By now, we’ve all heard of “Pandemic Fatigue” or “Covid Burnout,” but what does that actually mean? The World Health Organization defines burnout as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Having experienced the last 21 months of lockdowns and restrictions, it’s easy to understand why so many people nowadays are experiencing feeling burnt out; when the possibilities for hobbies, gatherings and outings are restricted, many people turn to working longer hours, continuously checking Covid-19 related news, or taking on more responsibilities within the home to keep busy. Eventually, like anything that you do daily over time, overworking, stressing and under-relaxing have become a daily routine for many which has lead to frustration, tension and fatigue.
Recognizing the signs and understanding how to overcome pandemic fatigue/ covid burnout is
extremely important for your mental and physical health. As per this Healthline article by Rebecca Joy Stanborough, a few signs to look out for include forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, difficulty maintaining relationships with loved ones, frustration and/or irritability with co-workers, unexplained muscle tension, pain, fatigue and insomnia. Although the best way to prevent burnout is to take time each day or week to unwind and relax, for many it’s not always possible with work, kids, school, meetings, family obligations, etc. and before you know it, you find yourself having no energy or motivation to complete your daily tasks and responsibilities.
There are a number of small changes that can aide in preventing covid burnout or pandemic fatigue, such as setting a schedule and sticking with it, evaluating your responsibilities and delegating tasks wherever possible, taking a break- whether it be a short 10 minutes every day to relax or taking short- or long-term disability leave, asking for help, practicing mindfulness or simply being kind to yourself when you are feeling overwhelmed. At the base of everything, the three main aspects of wellness that need to be nurtured and made a priority are sleep, nutrition and exercising habits.
This far into the pandemic, it may be hard for some to remember what their routine consisted of pre- Covid, however maintaining a sense of normalcy can be a huge part in maintaining a positive mental health in the midst of these uncertain times. Whether it’s a detailed minute by minute regime, or simply walking your dog every morning while you drink your coffee, having some sense of a routine can cultivate the motivation you need for you to start your day. If you’re struggling with routine, set a goal of following one for two days, and then three, four, etc. Sooner than you think, you will have created a daily routine to help you through or potentially prevent burnout.
Feeling overworked and overwhelmed is another huge cause of burnout. Since the beginning of the pandemic, many companies have switched to a work-from-home model for their employees. Although some people thrive in this environment, it’s certainly not for everyone. Given the unstructured nature of working from home, it’s easy to slip into a habit of starting your day earlier, working through lunch, and/or working well into the evening. In some cases, this is fine if you’re trying to get a project completed by a strict deadline or if you’re passionate about the specific item you are working on, however making work your full time job as well as your part-time hobby isn’t a healthy way to spend your time. Creating a schedule to help you balance work and personal life is essential to avoid burning out. If you are a person who needs a schedule to function properly, make sure you are including a hard stop for your work day and scheduling in a leisurely activity that you enjoy doing wherever possible.
Whether it’s running errands, cleaning the house, bringing the kids to their appointments, completing a big project at work or school, or completing your never ending to-do list, one of the best things you can do is to evaluate your responsibilities and delegate tasks to others wherever it makes sense to do so. If your partner can pitch in a bit more with housework when you can feel yourself getting burnt out, ask them to help. If you have older children who can help you out by dropping younger kids off at school or at their appointments, let them. If you are part of a team at work, check with your supervisor or boss to see if you can unload some of your tasks on your team members. It may seem intimidating to reach out and ask for assistance, especially if it’s to your supervisor, however they will likely empathize with you and try their best to accommodate your requests in order to prevent losing a good employee to a burnout-related leave of absence.
Speaking of a leave of absence, sometimes the only way to reset and recover from burnout is to step back and take some time to recharge. Whether this looks like taking a day, week, or month off of work or applying for short or long term disability leave, speaking to your doctor, mental health professional and boss is a good way to begin this process. For employers, consider altering your policies on personal/ mental health days so that employees can take the time they need without using up their sick or vacation days which can result in even more stress. In addition to this, make it a priority to check in on your employees periodically and evaluate where policies can be put in place to prevent burnout, whether this be a flexible work from home model, allotting more coverage for mental health services in the benefits package, allowing employees the choice of working from home or from the office, or adding in team building activities to every day practices to improve the office culture.
In addition to all of these changes, prioritizing your mental health is one of the most important things you could do to recover from covid burnout. As mentioned previously, improving your sleep, exercise routine and nutrition to build a strong foundation of wellness will improve not only symptoms of burnout, but your entire mental health in general. Improving your exercise routine has been proven to lessen symptoms of depression in addition to all of the more obvious physical effects. Similar to exercise, focusing on consuming more nutritious foods can help with your mental health and overall mood. Sleep also plays a much bigger role in mental health than most people realize, so it’s important to make getting a good nights sleep a priority.
On top of improving sleep, exercise and nutrition, always remember to be kind to yourself. More people than you realize are feeling the exact same way that you are, especially given the pandemic that we are all living through. Practicing mindfulness and following the tips in this article can also help when you are experiencing Covid-19 specific burnout. As always, if you need additional help or resources, speak to your family doctor or mental health specialist.
Clinically reviewed by Dr. Diana Garcia, Ph.D. – Written by Kristin Davey
Healthline | Burnout Recovery: 11 Strategies to Help You Reset by Crystal Raypole | October 21, 2021
Healthline | COVID Fatigue: How to Cope with Pandemic Burnout by Rebecca Joy Stanborough |
October 18, 2021
Dr. Diana Garcia
Dr. Diana Garcia has over 20 years of experience in the field of psychology. She has provided psychological and counseling services in Ontario, and the states of Pennsylvania, and Florida