If you're anything like me, you're feeling beyond burnt out these days. Even calling whatever this feeling is "burnout" seems like the understatement of the year.
You may not have even realized how the COVID-19 crisis has been a personal, emotional crisis. One that's been dwelling for so long. With all the work women are doing in a COVID world — in the workplace and the home — there hasn't been time to stop the chaos and process. With all the grieving and the questioning and the trying to stay afloat, there hasn't been time to stop the chaos and process.
Since life with constant grief, extra hours playing teacher and long periods of isolation has become normal, you may have subconsciously internalized the stress. You kept moving. You did what had to be done. That experience of processing has only been able to happen with our asking: What does life look like when this is over? Asking that question is exhausting — especially at the end of a twelve hour workday in a job you may not feel as passionately about after reckoning with your own mortality.
Now, when you finally hit that COVID wall — when your body can't do it anymore, when you are forced to ask 'what's the point of this?' — you hit that wall hard. And the worst part? Sometimes you're not even entirely sure why. On the surface, after all, you're probably doing a lot less work than you normally would.
If you've only recently felt like the chaos of the last years has hit you like a brick wall, you're not alone.
Below are a few ways to cope with COVID burnout in the workplace. I hope they help you as much as they've helped me.
10 ways to cope with COVID burnout at work
1. Set boundaries.
When you're working from home, it can be difficult to set hard boundaries of when you're available and when you're not. But it's important for your mental health that you don't work around the clock, even if you technically can.
"One of the most important things remote workers can do is to set clear boundaries between their work time and non-work time, and HR needs to take an active role in helping workers practice healthy boundaries between their professional and personal lives," Carol Cochran, VP of people & culture at FlexJobs, said in a press release for the aforementioned study.
2. Learn how to say no or make space.
Despite what you may have heard about saying yes to every opportunity, it's okay to say no sometimes — or at least to make compromises.
“I work in a competitive field, and I’m a competitive person, which can skew the way you see reality,” an undisclosed partner in the Philadelphia office of a global law firm told Harvard Business Review
. “In the past I didn’t dare say no to leadership opportunities because I was afraid that if I did, everything might disappear. Now if I feel overextended, I’ll ask myself, 'Is there a way to inject joy back into this role, or is it time to give it up?' And I understand that when I want to take something on, I need to decide what to give up to make space.”
3. Prioritize self-care.
Now more than ever, self-care should be a priority. It's essential, Christine Carter, PhD
, a sociologist and senior fellow at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California in Berkeley, told Everyday Health
"Self-care is not selfish," Dr. Carter. said "This is a time of incredible anxiety and stress. Focusing on what makes us feel nourished, on what gives us meaning, is part of easing those feelings and giving us a more solid foundation."
4. Talk to your team and boss.
Having open and honest communication with your team and boss is important. Chances are that, if you're feeling burnt out at work, you're not the only one. Knowing when to ask for help is key and can seriously help you handle the stress. You never know who might be willing to step in for you if you need to take a mental health day, or who might be able to take on some of your tasks. You also never know what programs or benefits your employer may provide or what fun/non-work-related team exercises you can do to help you relieve some stress and feel more engaged.
5. Start a passion project.
Sure, piling something else onto your plate may feel counterintuitive right about now. But doing something that incites passion in you might give you that boost of energy that you so desperately need at this time. It might even give you the momentum to keep chugging along with your other responsibilities. Or, it may just be the kick you need to branch out and start your own business.
"Starting a business is a time-consuming endeavor that doesn't end once things start to take off," Lane Campbell of Syntress
said, according to The Muse
. "On the contrary, the more successful you are, the more time you will be asked to contribute toward your enterprise. That’s why it’s important you focus your time and energy on doing something you enjoy and are passionate about."
6. Get some sleep.
If you're feeling run down, one surefire way to pick yourself back up is by getting some much-needed sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
, you really should be getting at least seven hours of sleep per night. Unfortunately, not all adults do. Rather, 50 to 70 million US adults have a sleep disorder, and 37.9 percent report accidentally falling asleep in the middle of the day at least once in the last month because of it. About 35% of adults report getting less than the recommended amount of sleep in a 24-hour period. But changing your sleep habits can help keep you healthy and productive.
7. Eat cleaner.
You are what you eat. And if you eat foods that make you feel lethargic, you're going to feel more burnt out. According to Medical News Today
, foods that contribute to your feelings of fatigue include highly processed foods, white bread, foods that are packed with sugar, and baked goods. Instead, you should stick to foods that fill you with energy. Like your leafy greens, fruits, and oats. In fact, you can even sneak some dark chocolate in there. It's rich in antioxidants that can boost blood flow and oxygen throughout your body. Plus, dark chocolate is also known to enhance your mood. (Do you really need an excuse to eat chocolate?)
“Add to that a boost of caffeine and theobromine, both stimulants, and you can beat fatigue and enjoy a treat all at the same time,” Katie Cavuto
, MS, RD and executive chef for Saladworks
, told Glamour
. “Shave dark chocolate onto a bowl full of berries or greek yogurt. Better yet, try all three together for an energizing snack.”
Again, it might sound counterintuitive to burn more energy when you don't even feel like you have enough to get through your day to begin with. But exercise gets the blood flowing through your body, and it can have major physical and mental effects on you for the better. It can help reverse the symptoms of burnout.
"Cardiovascular exercise was found to increase well-being and decrease psychological distress, perceived stress, and emotional exhaustion," one study
published in PeerJ
reports. It also adds that resistance training had a notice effect on well-being and personal accomplishment and reduced perceived stress.
9. Lean on your loved ones.
In times like these, it's important to have a network of support. We all need each other. Don't be afraid to reach out to your friends and family for a pick-me-up every now and again. Whether that's asking someone for their ear or shoulder, or that's getting your loved ones together over a video call to have a little fun and let loose from work, pick up the phone and call them.
Just make sure that, before you unload your stress on someone else, they have the mental capacity to hold space for you. Other people are stressed out, too, and you don't want to overburden them either. So always be mindful of having conscious conversations and asking for permission to share.
10. Be kind to yourself.
We're all our own harshest critics at the end of the day. Ultimately, we're going through a pandemic, and it's not easy. In fact, it's really, really hard at times. And, for some of us, it's worse than others. You may have lost income or a loved one, or you may have just lost access to everything that keeps you sane. It's important to remember that you're not alone, and your feelings of frustration are valid. All you can do is your best — you're only human, after all.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.
What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for coping with burnout? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!