Amid the emotional roller coaster of social isolation, work stress, home schooling, and a pandemic still raging, how can you tell when you have reached the end of your tether?
The exhaustion of spending time and energy dealing with the new pandemic lifestyle has taken its toll on most of us. Without an end in sight, pandemic fatigue has become widespread.
The World Health Organisation defines pandemic fatigue as feeling demotivated about following recommended behaviours to protect ourselves and others from the virus.
It has become evident that the response to Covid-19 is a marathon and not a sprint. It will be around for longer than we may have thought. As a result, it is not surprising that feelings of burnout may have crept in.
Unlike career-related burnout that affects overloaded workers, pandemic fatigue affects everyone from online learners and students to CEOs. Coping with a pandemic can feel overwhelming, exhausting, and can leave you feeling drained or anxious, or perhaps even both. This is especially true for a sustained event with prolonged stress without respite.
When does feeling stressed in difficult times turn into a severe case of burnout?
Burnout is a form of psychological stress (mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion) that is caused by excessive and prolonged stress.
It is what you experience when you have reached your limits mentally, emotionally, and physically. You feel emotionally drained, overwhelmed, and unable to meet constant demands. You may feel an increase in irritability, notice increased conflict in your relationships, or feel stuck, exhausted, and hopeless.
Fifteen months into the pandemic dealing with worry and uncertainty will have an effect on mental health and wellbeing. To recover as we move forward requires strong and purposeful action from all of us to mitigate stress and burnout.
What can you do to protect yourself?
An unexpected source of stress is boredom. The brain needs creativity and stimulation which is facilitated by doing various activities, like being outside the home and interacting with others. Due to lockdowns and social distancing, we are deprived of these activities which the brain needs to generate new connections and learn new things.
The following can assist to recover from fatigue and burnout:
- Nourish your mind by doing puzzles or brain teasers, virtual travel to parts of the world you have always been curious about or learn something new that has nothing to do with your job or studies.
- Connect with others. This is a critical source of energy which can lift your spirits by making connections with new people or looking up old friends whom you have lost touch with.
- Detach from your stressors. If you find working from home has started to creep into all areas of your life, set boundaries as to when to end your workday. Contract with your team on ground rules of remote work.
- Be in control by choosing how to spend your time, either by responding to your energy levels throughout the day or structure your day according to your lifestyle, including family demands.
- Resist the urge to grit your teeth and tough it out, no one knows how long the pandemic will remain with us. Ensure you cater to your wellness needs and find healthy ways to deal with your stressors.
Slindokuhle Mkhize is an industrial organisational psychologist registered with the HPCSA. She holds a master’s from UKZN and runs an independent practice specializing psychological assessments, training, and wellbeing.