It’s fair to say that for most of us, the past year has been a lot to deal with.
And while we hate to keep banging on about the Coronavirus crisis, it seems that even though life is gathering pace again, the emotional and mental damage caused by the pandemic is stuck on us.
As restrictions are being lifted to varying degrees all over the world, is it just us or… are we not quite okay?
In March 2020, the world as we knew it came to a standstill. Since then, we have had to handle an unprecedented level of stress. From health concerns to home schooling, feelings of isolation to financial pressures, lockdown life has been an emotional rollercoaster.
So what does more than a year of constant bad news and psychological strain do to our wellbeing? Lockdown has left some of us feeling overwhelmed by social interactions, while others have been experiencing brain fog after returning to work.
Could we be suffering from pandemic-induced emotional burnout?
What is burnout?
Up until fairly recently, burnout used to be described as an “occupational phenomenon” by the World Health Organisation [WHO]. However, in 2019 the stress-related condition was added to the International Classification of Diseases[i], making it a globally recognised medical issue. Then, the Coronavirus pandemic hit.
Previously, a poor work-life balance was considered as one of the key factor in causing burnout. But nowadays experts are looking at the illness from an emotional vantage point, too. And given the lack of control over our personal lives, as well as the constant changes to rules and restrictions we have experienced in the past year, it’s no wonder we are left both physically and mentally exhausted.
A new study conducted by Kalms in February 2021 with 2,011 UK respondents found that women experience more symptoms of burnout than men, with low motivation (55%), increased irritability (50%) and low energy levels (54%) being amongst the most common.
Author of Burnt Out: The Exhausted Person’s Guide to Thriving in a Fast-Paced World, Selina Barker, says, “Burnout is our body’s way of signalling there is an energy crisis taking place – and something has to change.”
Burnout Can Feel Like…
- Being unable to cope with our daily responsibilities
- Struggling to focus
- Loss of compassion for others
- Struggling to switch off or sleep at night
Thankfully, burnout is not a fixed state of being, and there are steps you can take immediately to recover. The first thing you need to do is STOP and recognise that burnout is as much of an illness as more common diseases such as the flu.
Advises Selina, “Hit pause on your to-do lists, cancel your plans and get into bed. Rest and recovery need to be your top priority. If you’ve had a mild burnout then a weekend might be enough to restore you. If you’re severely burnt out, then you might need to take a few weeks or even a few months off from work.”
The effects of the pandemic on our mental health
Of course, many of us have had plenty of ‘time off’ as a result of lockdown, being furloughed or made redundant. But with the relentless stream of bad news, uncertainty about the future and a continuous stopping-and-starting again, we’ve also not exactly had a restful break.
Selina comments, “It’s been such a tough year and I one hundred percent feel that a lot of people are experiencing burnout just from living through the pandemic. And even if you consider yourself one of ‘the lucky ones’, don’t dismiss how difficult it has been on all of us!
“Now that we are coming out of lockdown is when the toll is really going to be starting to kick in for some of us – especially if you are a ‘coper’, a people-pleaser or a carer who has been looking after everyone else. It’s almost like when you have been working really hard, and as soon as you go on holiday you get sick.
“So we need to step into a period of recovery, and that means that we really have to look after ourselves now and be gentle and compassionate with ourselves.”
Reclaim Your Energy
As we are working towards finding a way forward, how can we get ourselves back into better mental and emotional shape? Selina has shared some of her top tips for tackling burnout that can be easily incorporated into everyday life.
“Managing burnout begins with reclaiming your energy levels, so you can not only feel good in yourself, but you can create the career and life you truly deserve. I recommend my clients try a range of different strategies that I know will help them feel more motivated,” she says.
Selina’s Top Tips for Recovering from Burnout
- Learn how to manage your energy and design your day so that you feel energised, calm, and focused throughout. Start the day by doing something that lifts your spirit, take a 10-minute break every 90 minutes to recharge your batteries, and in the evening do things that help you to unwind and release the stresses of the day.
- Use exercise to recharge. Whether it’s a daily walk around the block, or a 30-minute HIIT class, exercise comes in all shapes and sizes. If you are feeling physically, mentally or emotionally drained, exercising can act as a restorative activity and give you a boost of feel-good hormones.
- Try an adaptogen to help regulate stress and make you feel more alert throughout the day. Kalms Rhodiola is made from Rhodiola rosea, a powerful herb that can help your body and brain process stress more effectively. Studies have shown that one tablet twice a day of Rhodiola rosea can help fight fatigue and boost energy levels[iii] as well as enhancing our ability to concentrate and maintaining focus.
- Make sure that your work environment is one you can thrive in. If you have a demanding client, a bullying boss or find yourself in a toxic work culture, then you need to change that. Likewise, if you realise that the work you do is bringing no joy or meaning to your life, then it’s time to consider a career change.
- Discover techniques and habits that help you to calm down when you are starting to go into an urgent, panicked, or stressed-out state. Things that can help you to calm down are walking, calling a friend, exercising, or meditating. Experiment and find the things that work for you, so you always have them in your back pocket!
- Turn down the volume of your ‘inner critic’ and start turning up the volume of your inner cheerleader! When you believe in yourself and support yourself the same way you would a friend, you increase your levels of happiness, self-esteem, and confidence.
Selina Barker is a Career and Life Design Coach, author, and podcaster, who has been helping people to break free from burnout and create lives and careers they love for over a decade. Find out more at www.selinabarker.com.