Over the past year every single one of us has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic in one way or another. Changes to our lifestyle have been vast and we have all had to adapt to this new way of living. From juggling working from home with home schooling, dealing with our own health issues or those of others, coping with bereavement, being separated from our family and loved ones, financial difficulties, to name but a few of the difficulties we’ve faced and that’s before we even touch upon the matter of our mental health. Far too many of us are experiencing the signs of pandemic burnout and so we thought we would look at this in more detail, explore what those signs are and then share some ideas with you on how to make yourself feel better.
What Is Pandemic Burnout?
Before we go into details about pandemic burnout specifically, let’s have a look at burnout in general. Burnout is defined as a state of absolute emotional, mental and physical exhaustion that comes as a result of long term and continuous stress. It is often associated with working too hard, for example you might have a high pressured job where expectations are high and workload is continually more than you can cope with. Over time, the excess stress this causes builds up until you reach breaking point, and then ‘burn out’. So thinking about it from a work point of view for a moment, when we start to feel these pressures and it all gets a bit much, what do we usually do? Take some time off, go on holiday. And what can’t we do right now? Yep, there we go.
Pandemic burnout, in very much the same way as standard burnout, occurs when we feel overwhelmed; when everything feels too much. Everyone has their own stress tolerance levels and of course everyone’s individual situations are different. What one person struggles with, another may find a piece of cake. But that doesn’t take away from how you are feeling, it doesn’t mean your feelings are any less worthy of being felt than anybody else’s. If you’re not feeling right, if you’re not feeling as though you can cope, and if you’re being plagued by feelings of helplessness and negativity it’s time to seek help in some shape or form.
It’s no wonder so many of us are struggling to stay positive – we’ve been doing the lockdown restriction thing for near on a year and it is proper getting tiresome. The winter lockdown has been particularly hard what with the rubbish weather making it more difficult to get outside and the reduced daylight hours making us want to stay in and hibernate, which is obviously what we’re supposed to be doing, but we’re totally bored of that because that’s all we’ve been doing for months now! It feels like we’ve done every inside activity possible – we’ve completed all the jigsaws, we’re so over Zoom, we’ve baked like we’ve never baked before, we’ve dressed up, we’ve dressed down, we’ve exercised to within an inch our lives, eaten and drunk like it’s going out of fashion and we’ve binge watched pretty much every single boxset on Netflix, so seriously… what’s left!?!
Then factor in the impact of constantly being bombarded with ever changing news – both positive and negative – from the media, our reduced real life social connection with people, and feelings of lack of accomplishment and lack of purpose, we are at best overwhelmed, at worst burnt out.
What Are Some Of The Signs Of Pandemic Burnout?
I’d put money on every single one of you reading this that at some point during the pandemic you’ve hit a wall. That at some point, maybe even a few points, you’ve felt as though you simply cannot take it any more. You’re tired, you’re bored, your emotions are all over the place, and you feel as though you’ve lost your sense of purpose and you’re starting to question the very meaning of life. It’s as if you’re having a mid life crisis on a daily basis and the worst of it is there’s nothing you can do about it.
Pandemic burnout can present itself in the following ways:
- Self doubt – You may start to question your ability to do your job, how you parent, what you look like, every little thing about you is picked apart and analysed. Your inner critic loves it, but it does nothing for your self confidence.
- Social isolation – Most of us have had this forced upon us, but when you reach the point of burnout you start to withdraw even further from society. And rather than having to adhere to government restrictions, this is of you’re own choosing.
- Pessimistic outlook – You view everything negatively. Even when there is good news, the grey cloud above you can’t help but see the negative
- Behavioural changes – You aren’t your usual self. One minute you’re angry, the next you’re upset. You’re up, you’re down, and you’re crying at everything.
- Feeling empty inside – Some people feel every single emotion, others go completely numb and feel empty inside, as though the very essence of what makes them, uniquely them has been sucked out, leaving an empty void of nothingness.
- Complete neglect of personal needs – In normal times you’d shower everyday, get dressed, shave your legs, just generally look after yourself. Now? What’s the point? You barely have enough energy to get up, let alone bother to have a shower, or get out of your pjs.
- Headaches – Too much screen time, stress, anxiety, not drinking enough water, drinking too much alcohol…. and the headaches keep on coming.
- Stomachaches – Knotted tummy, you don’t feel like eating, overeating, eating more unhealthy foods. Anxiety, worry, stress, uncertainty plays absolute havoc on our guts.
- Brain fog – Feeling like you’re wandering around in a daze. Concentration poor. Memory bad.
- Sleep issues – You’re knackered, but you can’t sleep. Night after night you wake up with a jolt and you can’t explain why.
Lockdowns and restrictions have disrupted our normal routines in a way that we have never experienced before. Many of us thrive on the routines we create for ourselves and when we’re forced to change them it can make us feel uneasy and out of control. Whereas before we had fixed times, fixed locations, and fixed tasks, now every single day blurs into one. There is no ‘fixed’ anymore and so it turns to us to create our own schedules, in just one location, and with all the time in the world and it is hugely overwhelming.
Our homes have become our offices, our schools, our pubs, our gyms and at times our prisons. We’re feeling stifled and trapped in the very place that we should be feeling safe, happy and at ease. Weekdays become blurred with the weekends and it feels a little like we’ve got nothing to look forward to any more and we’ve got zero energy to do anything about it.
What Can I Do To Make Myself Feel Better?
If left unaddressed, pandemic burnout can make it difficult for you to function properly in your normal day to day life, which is why it is important to recognise the signs and take action. Covid-19 may be out of your control, but your daily habits and actions can be adapted to help you navigate these tricky times. We haven’t got a magic wand, we can’t make coronavirus disappear and return life back to how it was, but we can give you some ideas to help ease you out of this brain fog and start making you feel better about yourself again.
There’s nothing better for lifting the spirits and clearing the cobwebs away than exercising outdoors. Whether you go for a run, a bike ride, or head out on a dog walk, it doesn’t matter what you choose to do, so long as you’re outside and you’re moving. We’ve been cooped up for so long that it’s really important we take advantage of some of the things we are still allowed to do. Maybe you would benefit from some time to yourself for a bit of mental clarity. Or perhaps you’ve been on your own for so long that you’re sick of your own company and so a walk and talk with a friend would do you the absolute world of good. And don’t go letting the rain put you off, just grab those waterproofs and get on out there.
Have A Mini Digital Detox
Many of us are understandably spending much more of our time gazing at a screen. Home schooling, work, catching up with friends, scrolling through social media, it’s no wonder our brains are fried! Whilst it’s clear we need this type of digital interaction, we certainly don’t need it all of the time. Make a conscious effort to step away from the technology throughout the day, for example take regular breaks and put your phone away at least half an hour before going to bed. This will give your mind time to switch off and for you to become much more mindful of how you’re feeling.
Switch Off The News
If you’re finding the constant bombardment of news headlines about the pandemic overwhelming then it’s time to do yourself a favour and switch it off. It’s easy to become a little bit obsessed with checking the news, whether that’s online, on TV, the radio, or in print, and the problem is that at the moment news changes so frequently it really plays havoc with our emotions. One minute it’s bad news, then there’s some positive good news, then back to bad and so on and so on. It’s an emotional rollercoaster and it’s exhausting!
You’re not going to miss out on anything by limiting your news intake to just once a day, so unsubscribe from any notifications from news sites that you may have clicked on, keep the TV off, and avoid checking social media until your designated news time. You’ll find that it will help your mental state and will most likely make your day more productive too.
Been spending too much time lolling about in your loungewear? We don’t blame you, after all it’s not like there’s anything to get dressed up for right now. But the thing is, when you look slobby you feel slobby, and so take a leaf out of our book and try getting dressed up every now and then. You don’t need to go full on evening wear, but have a dig around in your wardrobe and pull out some of your BC (before coronavirus) outfits and see how it makes you feel.
Even something as seemingly insignificant as putting on a necklace, a splash of your favourite lippy, a sparkly top, or even a pair of skinny jeans is enough to make yourself feel more like you again and you’ll be surprised at the effect that such a small act can have on your mood.
Write Stuff Down
If your mind is feeling bunged to busting with thoughts, worries, information overload, try jotting it all down in regular daily brain dumps. Stacey Solomon likes to draw a wheelie bin and write hers in there – we love the symbolism of this – so try giving this a go. Or if you’re more of a journaling kinda gal, keep a book by your bedside so that you can write stuff down either first thing, or before you go to bed, or even if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep because something’s troubling you.
We’ve all got a lot on our minds at the moment, so it’s important to have a way of offloading this information – our brains literally don’t have the capacity to deal with it all. Writing it down will help make sense of it and also help you to work out whether it’s worth your time and energy thinking about it. It’s amazing how seeing something written down in front of you can immediately make you feel lighter, calmer and more in control.
Have A Mental Clear Out
When your mind is constantly buzzing with thoughts it can be exhausting, which is why it’s good to try and disconnect for a while each day. And the best way to do this is through meditation, yoga or breathing exercises. These three relaxation techniques help to activate a relaxation response within the body. This allows us to focus on just one thing, for example our breathing, therefore stopping the racing in our mind, which then calms the rest of our body.
Mastering these techniques isn’t easy and you may struggle to switch off entirely. Just as your body needs warming up so too does your mind, so start off with short sessions and ideally try to find a guided practice on somewhere like YouTube or Spotify. Don’t expect overnight miracles and remember we all have to start somewhere, but the simple act of starting will help set you on your way to a more mindful and peaceful existence.
If you’re feeling burnt out you’ve got good reason, because it’s been tough, really really tough. I know at times you’ll have wanted to give up, because I have too. But we’re stronger than this and there is finally hope on the horizon. Be kind to yourself and take the time to look after you, because YOU matter. By acknowledging these feelings it will help you to navigate your way out into a more positive mindset. And that is a great start.
Becky Stafferton is a full time blogger over on her website The Art of Healthy Living, mum of 2 and certified Queen of the hashtags. She continually strives to promote a realistic, sustainable and positive image of how to lead a healthy life. When she’s not writing or reading her teenage diary she can be found swigging Prosecco from the bottle, running through muddy puddles, making lists of lists, having a good old moan, scoffing flapjacks and squatting like her life depends on it.