As we approach the end of April, now several weeks into social distancing and quarantine, so many of us are absolutely exhausted. Rewind back 8 weeks ago and none of us would have believed that our lives would have changed this drastically in such a short amount of time. Adjustments of this magnitude take time for us to adapt to. And I don’t know about you, but I have certainly gone through a range of emotions.
Many of our reactions have looked like the following:
Stage One: Shock and Confusion—“What’s the big deal anyway? Wait, Japan closed down schools for a MONTH???“
Stage Two: Anxiety— “Oh that’s the big deal…we are all going to die and the economy will never recover!”
Stage Three: Rush of Exertion— “It’s time to work harder. I can be a super parent, super worker, and self isolator. I got this. I’m fine!”
Stage Four: Burnout and Exhaustion—“Nope! I’m over it. I’m tired. Nothing’s getting done. I am crashing.”
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When many of us experience burnout, we often wonder, “Am I depressed?” And while burnout and depression can share many of the same symptoms of low energy and low mood, burnout is defined by emotional, physical and mental exhaustion. While our bodies can sustain through short bursts of high intensity stress, prolonged stress eventually makes us feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to get even basic tasks done efficiently.
So the worst part of this situation is that common solutions to burnout and positive mental health are just not available to us as they have been in the past.
Historically, solutions to burnout could include taking control of our situation and connecting to others who could emotionally invest in us. Options like removing ourselves from the stressor or increasing our level of social support through spending time with friends, engaging in social activities or taking a vacation were wonderful ways to recharge and overcome burnout. But clearly, none of these solutions are available to us at the moment.
And this is frustrating! So many of us are feeling even more overwhelmed because we are limited in our ability to fix the situation. We. Are. Stuck.
So in times like this, we have to lean on new and different solutions. So let’s look at some of the solutions to Coronavirus burnout:
Identify the things that are truly outside of your control and learn to let it go
While the Disney movie Frozen may have popularized the phrase, there is real value in learning to “let it go.” So much of our current situation is out of our control and recognizing this is the first step in conserving our energy.
We have every right to be disappointed in aspects of how this has been handled at the news and government level. And while we certainly should advocate for the things that collectively make us healthy, how the United States and the world handle the Coronavirus is way too big of an issue for us to influence on our own. The more time we spend obsessing over these grand issues, the more energy is expelled without any real positive gain. Trying to control the uncontrollable puts us on the fast track to burnout, and letting go is essential to positive mental health in times like these.
Implement structure in the areas where you truly have control and stick to a plan
First, we should let go of the things we have no real control over, but inversely, we should take sharp control over the things that are within our control. Now I get it. So many of us hate structure and sticking to a plan, but ironically our mental health thrives in the predictability that structure brings. A variable plan actually takes a great amount of emotional energy leading to much less efficiency and satisfaction with the outcome.
To overcome burnout, set a schedule for yourself and stick to the plan everyday.
Be sure to give yourself time-off
Show up, be present, and pour yourself into your time working, but giving yourself true time off is essential. As so many of us are working from home, the line between work and off time is very burly. As a result, many of us are not really working when we should be and are allowing work to bleed into our free time. As we fall behind, it makes sense that many of us just try to work harder and longer hours. This is the worst thing we can do. Breaks and time-off actually makes us more efficient when we are at work and will eventually allow us to accomplish even more.
Take time to reflect and share
I know, I know! It’s so cliche for a psychologist to be recommending journaling as a solution for any mental health distress. But bear with me, this really is an important step to overcome burnout..
When we are emotionally exhausted we often fail to recognize the true feelings driving our behaviors. Many of us may feel angry that this has occurred, while others may feel tremendous grief for the opportunities and events lost during this time.
Without the time and space to reflect, these emotions may continue to operate in the background taking a great deal of our energy reserve. However, simply identifying and acknowledging what we are feeling, decreases the impact that these emotions have on our mental health. So if you don’t journal, no problem. Take a hike, a bike ride, or practice yoga.
Find the activity that works best for you to reflect and make this a routine practice. And if you have a supportive someone in your life, share these reflections with them..
The act of insight building and empathy for our emotions fills us up greatly during a time of prolonged stress.
We are all in this together.
And that statement should not take away our ability to be stressed, but should instead empower all of us to acknowledge how difficult this situation truly is and find solutions to help us get through.
Stay safe out there and don’t forget to practice good self-care!
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A few years ago, I learned an interesting fact about sharks while helping my son with his first-grade research project. Some species of sharks never stop moving in the water – even when they sleep. This is because of the way they take in oxygen through their gills. If they stop moving, they stop breathing and ultimately drown. I was recently reminded of this fact of nature as I thought about the many clients I work with who were all in various stages of change when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
When many of us experience burnout, we often wonder, “Am I depressed?” And while burnout and depression can share many of the same symptoms of low energy and low mood, burnout is defined by emotional, physical and mental exhaustion.
Dr. Melissa Estavillo is a Licensed Psychologist and founder of Biltmore Psychology and Counseling. With over 7 years of experience, she specializes in both individual and couples therapy in Phoenix and Scottsdale, AZ. She integrates complementary methodologies and techniques stemming from Emotionally Focused Theory, Psychodynamic Theory and Other Evidence Based Practices to offer a highly personalized approach tailored to each client.