Most of us have gone through this or are going through it now, and if you haven’t hit the wall yet, count yourself lucky. Pandemic Burnout like typical work stress-related burnout can feel overwhelming and like you can’t deal with “all this”. It is normal for sustained stressful situations like the situation we find ourselves in to take its mental toll, and a lot of the symptoms can cross over with mild to moderate depression. Whatever you are feeling keep in mind that seeking help from a mental health professional is always going to be a benefit.
What are the symptoms of Pandemic Burnout?
You will likely be suffering from pandemic burnout if you feel some or all of these symptoms.
- Overwhelming emotional exhaustion — this can manifest itself as feeling tired even if you’ve slept well, low threshold for anger or emotional upset, and taking innocuous messages or emails as a personal criticism.
- Cynicism and detachment — lacking enjoyment in things, being unable to relate the same to loved ones, or chronic lack of motivation.
- Feeling like a lack of accomplishment — feeling like even after a full day you haven’t achieved much, the hamster wheel syndrome of exerting a lot of effort but not actually getting anywhere or being unable to settle as you feel you haven’t done enough.
What are the causes of Burnout?
There isn’t a singular cause of burnout and is a combination of factors for a sustained period of time. Common factors include:
- Lack of control — Lockdown and travel restrictions inherently reduce your level of control, but also smaller issues like IT problems, slow internet, broken VPNs, delayed deliveries or not being able to control your home workspace all add to this.
- Lack of structure — With competing pressures of homeschooling as well as home working can lead to overlapping responsibilities. The fuzzy boundaries of home and work can make you feel like you don’t have downtime.
- Juggling opposing and competing pressures — As different demands for your time compete you can feel like there aren’t any contiguous blocks of time where you can get something done and you are forced to multi-task.
- Learned helplessness — It’s easy to fall into the mindset of “what’s the point?” and be disinclined to make any decisions.
- Feelings of unfair treatment — When you have restrictions on your life it is upsetting to see others not following those restrictions and not suffering any consequences.
- Feeling judged — You can easily feel judged on multiple levels, not working enough while remote, not learning a new skill while in lockdown, not spending enough time on homeschooling children, not raising money for charity, not clapping for carers, all of this impacts your feeling of self-worth.
How can we cope with Burnout?
Engaging in social interaction is an essential part of being human and lack of it affects different people to a greater and lesser extent. A phone call with friends or family still fulfils that need to some extent even if in-person meetings are still restricted. If your area allows it, meeting up with people not in your bubble outside in a park is a good option.
Being couped up in your home for months on end reduces the amount of sensory stimulus you can engage in. It has been found time and time again that being outside and especially being around nature improves a person's mood immensely whatever the weather.
You will no doubt be spending much more time sat staring at a screen than at almost any other time of your life. This sedentary activity is going to wreak havoc on your posture and general level of fitness. It is even more important now to get at least 30min of exercise in a day, be it walking, yoga, dancing to cheesy tunes or doing a full-on workout. Exercise releases a whole bunch of happy stress reliving hormones and has in most cases been shown to be as or more effective than medication for treating symptoms of depression and burnout.
Enforcing work-life balance
A lot of people think they can multi-task and be super effective, but it’s a myth and greatly increases stress. Schedule your work hours, breaks and off-hours, and stick to it. It is important to make distinctions between work and non-work periods of time with at minimum a schedule, and if you have the luxury, a distinct and separate home working space.
Burnout TODO List
- Leave the house for at least 20–30 minutes each day, if possible being in a green open space.
- Ensure daytime means daylight, that means curtains or blinds open and get a daylight bulb for your desk lamp.
- Enforce strict start and end times to your day, no late-night emails.
- Get up and get dressed, no working from bed in your PJs.
- Start a virtual commute if possible. Spend 20–30 minutes at the start and end of your workday reading a book or listening to a podcast to create a distinct separation between office and home.
- Take hourly breaks to stretch your legs.
- Try and engage in a virtual social event a couple of times a week. Try using watch-together options on Netflix or Amazon Prime.
- The measurement of experienced burnout — Christina Maslach, Susan E. Jackson. (Journal of Organizational Behaviour)
- Pandemic Burnout — Caroline Williams (New Scientist)
- 7 simple tips to tackle working from home NHS England
- Coronavirus and isolation: supporting yourself and your colleagues Mental Health At Work