December 14, 2020
As 2020 comes to a close, we all can recognize this was a year full of new experiences. COVID-19 has shifted lifestyles in different ways, and the effects of these changes can consequently lead to feeling burned out.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes burnout in an occupational context as, "a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed."1 With many workplaces shifting from a physical office community to a makeshift spot at the kitchen table, paper documents turning into PDFs, and conference rooms becoming video chat servers, there are now new stressors that have negatively contributed to the overall viewing of oneself and one’s occupation.
The WHO definition may only apply in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean you have to be in the workforce to feel the toll of 2020 weighing on you. Recognizing the signs, both in and out of the office, can help you avoid feeling burnt out.
What Are the Signs of Burnout?
The three denoted characteristics of occupational burnout are detailed by the WHO as general exhaustion, increased cynical feelings about one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.1 In general, feelings of tiredness and detachment, as well as lacking motivation, can also be attributed to the lifestyle shifts in 2020. These are seemingly easily understood on paper, but how can they manifest in your life?
Your average person is likely no stranger to a lack of energy, but the type of exhaustion faced during burnout is an inescapable and unwavering tiredness that translates into physical consequences. General exhaustion is proven to lead to a weakened immune system, impaired concentration, irritability, and occasionally, heightened mental health issues.
On top of that, one may begin to lose passion toward things they love, develop a pessimistic mindset, and detach from their environment. Detachment has the potential to look like neglect of responsibilities, missing deadlines, distancing of friendships and just a general lack of care.
Though the combination of those two factors can be considered the bulk of a traditional burnout, there is potential to see a reduction in professional efficacy. This can look like a lack of confidence in one’s abilities, lower levels of motivation and engagement, and a feeling like the tasks being accomplished don’t really matter.
If you are experiencing feelings of burnout, be sure to consult your doctor or another professional.
How to Recharge
Now more than ever, it has become important to focus on your mental health. Burnout is a real concern, and it is important to get ahead of it before it is too late. COVID-19 has created new challenges for us to face both personally and as a society, and we must not forget to take care of ourselves along the way. Some of the most effective ways to prevent and escape burnout begin with recharging yourself, both physically and mentally.
Recharging Your Body
When it comes to recharging yourself, it is important to start with the basics. Focusing on things like improving your diet, getting into an exercise routine, and refining your sleep schedule can drastically decrease symptoms of burnout.
Keeping with a consistent diet and avoid skipping meals can improve overall concentration and focus while also reducing stress. Some ways to do this can be planning out meals at the beginning of each week in order to ensure a balanced diet, but also it removes the added daily stressor of when and what you’re going to eat. Be sure to consult your doctor before making any dietary changes.
Getting adequate exercise is proven to reduce stress and improve the quality of moods. There are numerous other benefits of engaging in exercise besides merely dodging burnout, including improved sleep, higher self-esteem, and better overall health and cardiovascular fitness.2 Jumping into an exercise routine may seem intimidating, but even short intervals of exercising three to five days a week can make a difference in physical and mental health. It is important to find an activity that you enjoy doing in order to ensure you stick with it and set reasonable goals to have something to work toward. Just make sure you talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
Establishing a regular sleep schedule is way more important than most realize. Sleep is required for maintenance of important brain functions and affects almost every part of the human body. It is suggested that adults get seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Unfortunately, though, “catching up” on sleep is not necessarily effective. Getting consistent sleep lends to being more productive than sleeping little during the week and a lot on the weekends. Some ways to improve sleep quality include establishing a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine near bedtime, and limiting light exposure at night.3
All three aspects go hand in hand, and when making improvements in one area, you’ll often find improvements in another. Going back to the basics and getting into a daily routine is instrumental in avoiding a burnout.
Recharging Your Mind
A large player in the inescapable tiredness one may feel is mental exhaustion. It is arguably just as much a contributor, if not more, than a general lack of sleep. Due to this, it is important to learn how to combat it with various self-care strategies.
Sometimes, it can be as simple as taking a few deep breaths. For many though, it may require something more structured. Meditation has been cited and used time and time again for increasing mindfulness within individuals. Technology has made it more readily available via different guided meditation apps. Taking a few minutes to sit back and meditate each day provides you with time to sit with your thoughts, instead of immediately trying to tackle them.
Journaling can also provide a healthy outlet for expressing yourself and is a great tool to use in the management of your mental health.4 A large part of journaling is getting into a routine of doing it every day. There is no right or wrong way to do it, but some suggest using it as a means of addressing your stressors.
Especially now, it is incredibly hard to avoid immersing yourself entirely in technology and social media, but sometimes it’s important to take a break. With social life and work life happening mostly through a screen, it can be hard to find a way to step away from it. Some devices allow you to set daily time allotments for app usage, which could be used to reduce overall media consumption. Another option would be to simply disconnect from all unnecessary modes of communication, like social media, for a period of time. When doing this, keep in mind that human interaction and connectivity is vital to avoiding burnout, so completely isolating yourself may do more harm than good.
Establishing a daily routine, including both mental and physical self-care components, proves to be incredibly beneficial when recovering from and preventing burnout. It is important to recharge on a regular basis, utilizing tips like these, to proactively avoid burning yourself out.
1 World Health Organization: Burn-out an 'Occupational Phenomenon.' Accessed October 24, 2020.
2 National Center for Biotechnology Information: Exercise for Mental Health. Accessed October 25, 2020.
3 National Institution for Neurologic Disorders and Stroke: Understanding Sleep. Accessed October 28, 2020.
4 University of Rochester Medical Center: Journaling for Mental Health. Accessed October 28, 2020.