I put aside in my library.

If it was a relationship, it got better or I got out. Life is too short to live in a state of burnout, disaster or no disaster.

Burnout comes from working our brains the same way day in and day out. The remedy is to do something different. Change one big thing or a bunch of little things. Get creative.

Take the negative things that happen during a disaster and turn them into opportunities for learning.

Don’t ever completely grow up. Reserve a part of yourself that is free to be a child. This will help you remember how to play and not take yourself too seriously. It is invaluable in a disaster to be able to build a fort in your living room or dissolve into hysterics over a silly joke.

Laughter displaces burnout and drives it away.

My Mom, who survived the long occupation of The Netherlands in WWII, told me how they would laugh and make silly jokes, even during the really bad times. Sometimes, they sang or played games or talked about “some day” when it was over, what would be the first thing that they would like to do. 

But mostly, they laughed because when they laughed they felt stronger, in their spirits, an intangible untouchable part of them that no one could steal from them.

Until she died at 86, my Mom was often mistaken for a woman much younger than her years. She still sang and her giggle was infectious. Her spirit was as strong as ever and no one could ever steal it from her.

When the going gets really tough in a long term disaster, I will deal with burnout by remembering her example.


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