Are you feeling physically, psychologically, or emotionally exhausted? Most of us are, and it’s no wonder given the events of the last year. This pandemic burnout has hit so many of us, and we’ve been counting on the light at the end of the tunnel; but what if pandemic burnout doesn’t go away with the end of COVID-19?
The pandemic is ongoing, but as vaccines roll out and as plans for re-opening and re-emerging become more concrete, you may wonder: “Why do I still feel burnt out?” “Why don’t I feel the way I used to?” “Will it ever go away?” or “Is this just the way it is now?”
Pandemic burnout versus traditional burnout
Burnout refers to a state of physical, psychological, or emotional exhaustion–usually after a stretch of chronic stress or conflict. Without a doubt, the pandemic has been a major stressor in all of our lives, and it has been for over a year now. But COVID hasn’t produced just a normal case of burnout.
Pandemic burnout is a different beast than the regular kind. Rather than presenting one or two ongoing worries, the last year has assaulted us all with fear, uncertainty, health concerns, and financial strain, on personal and societal levels. Since the source of this burnout will never fully go away — germs, crowds, having a fragile human body — the feeling may persist longer than we’d expect. Pandemic burnout has seared hypervigilance into our daily lives, and it may prove difficult to logic ourselves out of that state.
Do you have to take pandemic burnout seriously?
First, don’t worry – burnout is unlikely to become your permanent state of being, and it does not have to remain your new normal moving forward. However, that doesn’t mean you can ignore it until it resolves on its own; it’s actually incredibly important to care for yourself when you burn out, to ensure that you do recover and move through it.
Burnout is caused by prolonged and layered stress in most cases, which can take many forms. Healthcare workers are at a particularly high risk for pandemic burnout, as are teachers and retail workers. For every personal risk, sacrifice, and workplace stressor, we become more vulnerable to burnout. All of the above professions are particularly prone to burnout-amplifying layers of stress.
Though some may be more vulnerable to layered stressors than others, no one is immune. Burnout can affect anyone, so don’t gaslight yourself to believe that you “aren’t doing enough to burn out.” Even if we consider ourselves relatively unaffected by the pandemic, we’ve been subjected to all kinds of uncertainty, as well as the stress and pain of those around us, to an extent we’ve never seen before.
Stress, as we know, has a myriad of effects on both the mind and the body, and it can come from sources totally unique to each of our lives. Letting multiple stressors go unaddressed is a sure recipe for burnout, so it’s worth seriously addressing the layers in your life.
The impact of pandemic burnout
Impacts of prolonged stress may include but are not limited to irritability, trouble sleeping or insomnia, fatigue, which may be so intense that it creates feelings of overwhelm, isolation from others, low mood, and symptoms of anxiety or depression.
If you experience these signs, or if you simply don’t feel like yourself, you may be going through a pandemic burnout. The impact can also include inundation by thoughts, worries, and obsessing over obligations. This is challenging, frustrating, and uncomfortable, but you aren’t alone. In fact, it’s a tremendously common experience. If you’re burnt out, you’re burnt out, and it’s time to figure out why.
Why yours isn’t going away
The pandemic isn’t over yet. That is the first thing to take into account if you’re wondering why your burnout has endured. Don’t expect yourself to feel as though you didn’t endure a global trauma. You did.
The thing about burnout, just like with anything else, is that it doesn’t go away the moment that you are done being overextended, overwhelmed, or in this case, overrun with pain, fear, worry, lack of normalcy, and so much else going on in the world. That could even be when it hits you the hardest. Think about if you got hit by a car or if you had any other physically traumatic accident. It takes time and rehabilitation to recover. Sometimes months or years. That’s what goes on with your brain when you’re recovering from burnout.
Of course, this bears the question, “what do I do if I’m experiencing burnout?” There are ways to help yourself move through this challenging time.
What to do
Here are some things to try when facing stubborn pandemic burnout.
Take a lesson on rest
Have you ever heard the phrase, “if you don’t rest, your body will force you”? It’s the truth. If your body and mind are showing signs that they need rest – or any other form of care – it’s important to attend to those needs. With a culture that is so fast-paced, it’s hard for many people in the Western world to take a rest, but it’s a lesson that we all need to learn.
The body needs rest. The mind needs rest. Human beings need rest. It’s time to reclaim that need and learn to recognize it when it shows up. There are times when you won’t be able to rest as much as you want or need to, and that’s a very real fact for many people. Do the best you can, and give yourself a lot of grace – the best that you can do is the best that you can do. Treat this like you’d treat healing from an injury. Rest isn’t always voluntary, but it is necessary.
Talk about it
Sharing the way that you feel can be beneficial for a number of reasons. First, opening up the conversation to a friend or another close loved one in your life can create catharsis. They’ll not only know what you’re going through after you express it, but they may also relate. If they do relate to what you’re saying, it’ll give them the space they need to open up about burnout and the way that the pandemic has affected them, too.
Socializing is incredibly valuable for our physical and emotional health, and making sure that you are making an effort to socialize – regardless of if it’s online or in person – is more crucial than ever right now. Peer support through a site like Supportiv is an excellent option if you want someone outside of your circle to talk to or are struggling to find someone you’re comfortable talking about things with!
Prioritize having positive experiences, no matter how big or small. Again, we are still in the pandemic, and everyone’s at a different stage in terms of what’s safe for them or what they’re able to do based on factors like if they have the vaccine or their risk level, so this will look different from person to person. It could mean having a game night with a friend over video chat, getting in the kitchen and making a special dish, getting dressed up or putting on a scent you like, engaging in movement you enjoy or turning on music you can dance to, getting outdoors to take a walk somewhere outside of your ordinary scenery to break up your routine, or something else.
In fact, breaking away from routine is incredibly essential right now. One of the toughest parts of the pandemic for many is the lack of variation and surroundings in our days. This is a great way to counteract the impacts of the lack of variation and making sure that you are still creating memories and experiences for yourself.
Get used to asking yourself “What do I need?”
Check in with yourself regularly with regard to what you need. You’ve likely heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and although it is a pretty classic reference, it can give you some insight into how to implement self-care and make sure that you are getting your needs met, especially if you’re someone who tends to take care of others but struggles to make time for what they need or if you have a busy schedule with little time for self-care.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs begins with basic needs (food, water, shelter, and rest), moves on to safety needs, then to belonging and love needs (taking time for interpersonal connections; friends, romantic relationships, and so on), then to self-esteem needs, and finally, to self-actualization.
Becoming more attuned to your needs is a skill that anyone can benefit from. When you feel down, overwhelmed, or otherwise uncomfortable, start asking yourself “what do I need right now?” and find a tangible, accessible way to meet that need to the best of your ability. Speaking realistically, this can sometimes look like making compromises and doing the most effective thing you can with what you have, whether that relates to your time, resources, or something else.
Identify burnout contributors
Some stressors are unavoidable, but others are a bit more within our control. If you can identify any additional contributors to burnout in your life, whether that is social media, the news, or something else, make sure to be mindful of these things. Take a break from anything that adds stress or overwhelm. (Outside of what’s inevitable.) Of course, we all want to stay caught up to date on world events and other important information, but we can only take in so much.
Especially with so many of our daily obligations and means for socializing taking place online nowadays, it can be helpful to put your phone down and take a little bit of time away when you have the chance. Making sure that you have another way to occupy yourself, whether that is art, going outdoors, connecting with someone that you do have in your daily life in person, if applicable, or working on a home project, or something else, is advantageous. If you do miss a piece of news, it will be there later, and it is crucial to give your mind a break from time to time.
Recovering from burnout, no matter the cause, is a process. Pandemic burnout is no different. Emotions may continue to ebb and flow; many of us are experiencing emotional ups and downs, and that is 100% to be expected. If they do get too overwhelming to navigate yourself, don’t be afraid to reach out to a medical or mental health professional. Take it one step at a time and know that recovering from burnout is possible.
For information and updates on the coronavirus pandemic, continue to check the CDC website.
For information pertaining to vaccines in your area within the US, check your state’s public health website.