Battling emotional burn out? Here’s how to handle it like a pro

Woman working.
Woman working.
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  • The trending of social movements such as: Black Lives Matter and the fight against Gender-Based Violence on social media can be triggering for many.
  • Experts say it is important to practice emotional hygiene and monitor your feelings while you take part in the protests.
  • Online therapy can be as effective as face-to-face treatment for mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
  • Read more on Drum.co.za


Uprisings of every sort have gained momentum once again following the continuous killings of women, police brutality that is racially motivated and xenophobia, to name a few. Due to the safety measures that have been put in place because of the coronavirus, protesting – although necessary –  is currently not the safest option.

Read more | Here are numbers you can call if you’re a victim of gender-based violence

When it comes to spreading awareness and seeking change across all spectrums, social media has become the go-to platform for many. It might sound easier than physically putting your body on the line and protesting, but it can cause emotional fatigue.

Being an activist is taxing as it means one has to relive the traumas they have been through and fight through them because getting the message across is important. The big question becomes: how does one handle emotional burnout as the fight for change continues?

DRUM spoke to counselling psychologist Nqobile Msomi about the mental-health effects surrounding social movements and some of the ways one can deal with emotional burnout.

“Emotional burnout varies from person to person and it is hard to make a blanket statement for what is experienced by different people to varying degrees. People may experience it as traumatic or as a threat or anxiety-provoking. It has an effect on our mental health and our wellbeing. We underplay just the effect of structural injustices and how they’re going to affect an individual’s mental health,” Msomi says.

Mindfulness is important when dealing with mental health. Whether you’re being mindful towards yourself or the people around you.

“We all must be mindful of our mental health before we get to a burnout stage. There may be feelings of a low mood, lack of motivation, no longer having interest in the things you love, overthinking, feeling anxious and panicking are some of the indicators in terms of symptomology. I think it’s important that we all, before we get to that state, monitor our mental health and there are different ways to do that. The strategies that you have come across on my social media at the beginning of lockdown very much apply during this period.”

To be healthy, stable and well, there are things you need to attend to. There’s a framework from positive psychology and it’s called S.M.S.P.E.

Social wellbeing

Mental wellbeing

Spiritual wellbeing           

Physical wellbeing

Emotional wellbeing

At each of those, one needs to check-in with themselves especially during this time. Whether it is on a daily or weekly basis, ask yourself “How am I doing?” Each area has a certain tool you can use. “For example, with social wellbeing, I like to speak of ‘psychological havens’. There, we feel at home and safe, and it’s important to identify what those are for you. For some people, it’s their friends and it’s important to find strength in ourselves. Form groups, whether it’s a WhatsApp group or people you live with and share your experiences,” Msomi says.

For many people, emotional burnouts aren’t new as the social issues that are being faced are ones that have been around for years. Msomi unpacks some of the things an individual can do to deal with it, especially because the call for change is mostly being done online.

“For those who particularly feel anxious or who find themselves overthinking during this time, limiting your social media intake is a good option. Make time for social media during the day by scheduling the times that you’ll be online and active. For example, two hours in the morning, afternoon and in the evening. For some people, they need to be off social media for a week.

“Another way you can monitor your intake is by being very specific with the people you follow and the news you follow. With emotional hygiene practices in place, you’ll be able to identify that you’re feeling particularly vulnerable on a certain day and you’ll make sure that on that day, you won’t follow the hashtag that links to your vulnerability. But maybe in three days’ time, you’ll be able to catch up, when you’re feeling a bit stronger.”

The coronavirus pandemic has forced us to stay indoors and social media is the safest way many can communicate. However, taking a break from it isn’t the only way you can deal with and/or prevent an emotional burnout.

“There is a growing interest in mindfulness practices. Practising gratitude, practising acceptance, monitoring your sleeping patterns and breathing techniques during this time. I’ll give you an example of one and that is the 4-7-8 breathing technique,” Msomi says According to Healthline, “Breathing techniques are designed to bring the body into a state of deep relaxation. The 4-7-8 forces the mind and body to focus on regulating the breath, rather than replaying your worries when you lie down at night.”

“Externalise your thoughts, a piece of paper can hold them for a bit and you don’t have to overplay them in your mind. Exercising. Those are your basic strategies for maintaining your mental health and wellbeing,” Msomi mentions.

Read more | How to prepare for a protest during lockdown

Now that the economy is opening up and we’re easing back into what is known as “normal”, psychologists have started operating again.

“Under level 3 restrictions there are some psychologists who are seeing people face to face. You just need to contact the psychologist you have in mind to find out if they are open to face-to-face consultations,” Msomi says

Research shows that for mental illnesses like depression or anxiety, online therapy can be just as effective as face-to-face therapy. For more severe symptomology, those who are feeling suicidal or are substance-dependent to a severe level, online therapy is contraindicated.

“In my experience during lockdown, my clients and myself have found and negotiated the transition well. Both for me and them. Some people need more face-to-face interaction, it’s different for everyone. However, in South Africa, there has not been a lot of research on what we call ‘telepsychology’, which is when we offer psychological services via telecommunication platforms,” Msomi tells us

Msomi reiterates that everything is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. She says people need to find areas that they are willing to call into action to bring about change. “When things reach their peak, which may be now, there are times when we’re pushing and there are times when we’re a little bit more strategic. It’s okay to sit out some things and come back at a later stage,” she says.