Especially this year, many of us know the feeling of burnout all too well. It’s that state of total exhaustion – emotional, mental, and physical – brought on by chronic and unrelenting stress. Burnout is a matter of supply and demand: when we’re outputting more than we can replenish, we’re more likely to get burnt out. Chronic burnout can lead to a long list of health problems including depression, anxiety, changes in sleep and appetite, feelings of anger and irritability, low motivation and productivity, and low self-esteem.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, burnout in America had been a serious problem. Since the onset of the pandemic, we’re more likely to be anxious, uncertain, and worried. We’ve had to adapt to major life changes. We’ve experienced significant losses. We’ve had to take on new and challenging roles. We’re feeling tired and weary, and the outlets and opportunities we used to have to recharge have dwindled. The stressors we’ve experienced related to the pandemic are simultaneously adding more to our plates and depleting our precious resources (e.g., energy, time, motivation, physical health, and mental health), in turn making us even more susceptible to burnout.
If burnout is a supply and demand problem, it follows that protecting yourself against it is a matter of both doing what’s in your power to lower your demands and replenish your supplies. Here’s how:
1. Focus on what you can control
First and foremost, remember to focus on making choices that are within your control. You control your own behaviors, reactions, habits, and routines. You can learn and implement helpful coping strategies. You decide your priorities.
You can’t, however, control the actions of other people or any other forces outside of yourself. Too much focus on matters that are out of your hands will only amplify your stress. For tips on managing anxiety and worry related to situations outside of your control, check out our blog 3 Steps for Interrupting “Anxiety Spirals” During the Covid-19 Pandemic.
2. Make fewer decisions every day
We’re living in an era of great uncertainty, and all this unpredictability puts us on edge and makes us feel anxious. Since the onset of the pandemic, we’ve had to weigh the implications of our decisions in an entirely new context. The effort and energy it takes to make all these decisions in the face of uncertainty quickly fatigues us. So, adding structure and routine to your day takes the guesswork out of what to do so ultimately you don’t have to make so many decisions. Before you go to bed every night, make a schedule or checklist for the next day. What needs to get done? By proactively choosing what to make a priority, and conversely, what to sacrifice, you’re doing a favor for your future self.
3. Keep reasonable expectations
Be careful not to put too much pressure on yourself to “make the most of the pandemic” by learning a new skill, starting a new hobby, or otherwise being even more productive than usual. Considering the stressors, changes, and uncertainty we’re facing, it may be unrealistic to expect our most impressive selves to emerge out of these dark times. Of course, if learning something new or practicing a skill helps you to relax or cultivates joy, by all means, you should do it. But if the idea of putting energy into something else sounds exhausting, or you often feel guilty or like you’ve failed because you think you “should” be trying harder or doing more, remember that it’s okay to give yourself a break.
4. Build boundaries into your time and space
When the pandemic hit, the structure of our worlds changed quickly and completely. For example, those working or learning from home now lack separation between their workspace and living space, which can contribute to burnout as it blurs the line between work/learning and home life. Building boundaries into your space helps to prevent burnout as it takes the burden off your brain to remember what it should be focusing on. If you can, designate a workspace and avoid working in bed or on the couch where you normally relax. Eat your meals mindfully at the kitchen table. In addition to protecting boundaries around your space, keeping a schedule can help to protect boundaries around your time which reinforces the importance of rest and leisure time. With protected time to take care of yourself, you’re less likely to burn out.
5. Stick to the basics
Nutrition. Exercise. Sleep. Under stress, these basics of self-care are often quickly sacrificed or forgotten. It’s easy to get off track on these fundamental pillars of health, but they’re important to come back to when you can. To learn more about getting your sleep on track, read 5 Tips for Improving Your Sleep.
Even with our best efforts to protect against burnout in place, sometimes it all just gets to be too much. Here are 5 Signs It’s Time to See a Therapist.
Great Lakes Psychology Group offers hundreds of online and in-person therapists with a wide range of specializations to choose from, so it’s easy to find the right fit for you.
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