How to recover from burnout even if you are burned to a crisp

By Dr. Liz Slonena, PsyD

If you’re reading this, you may be burning the candle at both ends. Smothered, overwhelmed, and confined, it’s a challenge to even catch a break between back-to-back Zoom calls, calming the kids, and hushing the pups. Burnout hurts, but it hurts even more during a pandemic. You may be desperately craving a vacation or the opportunity to socialize, anything to escape “the new normal,” but even that may be too much of a mental hurdle to plan. As the one-year anniversary approaches, where masks are mandatory and certain hobbies have faded away, your COVID-19 fatigue may be turning into COVID-19 burnout.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a syndrome of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion cause by chronic and excessive stress. Burnout takes many forms and can creep up on even the most resilient people.

Take a moment and check if any of these sneaky warning signs resonate with you:

  1. Procrastinating more than ever before
  2. Forgetfulness or persistent brain fog
  3. The need for even more caffeine (or alcohol/other substances) to cope with the days
  4. Irritability and grouchiness over the smallest things
  5. Withdrawal from even your favorite people
  6. Feeling emotionally and physically depleted no matter how much sleep you get
  7. Changes in appetite – not hungry at all or raiding the pantry at any given moment
  8. Muscle aches, headaches, chest or stomach pains, shortness of breath, or even heart palpitations
  9. Excessive self-criticism or cynicism
  10. Feeling bored or apathetic towards activities that usually excite you

If you identify with a few (or all) of these symptoms, know that you are not alone. The hardest step is the first step in accepting that you may be experiencing burnout. The feeling won’t last forever.

It’s important to note, stress alone doesn’t cause burnout.

Stress and limited support outlets can result in burnout.

And there is something you can do to recover from it starting today.

From gym classes, concerts, retail therapy, to weekly happy-hour with friends, your go-to stress relief strategies may have been restricted with the pandemic. Not having something positive to look forward to after a long work week is a recipe for burnout.

Here are 4 strategies to learn how to recharge your batteries.

1. Write down an intention to recover

Sorry, working more to push through it, gritting and white knuckling until the pandemic is over isn’t the solution here. Having a daily intention can be a reminder that change is possible. Write down who you intend to be to create more balance in your life.

  • I create space to breathe
  • I am fully present with myself and others
  • I nourish my body with healthy actions
  • I protect my peace
  • I am pacing myself

Writing your intention down near your workspace or a highly visible area (phone, fridge, or front door) can be an external reminder to shift into taking care of yourself. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

2. Rest like an Olympic athlete

Pause and reflect: What would your life be like if you took your rest as seriously as your job? Probably completely different. Get inspired from Olympic athletes who hold rest as a nonnegotiable and necessary ingredient to prevent injury and perform optimally. Athletes rigorously plan their rest days, scheduling them in advance into their planners. By doing less, you can become more.

How to schedule your pace and space:

  • Mark it in your calendar as protected time and set an alarm to take a breather, even if it is only for 1 or 5 minutes.
  • Recognize this time is yours to recharge.
  • Take 3 slow, intentional breaths. See if you can exhale twice as long as you inhale.
  • Listen to your favorite song between meetings.
  • Close your eyes and visualize your dream post-pandemic vacation
  • Do some office yoga or give yourself a self-massage (like using a foam roller).

3. Add rituals to create meaning and a sense of safety to relax

For some, the pandemic erased meaningful rituals to signify the beginning and end of a workday. Working from home may mean working from dawn until dusk, and then answering emails until falling asleep with your phone in your hand. The simple rituals of sending kids to school, kissing your loved ones, or leaving the office and driving home signal the body and mind that there is a transition, closure, and a change is about to happen. Rituals also give the body and mind a signal that it is safe to relax. Here are some simple rituals that you can implement:

  • Commit to really stop working (and checking email) at a certain hour. Set an alarm to get you unstuck from the work cycle.
  • After your last meeting or last hour on the job, immediately get up and do something different. Anything but work. Go to a different room, go outside, or call a friend, to reduce temptation to check one last email.
  • At the close of business, set an alarm to go off to your favorite song and dance off your stress.
  • Shut down your work technology and place it in another room to make it even less accessible.
  • Intentionally ground yourself with your senses to soothe – light your favorite candle, create a calming snack or cuddle up with your furry friend and really slow down and savor this moment. Even say to yourself, “I give myself permission to relax.”

4. Give yourself permission to receive help

The pandemic has flipped our lives upside down, stress is at an all-time high, and perhaps your trusty coping strategies are now bittersweet memories of a pre-COVID life.

According to researchers, the next pandemic may be a mental health pandemic.  But, you don’t have to struggle alone.

  • A therapist can help you learn new ways to cope in these strange times.
  • Therapy is not like it’s shown on TV (We won’t ask you about your mother, unless you really want us to).
  • And, it’s more affordable than you think, even without insurance.

If you read these tips and want to dive deeper to reignite your spark, you can see a qualified therapist at the CBT Counseling Center. We offer affordable, efficient, and evidence-based treatments to get you out of this burnout funk. We can also teach you new ways to manage stress, anxiety, depression, and other health struggles to help you live a brighter life in these dark times.

We can be contacted at any time by phone at (828) 350-1177 or via the online contact form that’s available on our website.