It feels counterintuitive to be depleted when your commute; heading from work to a networking thing and fitting dates with three lots of mates into a single weekend are now as much relics as phones with cords and going to HMV. But burnout in lockdown, anecdotally, at least, seems to be one issue arising from the coronavirus crisis.
Quick clarification: as a term, 'burnout' is not neatly defined. Some use it as a catch-all for the result of the various stressors in a modern life; others, including the World Health Organisation, (WHO) as a purely work-related issue.
Because of this, 'Burnout is not a word I would commonly use,' says clinal psychologist and bestselling author of The Imposter Cure, Dr Jessamy Hibberd (@drjessamy). 'The word I would use is exhaustion.' The signs of this, she says, are:
1/ Having little motivation
2/ Finding it harder than normal to do normal tasks
3/ Having 'brain fog'
4/ Finding it hard to concentrate
5/ Having a low mood
So, why might you be feeling like you've been pelted with an Ocado truck carrying an entire town's loo roll rations for the next month? Dr Jessamy notes that a few things are afoot. One: autopilot, or lack thereof. In the Before Times, a lot of your day was coded into your brain already – your route to work, the desk you sat at, the spin class you did at 6pm on a Tuesday. Now, everything is new, and your brain is having to work out a whole lot of stuff.
If you're worried about any aspect of your mental health, speak to your GP or MH professional. You can also call the Mind helpline, on 0300 123 3393
Dr Jessamy also highlights that the spaces for pause in your normal life – sitting on a train, going out to buy lunch – are now obsolete.
Next, the fact that the ground beneath your feet feels very shaky evokes both a physical and mental response. 'We evolved to see uncertainty as potentially life-threatening. And more tension, more adrenalin means that your body is working hard,' Dr Jessamy explains. Add in the mental load of a constant hum of background anxiety – whether that's about your finances, your health, the health of your loved ones, what this is doing to your kids – and you've got a draining concoction on your hands.
Then, it's just harder to do stuff when you don't have much on. 'The saying "if you want something doing, give it to a busy person" is very true,' Dr Jessamy adds. 'It's like gears on a car – first gear is a slight struggle to get to, but then progressing upwards is easy.' If you aren't a key worker and don't have kids, then the reality that you have less to do in a day can make cracking on tricker.
So. How to try and lessen this feeling and get closer to some sort of new equilibrium? Scroll on for expert tips to help you achieve just that.
1/ Separate work from rest
If you are working from home right now, it's important to recognise that you don't have the same boundaries anymore, says Dr Jessamy. While these were already blurred, thanks to emails on phones and the rest of it, this is now exacerbated. And, while before you might have broken up your day with things like going to get coffee, now, you might sit in front of your laptop and not move for nine hours.
'Know that this is a marathon, not a sprint' advises Dr Jessamy. 'You don't need to get everything done this week, you can take a slower approach. Break up your day: sit down to eat, make time for exercise, stop work at your normal time.'
2/ Create a routine
Dr Jessamy advocates for keeping some sort of routine, to give shape to your days in lockdown. Rather than waking up each morning and creating it from scratch – deciding what you're going to do – lay it out ahead of time. This can help to lessen your mental load; even just knowing what you're going to have for breakfast and that you go out for a 20 minute walk and have a coffee after.
3/ Take days off
You might not want to 'waste' precious holiday days when a drive to your closet reservoir is all you can expect to fill them with. But breaks are still important, says Dr Jessamy – and you will get overloaded if you don't give your brain a break from being 'on' and answerable to various people.
4/ Limit your Zooms
Your social life is now intense. In an after-work drinks scenario, you stop, go to the loo. In a Zoom scenario, you're staring at a bunch of other faces, with a teeny, yet jarring time lag and feel like everyone is looking at you, when you don't actually know where gazes are directed.
5/ Understand how much is being asked of you
Say you are a parent and are expected to perform your job to the level you always have, at the same time as keeping a three year old entertained, or taking on a double shift as a maths teacher? Yeah, that's a lot. 'If you are in this situation, then you are needed all the time, and that's tough,' says Dr Jessamy. 'It's a time to lower your standards; you cannot do everything perfectly right now.'
Key here, she says, is nixing the urge for comparison. If you're in WhatsApp groups with people saying how their family is having a lovely time with all of the baking and crafting, while staying on top of science homework and that's getting you down: mute them.
6/ Do the things that make you feel good
'See a line between what you do and how you feel,' says Dr Jessamy. 'This is a mash of the small choices you make every day,' Things like exercise, time in nature, talking to a friend and eating well all add up to the big, overarching sensations you go through.
If you're a parent, is it maybe possible for you to take 20 minutes to do something you enjoy early in the morning? Can you make sure that you connect with someone you love everyday?
7/ Be compassionate
To others; to yourself. 'Know that it's unrealistic for you to be 'amazing' in this moment, don't be annoyed if you're finding it hard to concentrate – the research shows that that's to be expected, at this time,' elaborates Dr Jessamy. Short story: We're in a hard situation. Be gentle.
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