In the past year, I’ve found myself often marveling at our collective resilience in the face of global events. I’m so blown away by how we managed to adapt to the utter devastation and distress that constantly surrounded us from the moment we realized that things were really quite serious. Yes, it was a tough time and maybe bad things happened, but we’re all here right now, aren’t we? All the anxiety and melancholia don’t change the fact that our ability to adapt is worthy of pride.
But resilient or not, the continuously building tension can eventually get to be too much, resulting in something called “pandemic burnout,” a kind of exhaustion that is not only physical but also mental, which is caused by excessive stress. Pandemic burnout could be a result of changes in employment status, finance-related stress, personal losses, isolation, and more. And it can lead to a severe dip in energy levels, disrupt sleep patterns, change eating habits, and deal a serious blow to the body’s immune system.
Continuously building tension can eventually get to be too much, resulting in “pandemic burnout,” a kind of exhaustion that is not only physical but also mental.
What Is Pandemic Burnout?
A recent survey of the American public by the Harvard Business Review yielded worrying statistics about the state of our general well-being. Eighty-five percent of the 1,500 survey respondents indicated a decline in their well-being, 62 percent identified a marked increase in instances of elevated stress levels in the last three months, and only 21 percent and 2 percent rated their well-being as being “good” and “excellent,” respectively.
To learn what signs to look out for and how to manage pandemic burnout, I talked to Dr. Chioma Anah, founder, CEO, and executive clinical director at PerceptA Therapeutic & Training Center. According to Dr. Anah, pandemic burnout can manifest as a number of things, such as a change in appetite, an acquired dependency on alcohol and other mood-altering substances, a lack of enthusiasm for daily activities, constant fatigue, voluntary isolation, loneliness, despondency, and self-doubt.
The events of the pandemic might not be the sole cause of burnout. Rather, the sudden challenge presented by the pandemic may have been the tipping point for tension that’s been building for weeks, months, or years, due to a work-life imbalance and other sources of stress. Our society has long been ill-equipped to sustain a healthy lifestyle, and we still haven’t quite learned how to correct the sources of our issues. While we hopefully start to work towards efficiency and improved quality of life, the onus falls on individuals to manage overwhelming levels of stress alone.
How to Deal With Pandemic Burnout
Whether you’re only starting to notice the signs or have been dealing with burnout for some time, here are five coping strategies you can employ to combat it.
Pay attention to your body and mood, and try to note when things feel different. Are you experiencing any of the above-named symptoms? Have you been feeling burdened lately? Dr. Anah says, “You can’t deal with a problem if you’re not aware of it.” Knowing what you’re dealing with is the first step on the road to a solution to pandemic burnout.
Reach out to your support system when you need to. Our connection to others can be a vital source of confidence, motivation, perspective, and strength. “Reach out to your social supports, your ‘tribe,’” says Dr. Anah. These kindred spirits could be friends, family, or any other person in your life whom you feel like you can lean on.
Just as you’d immediately cut out any food or products that you were having a negative reaction to, eliminating the factors that contribute to pandemic burnout is an essential part of recovery. Introducing good habits such as a healthy diet, consistent exercise, and adequate sleep is also important. And while you nourish your body, don’t forget your mind. Dr. Anah recommends reading, journaling, artistic expression, crossword puzzles, and any other activities that will keep your mind active and alert.
Suffuse your life with things that bring you pleasure. You could make a list of everything you like to do, no matter how big or small, and find ways to introduce at least one of those activities to your life daily. Try out a new recipe on Monday, re-watch one of your favorite movies on Tuesday, enjoy a long walk with your pet on Wednesday, and so on. Do anything that feels relaxing to you and is truly enjoyable.
Mental health is just as important as physical health. That said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking professional help whenever you need to. “A therapist or counselor can assist you with sorting out your feelings, give you the appropriate tools to regain your balance, and help you feel hopeful again,” says Dr. Anah.