Facts + Insights

Black Women and the Burnout Epidemic: Caring during COVID-19 and the responses ACB women need (Part 5)

December 2, 2021
Scroll down

Welcome to the fifth post in our series on Black women and the burnout epidemic. In the previous posts, we first introduced you to the concept of burnout and how it affects African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) women uniquely, and then in the second post, I shared more about my personal experiences. In the third post, we considered the historical context and its contemporary implications, and in the fourth post we looked at the experiences of other ACB women and talked about the implications of the term, resilience. We suggest you read those before continuing here with part 5.

In this post, we’ll dive deeper into the historical context, look at the contemporary cost of caring, and touch on burnout in the context of COVID-19.

COVID-19 and Care: Parallels to the response to the HIV epidemic

Reid Wilson said, “All crises create heroes, those who run toward a disaster while the rest run away.” This quote makes me reflect on how, as far as the global response to COVID-19 has gone, the work of ACB women have been seminal at all levels in combatting this deadly virus.

From the work of Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett who helped to develop Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, and the chair of President Biden’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, Dr. Marcella Nunez Smith, who has dedicated her career to eliminating health inequities amidst marginalized communities, to women like Dr. Ala Stanford, Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice and Dr. Michelle Nichols, who have worked tirelessly to ensure that Black communities have access to COVID-19 testing and vaccination—these are just some of our frontline workers who have seen no rest essentially for the past 18+ months. This leads to the question, why? Why do ACB women care so much?

Why ACB women care so much

Among many other reasons, one that stands out is because often those most negatively impacted by these traumas and illnesses are those in Black communities. The tense racial climate, poverty, discrimination, social exclusion and lack of access to healthcare services, among others, were all issues that ACB communities were dealing with pre-pandemic—all exacerbated by COVID-19.

It’s similar to what was seen in the 1980s and early 1990s. ACB communities were among those most affected by HIV and ACB women, such as those who founded the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW), played (and continue to play) critical roles in addressing HIV in Black populations.

History has shown that no one will stand up for ACB women and people if we don’t stand up for ourselves and each other. Black women have taken on the challenge of fighting for the health and wellbeing of the entire race.

Imagine the stress that healthcare professionals and frontline workers have been experiencing during COVID, multiply it by at least ten, and stretch it out to last for at least 400 more years. This has been the experience of ACB women. It is a burnout epidemic and there has been minimal support to address it.

Pendergast, D. (2020). Black woman carrying the world:
The dangers of being a superwoman. ZORA.

The needed response

So what do we do? If you’re an ACB woman reading this, self-care is key. I know it’s easier said than done, but try making it a priority. Set boundaries for yourself and follow through with them. Take breaks; get back into your hobbies; spend some quality time with yourself; build a community of support and seek help if (and when) you need it.

And if you’re not an ACB woman? Give ACB women around you the space and support to do all those things.

For employers and organizations who employ ACB women, be aware that burnout exists and that the experiences of ACB women are unique. Find out where your employees fall on the burnout spectrum and what their triggers are; foster belonging; show direct support, such as hiring career coaches for the access of staff; and equip your managers and supervisors with the tools that they’ll need to:

  1. talk about burnout;
  2. talk about how racism, sexism and other systems of oppression play a role in it; and
  3. deal with the negative impacts.

Now what?

Burnout is real. Burnout among ACB women is real. We are mothers, daughters, wives, aunts, sisters, grandmothers, co-workers and friends. We are not mammies or superheroes who can consistently ignore their own needs for the sake of others. We do it because our hands are forced. If we don’t look out for ourselves and others, then who will?

To my fellow Black women, we have to learn to take care of ourselves. You know the saying “you can’t pour from an empty glass?” Our glasses aren’t only empty, they’re shattered. It’s ok to take a step back and replenish yourself. It doesn’t make you lazy or unworthy. It makes you human. We should all learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout, and how to cope with the daily stresses of life. As Rachel Ricketts said,

Healing is a full-time job, and the purpose of my healing is for myself and my family line. It’s so that I can fill my cup back up so that I can get out there and do the work that’s required.

Let’s start the process of healing ourselves from the generations of burnout so that we can continue to care and be the change that the world needs to see.

Continue the conversation

Check out the list below of Instagram accounts that I follow to keep me accountable to daily self-care practices and coping techniques to keep my body and mind well. Let’s keep this conversation going.

This blog post was contributed by Teresa Bennett, a REACH Nexus Research Student. Teresa holds an Honours Bachelor of Science (Health Sciences) degree from Wilfrid Laurier University.

Please click here to review our terms of use & privacy that include important information about commenting and social media usage.