Burnout is something that a lot of people have been struggling with this year. We’re living in a time when the kids and parents are both at home at the same time. On a weekday, in a very stereotypical household, children are at school learning and parents are out at work. This is not to say that every American family operates this way, but for the most part, this is how many families live their “normal” lives.
In March of this year, COVID-19 made its biggest impact, and most states were placed in a serious lockdown, meaning many employees were let go or forced to work from home. At first, this may have seemed like a blessing in disguise: you don’t have to commute to work, you can take care of your kids instead of paying a babysitter or nanny, and you can log in and log out as you please. It never works out that way though, does it?
What is Burnout?
According to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), burnout is defined as:
“a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.
Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
Guess what? 2020 has been a year of worldwide burnout. We are going through a time in our lives where we are collectively feeling emotionally exhausted, feeling confined to certain curfews or told we can’t go places or do things and resenting our world leaders for the choices they are making when it comes to the pandemic and social justice. Whether this is stress, anxiety, or anger, many are feeling the effects and can relate to the definition of burn-out.
How can we avoid burnout? You have to be able to read the signs. It may be easy to see it on someone else. It’s always easier to see when someone else is doing something wrong or when you think they are taking on more than they should, but do you know how to look inward and control your own actions? We’re going to look at how you can avoid burnout at home during this pandemic, whether you are working, are currently out of work, or a student trying to get through the semester.
Signs & Symptoms of Burnout
- Alienation from work-related activities: Do you feel like clocking out before you even clock in? Are you cynical about work and your colleagues? Are you emotionally distancing yourself from everything to do with work? This could be a sign you are starting to feel burnt out.
- Emotional exhaustion: You’ve got nothing left in the tank by the end of the day. You’re feeling hopeless about work, you’re tired, and can barely get your work done because you simply don’t have the energy.
- Physical symptoms: Headaches, stomachaches, digestive issues.
- Reduced Performance: Overall negativity and cynicism about tasks (work or otherwise). This could be at home with children or sitting at your computer desk. You may have trouble concentrating on tasks and your work may lack creativity and become bland.
Burnout happens in many of the following contexts:
- Overwhelmed with deadlines
- Lack of communication or support from a manager
- Lack of role clarity
- Being treated unfairly
How can we address these?
To do that, we need to understand what’s going on in our bodies. All of us hold stress in our bodies, whether or not we see it or feel it. We suppress a lot of that stress, which is why normal everyday, healthy stress, can turn into burn-out without you even realizing it! We all have a Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and a Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). The PNS tries to stop the body from overworking and helps to restore the body to a calm and composed state. From there, the SNS prepares the body for the “fight or flight” response during any potential danger. Fortunately, many of us do not work jobs that put us in any physical danger, but unfortunately, our brains are not sending safe signals. In the end, this leads to our eventual burnout.
How can we prevent burnout from happening?
Just like many diseases, there is a cure for burnout. That being said, it is certainly preventable! Therefore, knowing that this does not have to be you is the first step to acknowledging that you have the potential to overcome this. Here are some options for those feeling like they are starting to feel overwhelmed with their at-home situation, or for those that feel they are so far gone that they just may quit their job.
- MOVE YOUR BODY – physical activity helps tremendously! From running to playing frisbee to tensing up your body for 10 seconds and then slowly relaxing every muscle. Doing this helps your body relax and feel safe – the PNS can take over so that you do not constantly feel like you are in fight or flight mode!
- BREATHE – this helps downregulate your nervous system. Take a slow breath in, and even slower breath out. This is not mean to be a meditation. Just make sure you don’t forget to breathe. I’m a breath-holder and I tend to forget to breathe. In this case, maybe use a mantra like, “Exhale Anxiety; Inhale Calmness” or “With every breath, I feel myself relaxing.”.
- POSITIVE SOCIAL INTERACTION – Find your community. This is your safe space. Is it your family, for instance? Is it your friends? Your co-workers? Find a way to stay in touch. We’re all on Zoom calls anyway, so make your next call to a friend you can trust. Surround yourself with people you admire and look up to. It makes a world of difference.
- CRY – Crying doesn’t solve a problem or eliminate your burn-out. It is, however, a physical way to let go of stress. How does crying feel physically? Where do you feel the tension in your body? How about rather than thinking about your stress or burnout, think about the physical sensations you feel while crying (or complaining, or yelling, or laughing… anything really).
- ART – make something out of your energy. If you are mad or sad, create something, and put that emotion in a safe place outside of yourself. This is the act of creation. In the words of Carrie Fisher, “Take your broken heart, make it into art.” Know that some of the best music has come from heartbreak, so why can’t it come from Covid-induced anxiety?
Bring About Change
Burnout is the result of neglecting a sign (or many signs) from your body. Wellness is not a state of being, it is a state of action. To find it, you need to bring on your own change, and if that means you end up in a state of burnout, that’s okay. Therefore, take the time to learn more about yourself and how you ended up in that position. Take rest. We all need to care for each other in times like these. Who knows where we will be in 3 months, 6 months, 2 years from now? Remember: Stress is not bad for you. Being stuck is.
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