6 tips to avoid burnout when learning to live with coronavirus
With all legal restrictions having been lifted in England this week, we can now do a lot more than we have been able to in the last 16 months. This is welcome news for some and highly concerning for others. No matter what your views are, if you don’t look after yourself and are under a lot of stress, then you are susceptible to burning yourself out. This article will show you how to protect yourself from burnout while you navigate this part of living with COVID-19.
First of all, what is burnout?
Chances are that you have either experienced or know someone who has experienced burnout. For those of you that are unsure, however, here’s an insight into what it is.
Burnout is a state of total exhaustion brought about by chronic and high levels of stress. This is the type of exhaustion where, in addition to feeling physically knackered, your very essence is drained. It is all-encompassing, affecting all areas of your life.
The most widely recognised cause of burnout is prolonged stress at work. However, you can experience stress in other areas of your life too and these are just as likely to result in you getting burnout.
Physical signs of burnout
- Feeling drained and tired most of the time.
- Frequent headaches and muscle pains.
- Lowered immune system - frequent illnesses.
- Changes in sleep and/or appetite.
Emotional signs of burnout
- Loss of motivation.
- Doubting yourself.
- Feeling like a failure or like you are failing.
- Feeling defeated and helpless.
- Feeling detached and alone in the world.
- Looking at things more negatively and cynically.
- Experiencing less satisfaction and accomplishment.
- Withdrawing and isolating yourself.
- Being snappy and taking your frustrations out on others.
- Using food, alcohol or drugs to cope.
- Not going into work, leaving early or arriving late.
If you have been fortunate enough to not experience this before, then you are probably asking why you need to be thinking about this now.
Put simply, the pandemic has brought about a lot of stress over a prolonged time frame. This is true for all of us. So the pandemic has us all significantly more primed for experiencing burnout and it isn’t going away anytime soon. We are all having to find ways of living alongside coronavirus.
6 tips to help you avoid burnout
1. Remember that you can take it at your own pace
You don’t have to jump straight into doing lots and attending different events/get-togethers if you just don’t have the energy. Many people are finding that socialising is more tiring these days than pre-corona and it is OK to do less than you used to, if you have a shorter supply of energy than you used to. You’ll find you’re better able to enjoy the things you do, if you are taking time out when you need it.
2. Set boundaries
You may already have started doing this consciously or unconsciously. I am specifically talking about corona-related boundaries here. Maybe you are happy going to the cinema with friends, for example, or maybe you want to stick to smaller groups in outdoor settings.
Get clear on things you are comfortable with, things you aren’t comfortable with and maybe there are some things that you just aren’t sure on yet. You don’t need to make an announcement to everyone you know about what your boundaries are either. Just being clear on these means that you can more easily arrange or make decisions about different activities/situations.
3. Spend time focusing on things that make you feel good
No matter what your views on the government’s approach or other people’s behaviour are, you need to put that aside for a bit each day. Focusing on what feels good is so helpful when you have stresses in life because it gives you a genuine and needed break.
Our minds are more likely to notice and pay attention to the negatives in life (it’s called the negativity bias).
So, deliberately bringing your attention to the positives is a great habit to get into that helps boost your ability to take life in your stride.
4. Make sure you exercise
Getting your body moving is so important as it really does contribute towards reducing feelings of anxiety, depression and stress as well as giving you a general feeling of well-being.
The science behind this is when you do moderate or vigorous-intensity exercise, your body produces endorphins and endocannabinoids. It has been widely claimed for many years now that endorphins are responsible for the feeling of well-being and reductions in anxiety that people can experience. Recent studies, however, are showing that it is actually more likely to be the endocannabinoids that are responsible for making us feel good after exercising.
Whether it is endocannabinoids or something else, when you exercise you are giving yourself some protection against the prolonged and high levels of stress that cause burnout.
5. Eat proper, nutritious food
What you eat has huge implications for your ability to handle stress. Diets that are high in sugar and saturated fat actually leave you more likely to feel stressed, anxious and depressed. On the other hand, ensuring that you are getting plenty of vegetables and fruit, a good balance of healthy unsaturated fats, lean meat while controlling your sugar and saturated fat intake has been shown to help you deal with stress and feel better overall.
6. Get good quality sleep
The magic number eight is banded around so much that it may as well be tattooed on our brains. I argue, however, that quality matters much more than quantity. You can sleep for eight hours and wake up feeling as tired as when you went to sleep. You can also sleep for four or five hours and feel really refreshed upon waking.
As well as feeling ready for the day when you wake up, good quality sleep is important for dealing with stress because it provides the brain with the opportunity to reorganise which has the impact of improving your learning and performance when you are awake.
It is my sincere hope that this helps you to consider what you can do in this next stage of the pandemic to ensure you avoid burnout and give your mental health a boost.
Have you got a strategy for avoiding burnout generally or specifically pandemic-related burnout that I’ve not discussed? If so, I’d love to hear from you.