Burnout from Covid – What to Do

Lonely depressed woman with protective mask isolated at home, sad and worried lockdown, social distancing and Mental health.

In last week’s blog I invited readers to consider how many of us are experiencing the symptoms of burnout as a result of all the stresses caused by the pandemic. I think it’s pretty clear that many of us have the symptoms of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion along with other feelings including disengagement, impatience and self-criticism for not being able to get everything done. 

According to an article from the American Thoracic Society’s Public Health Information Series on Burnout Syndrome there are a number of individual risk factors that also contribute to a person experiencing burnout. These include having poor self-esteem, maladaptive coping mechanisms and/or unrealistically high expectations.

In order to address burnout, there are actually two perspectives we need to consider: how do we prevent it from happening in the first place and what do we do when we are in the throes of it? 

No one could have foreseen or prevented the pandemic. Perhaps some of us were able to ward off burnout by very quickly realizing we needed to have fair and reasonable expectations, lowering our standards and celebrating the good things we were able to do.

Several resources said that one of the ways of preventing burnout is to remain optimistic and believe that things will turn out okay. This reminds me of a very old children’s book called The Little Engine that Could where one of the characters trying to get a train to go up a very steep mountain cheerfully chants, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” as a way to motivate himself. Believing that you are capable of handling things, even some of the surprising new challenges, can help lessen or prevent burnout from occurring. 

If burnout has settled in, one of the first things a person can do is become aware that they are in the throes of burnout. There is something almost comforting to having a diagnosis to explain thoughts, feelings and behaviors. 

Family Conflict. Quarrel between black mother and daughter at home, sulky child ignoring her mom

The Parent Burnout book written by Dr Joseph Procaccini and Mark Kiefaber that I referenced in the previous blog offered some additional recommendations, including: 

  • Generate a list of people who can help you gain perspectives, make plans, better manage your life and can do so in a warm, caring and affirming way 
  •  Regularly affirm yourself for the things that you have accomplished 
  •  Notice what you are thinking, what you are saying to yourself and challenge thoughts that put you down 
  •  Remember that anger is a normal response when things seem out of control or someone has let you down. Consider healthy expressions of anger that do not hurt another person but rather allow you to express that you are feeling frustrated and then offering suggestions for what might help you. “Anger must be recognized, harnessed, and controlled.”
  •  If you are insecure and lacking in confidence, work on being more assertive so that you can stand up for yourself, own your feelings, decide if and when you want to engage with others and overall claim your power to your rights to experience your feelings and have your needs met. Refuse to let someone treat you unfairly. Know you have the power to walk away when someone is mistreating you, including verbal mistreatment. 
  •  Practice time management, writing down some of the long-term and short-term goals you have and how much time it will take for you to accomplish each. Make sure these goals are realistic. Share them with those who you have identified as possible helpers to get some perspectives on how reasonable these goals are. 
  • Make sure you regularly do those things that allow you to feel nurtured.  

Burnout is a real thing. Being able to identify it, prevent it whenever possible, and address it in firm but caring ways so as to not be overwhelmed involves using some of the strategies listed above. These can help reduce some of the stress, anxiety and other negative feelings that often accompany burnout. 

Invitation for Reflection 

  1.  Consider the degrees to which you may have experienced burnout and if you currently are in the throes of it. What are some of your symptoms? 
  2.  Have you been able to actively prevent yourself from getting burned out? What specifically have you done? 
  3.  Which of the recommendations for responding to burnout resonate with you? How can you take charge of being burned out by actively addressing your symptoms? 

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute