Are you suffering from burnout?

We have all lived through two years of the pandemic and, while aspects of our lives are back to ‘normal’, things still feel different to a typical year. Some people are feeling great and optimistic, however, many are saying they feel flat and generally demotivated...

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Converge International


Burnout was officially classified as a disease by the World Health Organisation in 2019, but its definition was more specific to the workplace and described as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. Now the term is being applied more generically to describe people’s feelings brought on by the external state of the world.

What is burnout?

man asleep at computer

Burnout is a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped. It’s a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and mental stress. In many cases, burnout is related to one’s job, but it can also be attributed to other external factors like the pandemic, natural disasters and world events.

Burnout can look and feel slightly different depending on the person, but there are some common symptoms to look for:

1) You avoid the news  
You find yourself deliberately skipping the first 10-15 minutes of the news — or the entirety of it — to avoid the reports on Covid-19, world news and other potentially depressing headlines. 

2) Feeling cynical and exhausted  
You might realise that you’ve become angrier about the world recently, or just more impatient in general. This, along with the continued anxiety caused by the pandemic and world events, has made you more depressed and tired — seemingly all the time!

3) Feeling emotionally numb  
Stress might have motivated you in the early days of the pandemic to scramble for solutions to make lockdown more tolerable, but now you are beginning to question why you care and whether you should pay less attention to what’s going on in the world. This general stance can then begin to spill into everyday life.

4) A sense of hopelessness
You feel like you’ve sacrificed so much for years. You’ve socially distanced, worn a mask, been vaccinated, followed ever-changing local guidelines and kept up to date with the news, and yet, in many aspects, the world outlook doesn’t look much better. Over time, this can make you feel more negative and hopeless.

5) Anxious about the future 
You may have made previous predictions about when the pandemic might be over, but you are still no closer to knowing exactly when things are going to go back to ‘normal’. This, along with recent world events and natural disasters, can cause a sense of worry related to your own future or the future of your community and the wider world.

These feelings can ultimately contribute to more issues in your everyday life, including:

  1. Exhaustion 
  2. Lack of energy 
  3. Constant fatigue 
  4. Sleep disorders 
  5. Reduce performance at work 
  6. Concentration and memory problems 
  7. Inability to make decisions 
  8. Reduced initiative and imagination
  9. Increased illness 
  10. Physical symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath

What causes burnout?

woman looking distressed and bored in front of computer

Burnout was already on the rise before the pandemic, but it’s beginning to hit extraordinary levels. One study conducted by Visier, an employment survey organisation in the US, found that a whopping 89% of employees said they’d experienced occupational burnout over the past year.

While the recent pandemic is a large reason for these numbers, there are a few specific reasons why burnout is on the rise.

1) A prolonged sense of worry
Fear and anxiety are used as evolutionary tools to deal with perceived threats. Under these conditions, our brain actions a ‘fight or flight’ response, so that we protect ourselves in some way shape or form. But, we’ve dealt with the constant threat of Covid-19, natural disasters and other world events for so long that we no longer trust our brains when they tell us we’re under attack. Furthermore, our bodies are not designed to sustain high levels of anxiety for long periods of time without fatiguing. A fight or flight response is specifically ‘triggered’ to raise cortisol levels and heart rate over a short time frame. If this continues over time, it leaves the body in a consistently heightened, but chronically exhausted state.

2) Regular working patterns have become blurred
While the pandemic broke through long-standing resistance to working from home, it also drove a surge of overworking and under resting. During the lockdowns, when people lost access to how they normally rest and recharge – going to dinner, travelling, going to the gym, etc. – they often leaned into doing more work. Gone were the clear boundaries that commuting provides and many found working actually soothed the uncertainty and anxiety caused by the pandemic. While many of us have returned to the office, these boundaries are still blurred and confused 

3) Psychological hibernation
After spending an increasing amount of our time at home and away from face-to-face interaction, psychological hibernation can begin to come to the fore. This is where the brain is not working at the same level due to an extended lack of external stimuli. When we go back out and meet more people on a regular basis, it can be a large shock to the system — a shock that some people have a delayed reaction to. Because our brains have been used to processing at a different speed, this can make us feel a lot more tired than we may have been before the pandemic.

Strategies to deal with burnout 

Someone pressing a button on a keyboard that says stop burnout

Time off work is often seen as the best way to recharge, but it isn’t enough to alleviate chronic burnout. The Visier study found that nearly half (49%) of employees said taking time off work only temporarily relieves their burnout, with the prep work and catch-up work involved causing higher levels of stress. 

To better deal with burnout, try the following techniques:

1) Keep your routines 
During times of crisis, it’s vitally important to hang onto your routines. Focus on the routines that are vital to your livelihood like healthy eating and good sleep. Other habits to maintain could be socialising, exercise or hobbies. 

2) Strengthen ties with your close relationships 
Finding and fostering new relationships takes lots of time and energy. If you’re feeling fatigued and overwhelmed, it may benefit you more to lean into established relationships.

3) Be aware of bad habits and addictions 
One study entitled ‘Covid‐19 and implications for eating disorders’ found that 38% of people being treated for an eating disorder had an increase in symptoms during the early part of the pandemic. Instead of allowing bad habits to creep into your life, look to do more relaxing and enjoyable activities, practice meditation or breathing exercises, or partake in mindfulness exercises such as writing down positive experiences during the day.

4) Build on mental fitness  
By setting achievable goals around activities like exercise, mindfulness, sleep, and connecting with nature, you can build your resilience to external changes. This is the theory behind mental fitness, that, just like an athlete builds their muscles to deal with the rigours of their sport, you can exercise your brain to help maintain and improve your overall mental wellbeing.

5) Negotiate a change in working conditions
If your burnout is largely being caused by being overworked in the office, it might be beneficial to discuss with your manager or employer about potential remedies. These can range from re-negotiating work time boundaries to asking for quiet areas for breaks and personal phone calls, or creating “no meeting” days so that you and your co-workers can have more time to yourselves. These can help re-gain some sort of autonomy in your job.

When to seek professional help

It’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Burnout is real and many people are dealing with it. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you’re experiencing depression and/or notice that your anxieties are affecting your wellbeing, your relationships, or your daily functioning. Call one of our friendly team on 1300 687 327 who can put you in touch with a mental health professional.

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