• Manuel Delgado Gaona, MD

Pandemic Burnout Effects (And a 20-minute exercise routine to combat them)

When I began medical school, I suffered physical and mental burnout from swimming. So, I decided to quit swimming and spend more time with friends drinking alcohol, playing other sports, and trying to have a good time. It was the usual symptoms we see in college athletes suffering from burnout syndrome.


I spent time at the student council, with Antonio playing football, and with “the Galenos” (a medical student’s musical group) where my friend Roberto played the “requinto.” I asked “the Galenos” to play romantic songs outside the house (“serenatas”) of a woman that I was dating. During this season of my life, there were long nights of music, chats, and beer.


After medical school, Roberto and I worked together in the Mexico-US border health program.


During this COVID-19 pandemic, I´ve been working at a molecular diagnostic lab in Mexico. The lab dedicated 100% of its capacity to the diagnostic efforts of COVID-19.


I thought this would be easy work. After all, I am an influenza AH1N1 (2009), H5N1/Syncytial respiratory virus (2014) and influenza B (2020) survivor with molecular diagnostic experience during the AH1N1 and H5N1 pandemics.


But this virus has not had the usual epidemiological behavior experts usually see in influenza viruses. There is not a vaccine or antiviral treatment available. The mandatory confinement (after long work shifts) is stressful. I’m processing the loss of Antonio, Roberto, and two other friends from university from COVID-19. Multiples colleagues have contracted the coronavirus. All this has had a significant psychological and physical impact on me.


Over the last month and a half, I began to experience anxiety and a sadness/low mood crisis. I started suffering from migraine-like headaches, ulcerative gastritis-colitis, contact and chemical dermatitis, insomnia, and the loss of 19 pounds……. I felt burnout….. I felt lost.


But, I´m a Team MPI Coach (thank you, coaches, for your support and good wishes) and a USAT-Certified Coach, so I decided to take action. I turned to the arsenal of knowledge and experience about increasing fitness and sports psychology for mental improvement.


During my USAT level II certification training, the US Olympic Committee sport psychology department chief led us through a mental exercise during his lecture:

  • Close your eyes for 30 seconds and count how many thoughts you experience.

  • Close your eyes for 30 seconds and counting how many negative thoughts you experience.

  • Close your eyes, and try to keep a blank mind. Open your eyes when you think about something.


When we participated in this mental exercise as a group, we noticed the following things:

  • We have a lot of thoughts in a short time; most of them are negative.

  • We can´t keep our minds blank. But when we realize it, we can intervene to control negative thoughts and avoid them, so they don’t negatively impact our lives and performance.


The influenza B illness I suffered last February, caused me to lose all my fitness. The fitness club closed, and I had very little time to get my workouts done, so I couldn’t finish long, aerobic workouts. So, I developed a 20-minute workout that I could complete in my 12 x 12-foot room that combined physical and mental exercises:


Complete the following at least four times through:

  • 1 minute: walk around the room, elevating arms to increase the thorax ventilatory capacity. Hold your breath for 10 seconds, repeating a personal mental mantra.

  • 1 minute: march in place, elevating your knees always at the same angle.

  • 1 minute: walk around the room, twisting your core.

  • 1 minute: march in place (or around the room) extending legs at 45°

  • 1 minute: walk around the room doing “walking calf raises.”


These exercises helped increase my ventilatory capacity and realize that there are actions that I can take to maintain physical and mental control, especially when I feel like so much is out of my control.


Today I´m feeling more controlled, and I am in a much better mood overall.


Perhaps you are feeling the same way: burned out and overwhelmed from all the economic concerns, social restrictions, excess negative information about the pandemic, and lack of exercise.


Indoor exercises or outdoor workouts (if it is safe) are beneficial for your overall physical and mental health. Communicate regularly with your Team MPI coach and share honestly how you’re doing. Consider pursuing psychological counseling if possible and necessary. All these things work together to help you overcome this hard time in a safe, healthy way.


For all health professionals around the world.


#ManuelDelgado

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