I’ve sat down to write this post multiple times over the last several weeks, and I’ve walked away without writing anything. I just can’t seem to get the words out.
And yet, I keep coming back to this topic and this space. Trying again and again because I know how important it is to acknowledge and speak to it. I know for myself and for the people I work with that the last couple years alone have increased burnout: not just with work but in our day to day lives.
In an article titled “Societal Pandemic Burnout: a COVID Legacy,” Douglas Queen and Keith Harding define burnout and how to determine if you’re experiencing pandemic burnout. They define burnout as a “state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” I think it’s safe to say that we are all under the umbrella of burnout. Here are some signs you may be experiencing burnout:
- Emotionally drained
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty or inability to meet daily demands
- Increased irritability
- Feeling stuck or hopeless
- Loss of appetite
- Disturbed sleep
- Digestive issues
Do you recognize yourself in the above signs of pandemic burnout? It’s okay if you do. I imagine you’re probably asking “okay…so, what do I do now?”
While we’re not able to cause an immediate end to this prolonged stress of a global pandemic, there are some things we can do to support ourselves and the people around us to manage this prolonged stress.
The first step is becoming aware of and acknowledging you’re in burnout. The remainder of this post will help you identify your best next step. I’ll break down the practices into three categories: basic needs, social, and self-care. I encourage you to pick one to prioritize first.
When folks are under prolonged and excessive stress, they can begin to struggle with meeting their own basic needs. Basic needs include:
- Moderation and balanced food intake
- Drinking enough water and limited caffeine or alcohol
- Getting enough sleep
- Personal hygiene
Research shows that having a balanced diet and getting enough water impacts our mental health and can support daily functioning. If you’re struggling with feeding yourself, try ordering a meal delivery box. This’ll help limit the amount of energy you’re putting into planning and finding meal recipes.
If you struggle with getting enough water throughout your day, try using a favorite reusable cup or water bottle to carry around throughout your day. You may also consider reducing your caffeine or alcohol intake to support appropriate hydration.
Sleep also supports wellness and is a part of stress management. If you’re struggling with sleep, then I recommend trying to create a sleep hygiene schedule. This may consist of setting a consistent bedtime and wake up schedule, limiting screen time while in bed, reducing caffeine intake several hours before bed, and incorporating additional wind down activities to support your nervous system in settling prior to sleep. Some wind down activities include:
- Drinking non-caffeinated tea
- Reading from a favorite book
- Meditation or breathwork
- Practicing somatic grounding skills
Personal hygiene helps us feel human and connected with our communities. If you’re struggling with your own personal hygiene, try creating a rhythm to your routine. With more people working remotely than ever before, it can be difficult to find the motivation to get dressed in the morning, bathe regularly, or brush your teeth.
Doing those three things consistently supports the work/life separation as well as feeling better about yourself! You can even start with picking one thing and creating a new routine based around it. After a few days or week, slowly add in each additional component.
Everyone has their own comfort level in seeing people in person during the pandemic. Regardless of your comfort level around in person gatherings, social connection is very important for your mental, emotional, and even physical wellness. There are many ways to connect socially with others! Here are some thoughts for how to remain connected with your people.
- Create virtual meetups to play games or watch movies!
- Schedule consistent weekly, biweekly, or monthly hangouts with your in-person “pod!”
- Socialize with coworkers even if you’re working remotely!
Thanks to technology, there are many ways to virtually draw nearer to your support system instead of being recluse. Streaming services and online gaming platforms allow you to virtually watch a movie or show together or even play a tabletop game from your computer.
If you have a pod of people you’re comfortable seeing in person, then create a consistent hang out schedule! This can provide excitement in having something to look forward to and something to rely on during a time of uncertainty.
In the transition to working from home, many folks are experiencing the lack of social connection with coworkers. If you find yourself missing the day-to-day interactions with your coworkers, there may be other ways to build this into your weekly schedule. Something to consider is creating virtual or in person happy hours where you get to reconnect, chat about work, or share about your life. If there is someone in particular whom you miss connecting with, try to schedule 5-10 minute meetings into your schedule to connect between meetings or perhaps over lunch.
With social connection, consistency is key. If you can create a consistent schedule for your social connections, it will become something you come to rely on and can be very grounding from week to week.
Self-care is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, and yet, the basis of self-care is really important for managing burnout. It incorporates all the activities that provide pleasure, rest, and regulation. By no means will I cover ALL the ways someone can foster self-care. Instead, I’ll share a few ideas of how to incorporate daily self-care.
Regular & Intentional Movement
Studies show that regular and intentional movement supports overall wellness. During times of high stress and exhaustion, the idea of moving your body can feel impossible.
But movement comes in a variety of activities and doesn’t have to be strenuous or long lasting! It can be as simple as stretching in the morning, walking around your block, or dancing in your kitchen to your favorite jam while cooking dinner. Find something that feels simple enough to incorporate into your daily rhythm!
Mindfulness: Pause & Notice
Another helpful practice is mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply practicing being in the present moment using a “noticing without judgement” framework. You can practice this throughout your day by taking a moment to pause and notice what’s present around you.
Try getting your senses involved by focusing on the sounds, smells, or sights around you. Do it between virtual meetings by noticing your breath without trying to change it. Pet your dog sleeping next to you and feel their soft fur. Take a look out your window or step onto your porch and allow your senses to bring you back to the present moment.
Taking time to identify what you’re grateful for each morning or evening is also a great self-care activity. It allows you to acknowledge the goodness of a given day instead of feeling supersaturated in the difficulties. If creating a list or writing in a journal feels overwhelming, then start by identifying one thing, person, or moment that you’re grateful for. You could even share your gratitude with others!
Lastly, and my favorite self-care activity, PLAY!!! Intentional play and fun are so important especially in a time of burnout and prolonged stress. Playing and having fun, either alone or with others, allows your body to release anything that’s been weighing on it as well as shift the low energy in your nervous system.
Not sure how to add play into your life? Grab a friend or family member and play catch with a ball outside. Have an impromptu post-dinner dance party with yourself, with your roommates, or with your pet! Play a game of 4-Square, Candy Land, or any other game you loved as a kid! Start small if you need to, but just play!
It can quickly feel overwhelming to go from nothing to all of the things mentioned above. As I’ve said before, start with picking one thing to incorporate into your daily routine. Give yourself time for that one thing to actually become part of your routine before incorporating more. Accountability is a great way to build consistency. Share with a friend your new routine – they might want to join you!
If you think you need professional help, schedule an intake call today! We want to help you overcome pandemic burnout.