Burn out, experts give us their anti-burnout tips and tricks to avoid being eaten away by stress or depression.
After two years of a global pandemic, and as the Omicron variant continues to hit the world, many of us are more than ever on the verge of burnout. To make matters worse, the bitter temperatures and lack of sunshine in January add a layer of gloom to the mix.
We are exhausted from being exhausted. From essential workers who continue to devote themselves to the community to those who work from home, where the lines between work and home life are becoming ever more blurred, there is, quite literally, an epidemic of burn out. According to a new report from the American Psychological Association, burnout is at an all-time high across all settings: 79% of employees report experiencing work-related stress in the month prior to the survey, and nearly 3 in 5 employees report feeling the negative effects of work-related stress, including loss of interest, motivation, or energy; 36% cite cognitive fatigue, 32% emotional exhaustion, and 44% physical fatigue, up 38% from 2019.
And the truth is not pleasant to hear: there is no miracle cure for burn out. However, it’s going to be a long winter, the January blues are well and truly here, and New Year’s resolutions are not yet a distant memory, so it’s a good time to reconsider our personal outlook and strategies. Here, experts explain everything we need to know about burn out, the best ways to fight it and how to change our perspective as the global pandemic continues to impact our lives on a daily basis.
What is burn out?
The “work-related phenomenon” that is burn out – at least that’s how the World Health Organization classifies it – is generally understood as a condition resulting from chronic stress in the workplace. “It was originally thought to be specific to the human services sector, but it is now recognized as a serious occupational health problem in most sectors,” explains Anna Katharina Schaffner, historian and author of Exhaustion: A History. That said, some occupations are more susceptible to burnout, such as teachers and caregivers, and even more so since the pandemic began. “It’s a very insidious phenomenon that happens to all of us when we burn the candle at both ends for an extended period of time,” says psychotherapist Bryan Robinson, a professor at the University of Charlotte in North Carolina and author of #Chill: Turn Off Your Job and Turn On Your Life. He points out that while burn out is a form of stress, it’s important to distinguish the two. “You can recover from stress with certain management techniques, but burn out is a whole different matter, the result of cumulative stress that has not been managed,” he continues. Once burn out hits you, you can’t cure it by taking a long vacation, slowing down the pace or working fewer hours.”
The symptoms of burn out
In the simplest terms, the main symptoms of burn out can be summed up as exhaustion, a form of deep fatigue that cannot be erased by rest alone. This state of permanent exhaustion can also have side effects. “It tends to be accompanied by a very negative assessment of our achievements, skills, effectiveness and the value of our work, as well as resentment towards the people we work with – be they colleagues, clients or the organizations we work in,” explains Anna Katharina Schaffner. When you’re burned out, you may also experience brain fog and an inability to concentrate. You tend to procrastinate and engage in countless avoidance strategies. This can lead to a nervous breakdown and a complete inability to function at work.”
How does the pandemic impact burn out?
It goes without saying that the isolation that the pandemic has forced us into has had a dramatic impact on many people’s working lives. “When you telework, the boundaries between private and professional life, between free time and work time, become blurred,” explains Anna Katharina Schaffner. The separation between work and private life is no longer marked by changes of location and travel times to the office, whether on foot, by car, by bike or by transport. As a result, work ends up infiltrating our lives without any boundaries.”
“The isolation of the pandemic has also cut people off from their friends and support systems,” adds Bryan Robinson. They can see them on Zoom, but after spending the day on a screen, it’s not very appealing, many people actually suffer from Zoom-related burnout.” Add to that the fear of getting sick, concerns about children falling behind in school, and even phenomena like “pandemic posture,” the back pain caused by our endless visios, and it’s hardly surprising that things have gotten dramatically worse, he points out.
As a mother herself, Anna Katharina Schaffner reminds us of the greater burden the pandemic places on women. Many of them face the double stress of a normal job (or more!), childcare and homeschooling. “With the same number of hours available in a day, we have to do the same amount of work, plus take care of the kids 24/7,” she explains. If you also want to get some sleep and take a modicum of self-care, it’s mathematically virtually impossible.” Worse, these compromises come at a psychological cost. “Feeling like a failure on the work front and the child-rearing front leads to constant feelings of guilt and failure,” she continues. It is absolutely no surprise that many women experienced severe burn out during the pandemic.”
Read also on takediy.com:
Relieving burn out
1 Set firm boundaries
In today’s world, setting boundaries is getting harder every day, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Starting with saying no more often and imposing discipline on yourself: not checking work emails or answering pro phone calls after a certain time and on days off. This can make a real difference. “I think emails and phone calls are probably the worst rest killers,” says Katharina Schaffner, “because they push work constantly into our minds. We never let our thoughts wander and we no longer manage to appreciate the simple things, the beautiful things, or to be perfectly present for our loved ones.”
2 Taking care of yourself first
Taking time for self-care, in the way that suits us, is an essential part of preventing and treating burnout: “Some people regain energy by socializing and connecting with others, while others refuel by walking in nature, reading, painting, baking, cooking, or playing sports,” explains Anna Katharina Schaffner. We have to find what gives us energy again, it’s something unique, something that belongs to us, and it won’t be the same if you’re an introvert or extrovert.
3 Finding a balance
“If you spend a lot of time sitting and staring at a screen at work, you need to do something different to recharge in the evenings and on weekends – not just scroll like crazy on your smartphone!” says Anna Katharina Schaffner. If you’re out all day, moving and talking to people, maybe you need some peace and quiet. Our rest time needs to be different from what we do at work.” She also suggests trying and experiencing new activities, learning about new topics and seeing new places and people. “This can help break out of a rut, fight against a possible narrowing of our horizons,” says Anna Katharina Schaffner.
4 Take microbreaks and practice micro-relaxation
Microbreaks are tiny, impromptu breaks during the workday. “The latest research shows that five- or 10-minute microbreaks are a good way to make it through the day: get up, look out the window, snack, go outside and feel the air on your face, walk around the block,” says Bryan Robinson. In the same spirit, he recommends micro-relaxation, five minutes or less, throughout the day: mindful observation and/or meditation. “Instead of thinking about all the things you ‘have to do’ (which activates your stress response, your sympathetic nervous system: basically you’re hitting the gas pedal), practice being in the moment by listing as many sounds and images as you can: the birds, the traffic, just notice all the sounds you’re aware of, what you see around you, the smells in the air, the breeze in your hair for three to five minutes. Breathe deeply. This activates the rest and digest response of your parasympathetic system: you’re hitting the brakes.”
5 Ask for help if you need it
While managing stress on a daily basis and over the long term is a key part of fighting burn out, getting counseling can be the trigger to get your head above water. “If all else fails, find a professional who can help you gain perspective on your situation and guide you to develop a wellness practice to prevent burn out,” advises Bryan Robinson.
6 Change your mindset
“We can try to manage stress, get better rest, take better care of ourselves, but there are also systemic issues that push toward burn out states – no matter how resilient we are or how much yoga we do on our own time,” says Anna Katharina Schaffner. Determine what is and isn’t in your control, what you can control. Your outlook is part of what you can adjust, and it can be a good starting point for getting out of burnout. “It’s like reframing,” says Bryan Robinson. “You turn the stressor around and ask yourself, ‘How can I benefit from this?’ ‘Can I find something positive in the negativity?’ or ‘Am I able to overcome or take control of this situation?'” He likens this way of looking at things, “tipping the perspective” as he puts it, to zooming out with a camera, going wide-angle. “The stress reduction is significant and immediate,” he assures, “when you look for meaning in adversity, it can greatly enrich your life.”