What Can We Do to Protect Our Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
In a world filled with unbelievable turmoil, restrictions, fears and changes that no one could have imagined just a few short months ago, it’s hard to get past the irony that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. To say that the recognition of mental health this month is timely would be a huge understatement. Billions of people all over the globe are experiencing many different types of mental health struggles as we continue to navigate the uncharted territory known as COVID-19.
Of course, conditions like burnout, which is caused by prolonged and intense stress, were a problem long before COVID-19 came along, but the pandemic has certainly made these problems much worse, adding massive amounts of stress to the lives of everyone, including those who may have previously managed normal stress levels quite well. People are worried about their health, their loved ones, their homes and their jobs, and the future feels uncertain and scary. Let’s take a look at some things that could help.
What Is Causing COVID-19 Burnout?
As the world is quickly discovering, burnout can happen, even when you’re working from home. In fact, because of all the extra stress, uncertainty and trapped feelings related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the chance of experiencing burnout while working from home is even higher than usual. A recent survey conducted by Eagle Hill Consulting found that almost half of U.S. employees who continue to work during the pandemic are experiencing burnout, and about 25% of them pin the blame solely on the virus.
Signs and Symptoms: Exhaustion
One major sign of burnout is emotional and physical exhaustion. This happens because you're feeling so drained by work that it leaves you feeling completely worn out. Your normal energy runs out as a result of job-related stress. That type of stress is particularly high right now, as it seems to actually be coming at us from many angles.
Signs and Symptoms: Dwindling Enthusiasm
Feeling lethargic or unenthusiastic about work is another clear sign of burnout. Unfortunately, working from home can aggravate this issue. Without a set work schedule — and in the absence of the need to shower in the morning and put on work clothes — it can become a challenge to stay dedicated to what you're doing.
Signs and Symptoms: Negativity Toward Your Job
Outright negativity toward your job means it’s very possible you are burned out, especially if you previously enjoyed your job. Perhaps this is caused by the lack of direction you feel in managing your work responsibilities and time to coordinate with all the home responsibilities that are piling up all at once. It would be easy to feel resentful toward your job in this case.
Signs and Symptoms: Decreased Job Performance
Burnout can easily lead to faltering productivity, both in your work and in your personal life. Compounding factors like exhaustion, frustration and lack of clear direction will generally make your productivity decline.
Signs and Symptoms: Feeling Depressed
Depressed feelings, like extreme sadness or a lack of hope, are understandable during this lockdown. After all, we’ve never seen anything like this before. The situation is unprecedented, lonely, scary and stressful for pretty much everyone. However, if your depression seems to be largely related to work or worse than seems reasonable, it could be a sign that you’re experiencing burnout.
Signs and Symptoms: Feelings of Restlessness
COVID-19 has caused mental distress among Americans to grow to three times 2018 levels, and restlessness from a sense of isolation is just one of the many results. Being locked up in your house is hard enough, and adding the worry about the dangers of social interaction makes it even harder. All the energy that was once put into socializing, including work-related socializing, doesn’t just disappear.
Signs and Symptoms: Increased Irritability
It wouldn’t take COVID-19 or any other outbreak to make it clear that a life of no escape and no outlet for negative feelings and pressures would ultimately lead to a lot of irritability. Burnout can also cause and further aggravate irritability. Any little thing can set you off, and this becomes quite a problem when stress is coming at you from all angles.
Signs and Symptoms: Increased Anxiety
Anxiety already happens for many reasons, and the pandemic is throwing fuel on the fire and exponentially increasing anxiety for many people. One big problem is the new way of life that has been forced on us all. For one thing, few people like to be forced to do anything. Factor in a dislike of change and upheaval, and it’s easy to see how working from home for the first time could lead to some anxiety and burnout.
Signs and Symptoms: Physical Ailments
Burnout isn’t just a mental experience. It can be physical too. Stress often manifests in many ways throughout the body, including headaches, body aches, stomach issues and overall fatigue. The worst part of this is that any physical ailments caused by COVID-19 burnout — not caused by the virus itself — includes work burnout for many people, compounding overall stress levels.
Signs and Symptoms: Sleeping Too Much or Too Little
Insomnia, troubled sleep and excessive sleeping are all signs that your stress levels are high, which could mean you are burned out from work-related or personal stress. The anxieties we're all experiencing during this strange pandemic lockdown tend to mess with our sleep patterns. Sleeping too much or too little can have disastrous effects on your everyday life.
Solutions to Burnout During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ease the pain and suffering caused by pandemic-related burnout. Keeping yourself mentally healthy is not only good for your morale, but it could also help keep your immune system in top shape so you don’t get sick. After all, stress does lower the effectiveness of the immune system.
Communicate Your Needs and Circumstances
One potential way to ease burnout symptoms is to simply communicate with your boss. If they don't know your situation and your needs, how can they help accommodate them? It's normal to have time conflicts when you're suddenly working from home with a family right by your side — sometimes literally — and most companies will understand that.
Be Honest About Your Ability to Be Productive
It's unrealistic to think you will be as productive working from home during this pandemic as you would be in the office. This needs to be addressed with your superiors. Whether you need to request reduced productivity due to increased family demands or simply due to pandemic-related stress in general, be honest about what you can and cannot get done in terms of work.
Create a Separate Workspace
People who aren’t used to working from home generally don't have a home office. Maybe they don't even have a desk. While suddenly turning a room into a home office may not be realistic, getting a desk and creating an enclosed space where you can work — hopefully, in relative silence — can help create healthy boundaries between work life and home life, productivity and relaxation.
Work in a Space with Good Natural Lighting
Lighting might seem trivial, but it's not. The lighting in a space can affect alertness and your ability to focus. Natural light increases productivity, so if you can work with great natural lighting, do it. If that isn’t a possibility based on the arrangement of your home, blue-enriched light bulbs can mimic the effects of natural lighting.
Set Boundaries for Work Hours
It’s still important to "leave work" each day, even if your home is now your workspace. Doing so requires creating a schedule of work hours that you actually follow. Setting this boundary will allow you to unplug from your job and provide some mental space for relaxation.
Create a List of Tasks
Suddenly working from home when you normally take care of business in a communal workspace can be challenging, especially in terms of staying focused. One way to help stay productive and sane while working from home is to make to-do lists of your work tasks. (You can even knock out some housework lists while you’re at it.)
Name Your Ailments
If you recognize your issues, they will be easier to manage, and that can provide some relief from burnout symptoms. You can do this by naming your emotions when you experience them. Labeling them helps move the problem from something vague to something very specific that you can address.
Ask for Help When You Need It
Pandemic or not, when you're struggling with anything, including burnout, asking for help can be one of the quickest ways to relieve some of your suffering. The trick is to ask the right people based on your needs. If you need help with chores around the house and a family member is capable of helping, ask them directly to assist you.
Meditation works to free your mind of the constant swirling thoughts that most people are having during this very strange and stressful time. It has great potential to help with burnout, so you can get back to being your better self.
Commit to Some Form of Exercise
Moving your body is good for both your body and your mind, and it can really help you get rid of burnout. Cardio exercise that gets your heart pumping prompts your brain to release mood-lifting endorphins. Moderate- to fast-paced cardio also works as a stress reliever, as it forces you to think only about your body and shut off your mind.
If you're tired, it means your body and mind need to rest, and you better not ignore it. When you’re well rested, you are more productive, meaning you can get more work done in less time. When you think about it that way, getting the appropriate amount of sleep actually ends up giving you more time, not less.
Most of the time, there are many ways to do the same thing and many solutions to the same problem. Remaining flexible makes it easier to accept that certain things are out of your control. As long as you recognize that you can figure out how to deal with it, you can avoid burnout.
Talk About Your Feelings with Someone
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of many people across the globe. Whether you are scared of catching the virus, lonely from the isolation or fearful about the long-term repercussions of a faltering economy, it’s all a lot to deal with emotionally right now.
Step Outside Every So Often
Fresh air is good for you. If you’re feeling burned out, it might be because you're too caught up in the moment, and it’s overwhelming you. Take a break from the restrictions of the indoors, whether that means taking a walk around the block or simply stepping outside for a few moments.
Video Chats Are Better Than Phone Calls
It's easier and more comfortable for people to communicate with those we care about face-to-face. However, because of the necessary social distancing measures the world is following right now, that's just not possible. The second-best thing is video chatting. It provides a digital face-to-face where visual communication cues are still accessible.
Do Something That Is Emotionally Uplifting
Burnout often leaves people feeling depressed and unmotivated. To counter these feelings, you could start a hobby that leaves you feeling the opposite: cheerful and energized. Now that most people are stuck at home the majority of the time, it's important to have not only relaxing but uplifting activities in your rotation of things to do.
Keep Track of What Stresses You Out the Most
Knowing what stresses you out the most will make it easier to manage those situations or, even better, avoid them altogether. Recognizing them as big-time stressors means you'll be able to take proactive steps as they're happening to get out of that situation before it blows up.
Above All Else — Go Easy on Yourself
The coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented levels of stress and pressure on many people worldwide. It's normal for your productivity to decrease. It's normal for you to feel anxiety and worry about the future. Don't punish yourself for these responses, as it will only make your mental health problems worse.