It is a new year but not much else is new in the world. Mask wearing is a mandated norm. Additional new norms include routine sanitizing your groceries and doorknobs as well as the strategic placement of hand sanitizers throughout your most frequented hotspots. Though some parts of the country have opened up, the way of pre-COVID life is a distant memory. For many, these changes in lifestyle (i.e., work from home, virtual school, lack of childcare, homebound for long periods of time) are mentally exhausting. Prolonged periods of lifestyle changes plus the added stressors of societal and political changes create the perfect stage for burnout.
The simple description of burnout is when you have reached your personal limits emotionally, mentally, and physically. Prolonged exposure to stress can cause you to feel “drained” and unable to function across many domains in your life (i.e., parenting, work, fitness). Burnout can generate feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and feelings of resentment.
Symptoms of Burnout
We have established that burnout creeps in when you have prolonged periods of stress. But how do you know when you are “burned out?” Here are some symptoms to check for:
- Lack of energy
- Feeling unmotivated/stuck/hopeless/exhausted/sad or depressed
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Unable to meet daily demands
- Feeling emotionally drained
- Increase irritability and frustration
- Increased feelings of resentfulness and blaming of others
- Increased conflict in relationships
- Socially isolating or disconnecting from others, even virtually
- Low mood
- Feeling disassociated, indifferent, or apathetic
- Practicing poor self‐care
- Utilizing negative coping strategies
Some physical symptoms to be vigilant of include:
- Back aches
- Other body aches
- Fluctuations in appetite
- Disruptions in sleep patterns
Most Noticeable Areas Affected by Burnout
It is important to notice the most notable areas that burnout tends to impact: Parenting and Career. Symptoms of burnout such as lack of sleep and irritability can negatively impact work productivity, which can in turn impact self-confidence and self-worth. This could be especially compounded with work-from-home situations that many companies are pivoting towards. Studies show that work stress has increased due to longer work hours and fears of losing their jobs. Simply put, working from home presents an array of new challenges that can cause additional stressors and fears of job preservation.
Parenting while experiencing symptoms of burnout is also a very trying situation. Feelings associated with burnout such as irritability or feeling overwhelmed can severely impede the positive aspects of parenthood. Episodes of rage, yelling, and difficulty connecting with the child is more prevalent. Notice these symptoms and utilize resources and your support system. The following section addresses ways to navigate burnout.
Tips to Improve Well-Being and Avoid Burnout
As previously established, you are most susceptible to burnout during long periods of exposure to stress. Awareness of this fact is the first step in prevention. The following are some recommendations to incorporate in order to alleviate symptoms of burnout. Routine incorporation of these tips will help to foster a more balanced lifestyle hence a healthier sense of well-being.
- Practice self-care through fulfilling your basic needs. Be sure to eat nutritious meals, drink adequate amounts of water, and maintain a realistic sleep schedule.
- Exercise regularly to boost energy and mood. Activities such as cycling, walking, or even weight training generate chemicals in the brain (serotonin and endorphins) that naturally help to improve your mood.
- Take routine breaks. This looks different for every individual based on their lifestyle and personal demands. Incorporate time for reflection, fun, or relaxation.
- Maintain regular connection with family, friends, and colleagues. If proximity and safety are an obstacle, utilize virtual methods to connect.
- Limit your consumption of media and social media.
- Reduce or avoid negative coping strategies such as excessive intake of caffeine, sugar, alcohol, or drugs.
- Stay focused on what fulfills your feelings of purpose and value.
At the end of the day, please know that it is okay if you are not functioning at your personal best right now. This is normal. Many around the globe are struggling as well. Try your best to take each day as it comes. Living through a global pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint. Please note, however, if you feel that your symptoms of burnout are related to struggles with your mental health (i.e., depression, anxiety) be sure to consult with a professional.