4 Ways To Win The Battle Against Pandemic Burnout
Pandemic burnout is real, and it's arrived—but it doesn't mean it has to stay!
When you think of burnout, picture a hamster wheel.
Imagine stepping onto it, starting your run with high energy at full speed and with all the motivation to keep going as fast as you can, for as long as you can. In the process, you're suddenly hit with the realization that, it's a wheel. It's a stationary wheel, and you're not going anywhere. No matter how hard, or how little, you try to move the wheel out of its place, it just won't, because that's not how it's designed. Nothing you do matters.
And just like that, you've become demotivated, frustrated, confused, even apathetic to the situation. You could care less about outcomes or how you try to reach them.
That's burnout—and it's terrible!
In the context of what's happening globally, burnout has been re-contextualized to describe the experience in relation to the pandemic.
Pandemic burnout has to do with feeling "spent"—having no energy or no joy in doing things, a non-existent drive to find what makes you happy. It also includes physical symptoms like constant fatigue or a variety of pains and aches, and other changes like being cranky when you're usually not, having more negative thoughts and feelings about life and if things will ever get better.
You're tired of the way things are, and you feel helpless and stuck. You might have even resigned to this reality.
We asked Dr. Lia Bernardo, an in-demand training and behavioral specialist who's put self-love in the center of her practice, explains it in even plainer words: "Burnout is a pattern of extreme stress and overwhelm," she says.
But she says so with a smile, because that's just one half of the story of pandemic burnout. Though you or your loved ones might be experiencing pandemic burnout, worry not because there are solutions to it that you can try out today, or even right now, to banish it.
Below, Dr. Lia suggest four ways to protect ourselves against pandemic burnout.
Remember how we wished more workplaces would adopt a work from home setup so that we could save time and energy on daily commutes? Well, now that the WFH situation is where we're at everyday, it's posed a new set of problems.
For one thing, some people might feel the need to keep working to appear, or feel, productive. Staying in our minds means rest and relaxation, so being stuck indoors for most of the time may be messing with our minds. Even though we might be spending the 8-5 workday completing job-related responsibilities and the rest of our waking hours tending to our families and chores, some people might want to do more instead of being comfortable with allowing themselves to rest. Just because everything is done at home these days shouldn't mean you have to fill all your hours with activities.
Having free time is just as valuable as it was before in pre-pandemic living. Time on your hands is not an indication that anyone is lazy or "not making the most of quarantine" by wanting to slow down and taking time for themselves. We mustn't be pressured by others who define their days with all sorts of to-dos if all we want to do is put our feet up, take a nap, and just exist without doing much.
Make time for the things you actually like.
But if you do wish to do more during your days at this time, save your time and energy for things you do like. Don't "do" for the sake of doing. Do things with a purpose and because you have a genuine desire to participate in them, if you feel that you'll gather valuable lessons from something, or if it'll help you grow in the direction you want to.
Watch your motivations for getting into a hobby or spending on a new interest; if it's just to fill in dead air or be able to tell people you did something new so as not to look stagnant, consider doing something else that's worth your effort and expense. Do something that serves you and facilitates your betterment—this should be your rule of thumb. Otherwise, enjoy the rest!
Accept that this is the new normal—at least not entirely.
"This is not a life," Dr. Lia insists from the get go.
"I will never, ever tell you deal with it and that this is your new normal. Don't accept that this is your new normal! Human beings should not deal with it. Please do not accept," she presses.
Of course, she doesn't literally want us to break the rules and disregard health protocols to rebel against the inconveniences brought on by the pandemic. What she means is, don't give up all that's good about being alive today even though the new normal we're living in, quite frankly, sucks. She recognizes how easy it for our spirits to bend and break at this time when each day can feel like a battle for staying happy. There's so much to be unhappy about, but we should continue to take care of ourselves anyway.
We accept our circumstances and that the pandemic is still here, but we push back against helplessness and hopelessness. The attitude to adopt is, "Okay, we're here now, and we're going to be here a while. What do I do to keep nourishing myself while I wait to get out?"
Turn a bad situation into something that will serve you.
Dr. Lia's advice is to look inwards.
For most if not all of us, this is the single time in our lives when everything happening around us provides us an opportunity to reflect on our values, relationships with ourselves, and relationships with others, too. When (when, not if) we return to our pre-COVID lives, we might not have a chance like this ever again.
It might be uncomfortable to evaluate how we've been living life and treating ourselves and others, but it can be transformative—and big transformations often lead to beautiful results. It might be hard to reflect and face thoughts and feelings our busy schedules allowed us to avoid in the past, but finally giving them room in our minds and hearts might be want we need to evolve into better people.
There's not a better time to do this than now. Doing ourselves this favor won't only allow us to emerge from the pandemic alive, physically speaking, but also spiritually and psychologically.
Remember, burnout isn't only a function of how much you're working and how little rest you're getting. It can also be a result of imbalanced emotions and a habit of "sweeping things under the rug" when they get a tad bit too messy to deal with. Well, now is as good a time as any to finally start tidying up.
Saturate yourself with everything pandemic-related.
It's great to be informed. Everyone should be in the know of the world's most important goings-on.
What's not great is being over-stimulated by news, and if we're being honest, most news today is bad news. With personal burdens existing alongside pandemic woes, we've become extremely vulnerable to becoming discouraged by what we see on our screens and the TV, what we hear at the dinner table and the few times we get together with people outside.
There's such a thing as being oversaturated and it happens when we let ourselves be bombarded by a ton of negativity day in and day out. We can be the strongest people out there, but constant exposure to news of rising COVID infections, death rates, suffering, poverty, and all the things wrong with society can chip away at this strength unnecessarily.
We can be strong, but we must also know how to preserve this strength.
Learn when it's time to dissociate.
There are simple fixes for the issue above.
Give yourself a screen limit. Have a rule for the dinner table about talking only about happy things, or only allotting a little bit of your time for talk about current events. Watch the news for only a few minutes in your day, or in fact, just every other day.
If there's something important you need to know, you'll hear about it in endless family chats and Viber groups.
But other than that, give yourself a break. It's the best thing you can do!
Feel like it's necessary to be bright and cheery all the time.
Dr. Lia says it for the nth time—it's okay not to be okay. We know. It's easier said than done, especially if everyone around you seems to be doing alright and only it's only you feeling down and affected by everything happening. If they're okay, good for them. But if you're not okay, be okay with that. It doesn't make you weak, abnormal, or wrong for feeling a little more blue than others.
It's a tough time we're living in, everyone knows that, so do be kind to yourself.
After all, if a friend or family member confided in you about feeling sad or scared or anxious at this time, would you tell them to "man up" and "just try harder to be happier?" That's unlikely. You would probably be comforting and understanding and you would want to give them a safe space to feel whatever it is they're feeling. (And if the tables are turned and someone does tell you that what you're feeling is "wrong" and shouldn't be given attention, you should know better than to agree with them).
So why should only others get that compassion from you—and not yourself, to you? You deserve every bit of that tenderness from yourself, too.
As Dr. Lia puts it, though she's been nicknamed The Happiness Doctor, that definitely doesn't mean she doesn't get angry, irritated, or lonely. It only means we should let ourselves be human and part of that is feeling the whole range of human emotions.
Be okay with the coming and going of different emotions.
It's a skill to be comfortable with the ebbing and flowing of emotions. That is, we're not always happy and at ease, because the course of life inevitably brings us face to face with pain and discomfort. But we're not always suffering either; there are many things to smile about despite misfortune.
Naturally, it's easier to celebrate turning bad luck around. But when we fall down after a stay at the top, that's when it's harder to accept that, well, that's life, and life happens.
When we come to the understanding that nothing in life is permanent, especially emotional states, we become more flexible, much more adaptable to changing situations. We feel less burdened by sadness when it comes, less resentful when things don't go our way, and we're much more resilient when disappointment comes knocking. Plus, we're much more grateful for all the awesome things that do come our way because we're more aware of how much of a blessing they are.
Of all the possible skills to learn at this time, this should be a high priority one.
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