Let’s talk about burnout during the pandemic. If you’re like me, and the COVID pandemic has changed your work/life balance (i.e. you are now working from home), this post is for you.
When work from home first started, I was amazed at how much time I now had to do other things. Commuting outside the city, usually left me too exhausted to do anything except eat and sleep. Plus I was travelling for work a lot, so I was in constant motion even on weekends sometimes.
Work from home seemed like the perfect solution to my constant state of tiredness. And I could finally do everything I had put off for so long. So I started EVERYTHING.
The never ending to do list
I made list upon list of everything I wanted to accomplish before quarantine ended. Daily to do lists, recipe lists, song lists, hobby lists, things I needed to learn lists. There should’ve been a list of all the lists.
With everything I had planned, I honestly didn’t even think to plan a vacation for the summer because of the travel ban. I’m the type of person that only takes time off to fly places. I don’t do staycations.
So, I really should’ve saw it coming before it hit, but my obsessive nature was too focused on my goals to notice the signs. Before I knew it, I had achieved burnout (level unlocked).
What is burnout?
Burnout is when you feel emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted due to a prolonged period of stress. You usually notice it when you start to feel increasingly overwhelmed and unable to meet a constant stream of demands. Whether that’s at work, at home, or in your social circle. Everything starts to feel like too much.
6 New changes in your life that can cause you to burnout during the pandemic
I’m going to start this with a disclaimer saying that these are all purely my opinion. They’re related to my own personal experience with burnout during the pandemic and they won’t apply to everyone. But I’m hoping some of you can relate, and that it’ll help to divert your path away from it.
You’re probably wondering how burnout’s possible when we’re at home, and our lives have slowed down immensely. I didn’t understand it either at first. But during my recent burnout experience, I’ve been able to do some reflecting about how I got here and why my forced one week staycation was necessary.
I’ve narrowed it down to six changes during the pandemic. See if any of these stick out to you.
1. Your home is no longer your escape from work
If you’re like me, and you are now working from home because of the pandemic, you can probably relate to this one. Without the commute physically separating you from your workplace, it’s harder to turn off your brain after work.
If it feels like you’re taking your coworkers home with you because of the constant zoom meetings, it’s because you kind of are. And if you’re like me and your room is your home office, sleeping has become more difficult too.
It’s important to be strict with your daily routine and to have a built in after work practice, similar to a commute, where you give yourself time to transition from work you to home you.
For example, I only work from 7 am to 4 pm (unless overtime is absolutely necessary). As soon as the clock strikes 4, I pack up all my work stuff, and clear my desk, even though I have to use it the next day. The physical act of packing it all up helps me mentally transition my room from my work space to my living space.
My after work practice is cooking dinner for my family because it gets me out of my room and away from screens. It’s also something I enjoy, and it’s not related to my profession in the slightest.
2. You’re living in a constant state of worry during the pandemic
Even though we are safe in our own homes the majority of the time, we are still living during a pandemic. There is still a virus spreading that stops people from being able to breathe on their own, and that is a scary thing. It’s normal for that to take up a good chunk of your headspace.
I’ve found that limiting the amount of news I take in has helped a lot with this, and focusing on the proactive things I can do to keep myself and others safe.
It’s easy for us to fall into a spiral of “what if’s” and panic. Keeping your focus on what you can do instead of what could happen to you is important to keep yourself grounded, so you don’t burnout during the pandemic.
3. You’re doing more because you have “more time” causing you to burnout
If you’re like me, and you have a zillion hobbies and counting, you’re probably guilty of this. You’ve taken the extra time you used to spend commuting or going out with friends, and filled it with everything and anything under the sun.
Whether that’s at home projects you never had time for, learning a new skill, putting more time into the things you love, or all of the above, you’ve found ways to max out the newfound time you have. And probably forgotten about the rest time you used to need after work everyday (and still need by the way).
We’re all guilty of getting excited about something, putting all our energy into it, and forgetting that we’re human beings who need down time and sleep to function.
It’s important to remember that productivity isn’t the measure of a good day. A friend of mine reminded me of that this morning. Even if you feel like you can go on like this forever, you can’t, and you need to take a break.
4. It’s starting to feel like the pandemic will never end
None of us know when things will go back to “normal”, and that can be a scary thought. You can start to feel like all the days are the same and there’s no end in sight.
When we were in school, there were clear beginnings and endings to things, and built in vacations. There were periods of high stress and relaxation. But now that we’re adults, we have to dictate when those times are for ourselves. And that’s hard to do when there’s nowhere to go.
It’s easy to think, “What’s the point of taking a vacation, when I have to stay home anyway? What’s the difference between that and what I’m doing now?” But there is a difference.
A staycation is still a vacation. I want all of you travel bugs to repeat that with me. A STAYCATION IS STILL A VACATION.
Ultimately, the point of taking a vacation is to take some time off from your daily life, and do things FOR YOU. Whether that’s reading a book, watching netflix, baking, hiking, whatever it is that makes you feel like you can breathe again.
You need to create that pause in this never ending story for yourself, so you don’t burnout during the pandemic.
5. You’re at home and so is the rest of the family during the pandemic
My fifth reason for burnout during the pandemic is EVERYONE IS HOME TOO!
This one is for all the stay at home parents, the self employed, the online business owners, and the introverts; the people that were already working from home before the pandemic. You used to have the entire space to yourselves for 8-10 hours a day, and now you’re lucky if you even get 5 minutes alone.
It’s like you had this awesome secret place, and everyone found the location at the same time and decided to move in. And on top of that it probably feels like your workload has doubled because you’re now working and taking care of everyone at the same time.
Even if you’ve already adjusted to this new way of life, it’s important to remember that you are being stretched way more than you’re used to. Take a step back and check in with your emotional, mental, and physical health. Are you feeling exhausted or overwhelmed? Does it feel like there is no clear start or stop in your day?
If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then you probably need a staycation, and to figure out what that looks like for you.
6. You’re experiencing symptoms of mental illness (trigger warning)
This is a big one, and the one I usually pay the most attention to. But in this case I missed it by miles. Let me start this off by saying, I am not a licensed mental health professional. But I think it’s important to talk about these things, so others suffering from mental illness feel less alone. My words do not substitute that of a licensed medical professional.
If you are like me and suffer from periods of depression, anxiety, or any other mental health disorder, it’s important to notice the symptoms as they come and to understand that they might look different in quarantine.
The symptoms I typically look for in myself are: an increase in sleep hours, finding it hard to get out of bed, long periods of sadness, and a lack of motivation.
So I didn’t notice the new symptoms I’d been experiencing in quarantine as a result of my new lifestyle.
I experienced weeks of these prolonged symptoms before realizing what they were, and then continued without addressing them because I was still functioning “normally”.
My disregard for my mental health was a huge contributor to my inevitable burnout during the pandemic.
I have linked a video describing mental health symptoms you shouldn’t ignore, and I’ve listed some of them below. These are not only limited to depression:
- Prolonged periods of sadness lasting two or more weeks
- Extreme mood swings that happen often
- Your worry and anxiety has increased beyond your control
- You’re having problems relaxing
- Increased irritability
- Random aches and pains
- You’re withdrawing from your social circles and isolating yourself (especially from events you used to enjoy)
- Having hallucinations or delusions
- You’re having difficulty functioning in normal life situations
- You’re sleeping too much or too little
- You’ve started self medicating with alcohol and/or drugs
- You’re having extreme anger outbursts
- You’ve started thinking about inflicting self harm or contemplated suicide
If any of these stuck out to you, I suggest you watch the video for more information. And also contact a mental health professional in extreme circumstances. Taking care of your mental health should be a priority for you, like taking care of your physical health is.
So why do you need to take a vacation during the pandemic?
Because no matter how invincible you may feel, you’re only human and you eventually will need a break. Delaying that necessary period of rest in the interest of productivity, will only make your inevitable energy crash way worse. And you will burnout during the pandemic.
The coffee crash analogy
I always compare it to drinking coffee. When I drink that first cup, I feel like I have all the energy in the world. But I know eventually the caffeine will wear off, and I’ll crash a little.
So I drink another cup before that to delay it, knowing that the crash I’ll experience later will be twice as bad. And I continue the cycle, until there’s no more coffee left, and I have no choice but to crash.
Except now, instead of the 30 minutes I needed to recover if I only had the one cup, I need days to recover. Because I delayed it and increased the crash.
This is a graphical representation for all my visual learners out there:
As you can see the height from where you will crash has increased exponentially with each cup of coffee, therefore increasing your recovery time because of the crash.
Don’t let it get this bad. Please just take a vacation.