By Beau Black
Tired of hearing, talking, and thinking about COVID, mask-wearing, social distancing, virus testing, work-life balance, and lockdowns? Burned out on hearing about COVID burnout? Emotionally exhausted by the mention of emotional exhaustion? You’re not alone.
As we round the corner on two years of the coronavirus, many of us feel ground down by the cumulative effect of all of the changes the pandemic and our response to it have wrought. And even the mentally healthy among us have struggled with the constant stream of bad news, followed by hopeful news, followed by still more bad news.
It doesn’t help that in some states, life has returned to normal, or nearly so, while in others, periodic shutdowns and near-universal mask-wearing make work, school, and homelife look very different. These dueling approaches have been politicized by both sides and foster distrust between states and even neighbors who see the pandemic through different political lenses. If our virus response views run counter to our community or state, this can leave us feeling isolated, which can compound mental health and addiction issues.
The COVID Burnout Crisis
The World Health Organization (WHO) delineates COVID fatigue as feeling “demotivated and exhausted with the demands of life” because of the pandemic, according to Healthline.com. Given the complex struggles many have faced during the pandemic, it’s unsurprising this is now officially a condition.
Some of the symptoms of COVID burnout include:
- Feeling cynical and emotionally exhausted
- Being less effective at work
- Having a deep sense of anxiety about the future
- Being less willing to comply with health guidelines
The WHO warns this could prolong the crisis; others, including Dr. Robert Wachter, who heads the medical program at University of California, San Francisco, suggest it’s time to acknowledge that some version of COVID is likely to be with us for the long haul, that we accept it as we do the flu, and get back to something approximating normal.
Wachter told The New York Times he may wear a mask in supermarkets and on airplanes indefinitely, but has tried carefully to resume many normal activities because he worries about “the downsides of organizing our lives around COVID.”
Forbes writer Naz Beheshti describes some of those downsides of the relentless focus on the pandemic. Her executive clients were resilient and determined early on in the pandemic. More recently, though, she observed that “exhaustion has set in” among the execs. “The sheer length of the pandemic, and the yo-yo effect of good news followed by bad news, are stressors that have worn people down,” Beheshti says. “Although the rollout of vaccines has generated much hope, there are new concerns and questions.”
Psychiatric Times took a closer look at the pandemic’s effect on wellbeing and discovered that employees may not be ready to give up the work-life balance they experienced through flexible work conditions. “They do not want to return to spending long hours commuting to and from work. They may welcome the trust and independence that comes with remote work and be eager to prove they deserve it.”
Conversely, some of their peers may crave a return to work, with its increased focus on structure, accountability, and camaraderie. It may prove challenging to make both sets of employees happy, but doing so may both help establish a lasting new normal and mitigate some of the ongoing burnout experienced by office workers.
A Gallup study observed that in normal times, employee engagement and wellbeing rise and fall in tandem, but during COVID, they separated. Engagement rose, but wellbeing fell as worry and stress impacted health.
Beheshti says this disconnect backs up her claim that “the idea of ‘work-life balance’ is flawed.” She says employees should work toward “work-life engagement,” meaning finding ways to be engaged and energized in both their professional and personal lives: “I repeatedly urge my clients to think less about managing their time and more about managing their energy.”
How to Overcome COVID Burnout
In sum, we avoid burnout by being intentional about where we spend that energy or focus. One good place to start: stop watching, reading, or listening to the bad news. If it’s making you unwell, eliminate it. Or limit your consumption. Some other suggestions, adapted from Healthline.com include:
- Set and stick to routines
This can be for both work and the rest of your life. Make time for family, outside relationships, fitness, and of course, work.
- Relationships are crucial
Having a good support network beyond just immediate family is important to maintaining mental health. Prioritize them and find ways to spend time nurturing them.
- Watch out for addiction struggles
Stressors can trigger addiction struggles, and most of us have had extra servings of those throughout the pandemic. Taking proactive steps to stave off problems is essential. For example, plan time with someone in your support network to divert you from a relapse, or attend a meeting before you reach a crisis point.
And finally, seek help when you need it. When the latest bad news shoves you closer to the edge, reach out to a friend or family member, a meeting, or a counselor who can offer encouragement and perspective. Our team at The Meadows Malibu is here for you also. There is hope and help available to help you get on the other side of your struggle. You are not alone; you need only to take the first step.