The extra mental and emotional energy demanded by remote work may have you hitting the “pandemic wall.” Do you find yourself thinking or saying any of the following?
“It’s just hard to get out of bed.”
“I’ve been misplacing things more often.”
“I’m more irritable and angrier than usual.”
“All I want to do is stare at the wall.”
“I feel numb.”
Each of us has a pandemic story and regardless of what yours includes, you’ve:
- Been stretched to the limit for months at a time.
- Felt the weight of the crisis and the magnitude of despair and disruption.
- Suffered exhaustion, grief, and trauma for over a year.
Even the most resilient people suffer from burnout. Are you suffering right now?
The end of the emergency phase of the pandemic seems to be in sight with vaccinations available to most Americans. External markers of progress such as vaccines, reopening restaurants, etc. can mask or even create a flurry of conflicting emotional, physical, or cognitive states. Now that there’s some breathing room, might burnout be around the corner for you?
Whether you’re burned out now or burnout’s potentially in your future, it’s increasingly challenging to outrun the overwhelming fatigue, frustration, or apathy resulting from the prolonged stress of the pandemic.
What causes burnout?
Burnout is not a pandemic phenomenon, however.
Pre-pandemic Deloitte surveyed 1,000 full-time US professionals to explore the drivers and impact of employee burnout. Their findings indicate that:
- 91 percent of respondents said having an unmanageable amount of stress or frustration negatively impacts the quality of their work.
- 83 percent of respondents say burnout from work can negatively impact their personal relationships.
The survey also found that 77 percent of respondents say they have experienced employee burnout at their current job, with more than half citing multiple occurrences.
Based on these and other research findings it’s not surprising burnout impacts the workplace by reducing efficiency or productivity, lowering employee engagement, and increasing absenteeism.
The hallmark uncertainty you experienced during the pandemic will continue as you transition to the next phase. You may wonder:
- How will a hybrid office work?
- Will my workload increase?
- Is my job secure?
- Is it safe to return to the office or travel?
- What will it take to rebalance work + life so I have time and energy for what matters most?
In the coming months, watch for the signs of burnout listed below in yourself and others. Not everyone will recognize their signs of suffering, especially when they believe they should feel better because the pandemic has subsided.
How does burnout impact your body?
While each person reacts uniquely to burnout, there is a predictable physical response.
Your body is hard-wired to react to stress in ways that protect you from threats. While you no longer need protection from lions and tigers, your body doesn’t know this and reacts with the same fight-or-flight response to more modern stressors of mental overwhelm, physical overwork, and emotional distress.
When the natural stress response — a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol — doesn’t turn off because the perceived stress is excessive (like a pandemic), you constantly feel under attack. And the greater the length of time, the greater the destruction stress causes to your wellbeing. For example, the chronic activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones:
- Keeps your mind and nervous system vigilant and unable to relax.
- Triggers low-grade inflammation which can cause autoimmune and other chronic diseases.
- Interferes with the quality of your sleep, preventing your body and mind from fully restoring each night.
The impact of chronic stress leads to burnout if you don’t take steps to restore and protect your wellbeing. Before moving on to the strategies that can help recover from burnout, let’s look at the physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral signs of burnout.
What are the signs of burnout?
Which symptoms indicate your chronic stress may have evolved into burnout? The following isn’t a complete list, however, it’s a good start. Experiencing a few of these signs doesn’t mean you are burned out. Consider significant changes in the frequency, severity, and patterns of symptoms pre-pandemic to now.
Physical signs of burnout
- Frequent headaches or muscle aches
- Changes in appetite
- Stomach upset and digestion problems
- Difficulty sleeping and fatigue
- Increased susceptibility to colds or other illnesses
- Shortness of breath, chest pain, or racing heartbeat
Emotional signs of burnout
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Loss of motivation
- Feeling more frustrated, irritable, or angry than usual
- Persistent feelings of fear, sadness, or guilt
- Sense of failure and self-doubt
- Feeling helpless, trapped, or defeated
- Anxious and depressed
- Detachment, feeling alone in the world
Cognitive signs of burnout
- Poor concentration
- Persistent negative thinking
- Repetitive thoughts
- Diminished reasoning ability
- Difficulty organizing, retaining, or retrieving information you’ve learned
Behavioral signs of burnout
- Procrastinating and taking longer to get things done
- Withdrawing from responsibilities at work or at home
- Less engaged in hobbies or other enjoyable activities
- Isolating yourself from family and friends
- Misusing food, alcohol, or drugs to help cope
Which strategies help restore and protect your wellbeing from burnout?
Because each person experiences chronic stress and burnout differently, a one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t exist.
The first step in restoring your wellbeing is to take stock of where you are and where you want to go based on your core values and what rebalanced work + life looks like for YOU. (Not the highlight reels of others on social media.)
Choosing one or more of the following 25 strategies will help you recharge your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy — all of which is needed to recover and protect your wellbeing whatever your future holds.
Take this friendly word of caution to heart: if you start to feel stressed by all the options, stop reading. Counterintuitively, rebounding from the pandemic will likely require less, not more. You can always return to the list when you have renewed a little energy.
Ready? Time to dive in!
- Limit sugar and caffeine
- Eat healthy meals and snacks of protein and fats
- Practice deep breathing
- Spend time in nature
- Say “no” to competing demands without apologizing or feeling guilty
- Cancel non-urgent commitments
- Manage technology so you don’t feel connected 24/7
- Identify and eliminate emotional energy drains
- Ask for help before reaching a breaking point
- Practice gratitude
- Replace multitasking with a singular focus on a task
- Break tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces
- Make a list of tasks that can be completed when mental energy is low
- Minimize distractions and interruptions
- Declutter your mind by using a to-do list, setting reminders, taking notes, and keeping a calendar.
- Give your mind a rest using mindfulness, meditation, prayer, or another quiet-time strategy
- Release what’s beyond your control
- Enjoy music and art
- Make time for fun and laughing
- Plan and take a vacation without feeling like your letting others down
- Start or reconnect with a hobby
- Learn something new
Depending on how burned out you feel, you may only have enough energy to start with one strategy. If this feels more manageable, start here: Ask yourself one of these super-simple questions and listen carefully to your inner voice. Try each one to find the question you connect with the most.
- What do I need right now?
- How are we doing?
- What feels like love?
The more frequently you let your inner voice guide you, the more you train your brain and create the habit of taking good care of yourself.
Can I rebound from burnout?
Yes! In my coaching practice, Rebalance Wellbeing, I help overwhelmed professionals redefine how they work, parent, and achieve financial freedom — on their terms — so they don’t sacrifice their wellbeing.
If you feel burned out right now or sometime in the future, you aren’t alone! We’re headed into a new phase of the pandemic with a lot still unknown. That said, the benefits of living well with uncertainty include becoming more resilient, more compassionate, more innovative, and freer to re-invent your ways of working.
Rebounding from the pandemic offers an opportunity: the choice to rebalance work + life so you feel happier, healthier, and more successful on your own terms. Taking charge of that choice will require patience, self-compassion, and a little bit of grace as it’s not a straight line from here to wherever you want to be. But I know for sure, no matter how worn out you feel from the pandemic and its related trauma, things will get better. Possibly better than you ever thought possible.