Burnout in Lockdown?
In a bid to unclutter my in-box after a couple of very unproductive and to be honest, quite down days I came across an article. It seemed to have been written just for me on that particular day! I know many of you are also having ups and downs so I want to share what I feel are the most important things it contained.
If the word ‘burnout’ does not sound quite right, then think of it as a type of exhaustion. Something not necessarily related to work.
We used to do so much on autopilot. I would drive to the studio, you may have driven to an office. The school run, morning coffee break, weekly fitness class. These were things coded into our brains, we didn’t have to think about them. Now, so much is new and I know for a fact my brain is working a lot harder!
When the ground beneath your feet feels shaky it evokes both a physical and mental response. Low level or not, it’s happening.
“We evolved to see uncertainty as potentially life-threatening. And more tension, more adrenalin means that our mind and body are working harder.” Often I think the ground has stopped shaking, only to wake up on a different day and struggle to keep my balance!
There is also the nagging worry about finances, health, the health of our loved ones, how all this is affecting our children – suddenly ‘exhaustion/burnout’ starts to make sense.
Do these sound familiar to you?
- The less you have to do the less you want to do?
- Getting on with stuff is harder?
- Getting into gear can take ages?
I ask, because these are some of what I am experiencing. I am pretty sure if you are a key worker, that list will seem alien and not familiar at all. You are working harder and feeling more driven than ever before. Exhaustion for you is exepected. That’s the difference I am struggling with.
So, what can we do about this sorry state of affairs? Here are some suggestions and my interpretation of how they will help us.
Separate work from rest
If working from home was not your norm before then you will have noticed that the lack of a start time and coffee breaks feels as though there are no boundaries. It is possible to work excessive hours or not get started at all! I have experienced both ends of this spectrum.
Break up the day, sit down to eat away from your work area. Make time for exercise. Stop at your normal time or if you have taken an hour out of your day to visit a parent or shop to avoid a crowd, work only that extra hour. No bonus for overtime remember!
Being an eternal optimist, it has taken a while for me to accept that this pandemic and all its consequences, makes it a marathon, not a sprint. With that realisation came the understanding that I didn’t need to get everything done this week, a slower approach was in order.
I had a routine before, it was different every day and that has not changed. My mistake after lockdown was having NO routine, therefore no shape to my day. Trying to create your day from scratch every morning is a bad idea. To lessen the mental load decide how your day will look in advance. Just knowing what time you are going to get up, what sort of breakfast you are going to have and when you will go for a walk, stop for coffee etc. are more helpful than you might imagine.
You might not want to ‘waste’ precious holiday days when you can’t do what you really want to. But breaks are still important, and you will get overloaded if you don’t give your brain a break. Not many of us have escaped having to learn new stuff, it’s tiring.
Limit your Zooms and do you really need all those new ‘friends?’
Does your social life feel intense? In a Zoom scenario, you’re staring at other faces, with a tiny time lag and it feels like everyone is looking at you. There is no break to go to the bar or loo! People want to connect who you would never normally socialise with. I was one of those people. I joined all sorts or ‘groups’ and ‘hubs’ even made new ‘virtual’ friends. I have lots of friends, so why did I do all that? I can only think that I felt lost, out of my depth maybe. The need to connect, to anyone, seemed important. Turned out, it was draining.
The urge for comparison is natural in normal times. Right now it is just an added complication. If you’re in a WhatsApp or Facebook group with people who are apparently having a lovely time with all the baking and crafting, while staying on top of their children’s schoolwork, and that’s getting you down, leave the group or mute the notifications.
If we can lower our expectations of what life can offer us right now, we should be able to lower the expectations of ourselves. It’s ok to just be ok. In fact that’s quite an achievement!
Do the things that make you feel good, not all the ones that you think you should be doing.
To others and to yourself. “Know that it’s unrealistic for you to be ‘amazing’ in this moment, don’t be annoyed if you or those around you are finding it hard to concentrate or cope every day – the research shows that that’s to be expected, at this time.”
Long story short: We’re in a hard situation. Find your own way, be gentle and kind.