If we weren’t there already, a lot of us are starting to hit a major “pandemic wall.” This could feel eerily similar to burnout in a lot of ways, including emotional, physical, and/or mental exhaustion, low motivation, depressed mood, and anxiety. None of us have lived through a global tragedy quite like this before - and while as a species we continue to show remarkable resiliency, we’re only human after all and can only withstand so much before we start to see (and feel) the consequences. We’re right there with you - here are some ways you can actively prevent burnout (even during a pandemic!).
Mind the “multitask”
Most of us belong to the “multitasking generation.” As technology advances and functional barriers dissipate, we become more able to carry out our responsibilities in a variety of different ways and locations. We may be responding to Slack messages while also keeping an eye on our email, half-listening to our colleagues discuss a problem, and trying to scarf down our lunch, all the while keeping an eye on our three-year-old child finger painting near a white couch. While we may feel like we’re able to do all of this more-or-less effectively, the toll this kind of constant context switching has on our brain is severe.
Think of your brain working on one task like a freight train chugging along on a track. Then, every time you switch tasks, the train needs to jump to a completely different track. It literally has to slam on the brakes slowly enough to not crash, but quickly enough to switch over at the fork to the next junction. This uses way more energy and puts more wear-and-tear on the train. Your brain is just like this. Every time you switch tasks (context switch), you use way more mental energy than you would if you would just focus on one task for a set time and then switch over more intentionally. Today or this week, try planning out your day more intentionally rather than simply reacting to whatever message or task has popped up at the moment. This habit triggers stress and anxiety partially because it takes away our control. Be consciously disciplined enough to do one thing at a time more often, and just see how your energy, stress, and anxiety levels change.
Pay attention to how your off-the-clock activities make you feel
Speaking of multitasking, many of us find ourselves scrolling our phones during dinner or while we’re also half-watching a TV show. Not only does this rob us of the richer satisfaction we’d get from just enjoying one thing, it makes it much harder to be self-aware of how things make us feel. If we end our night with kind of a “bleh” feeling, but don’t know why - it could have been triggered by the show, by a photo we saw on the internet, or by our friend’s comment during a text conversation we were having the whole time too. Tonight, try to really tune in to what you’re doing in your free time and why. Think about how it makes you feel in the moment and a few hours or days later. Trim out what’s not bringing you joy, satisfaction, or mental stimulation, and bring in more of what does. Pro tip: be particularly conscious about spending too much time on social media. We don’t want to perseverate the habit of letting what other people do in their lives distract us from living out what we want to do in our own.
Break down your procrastination behaviours
Some of us are worse at procrastinating than others - but often the reason we put things off is because they trigger some uncomfortable emotion in us that we haven’t addressed and don’t want to feel. Of course, it’s always possible that we put something off because it’s mind-numbingly boring and we just don’t feel like doing it. Often, though, it’s deeper than that. We might procrastinate because the task triggers some feeling of inadequacy, anxiety, or fear. For those dealing with symptoms of Imposter Syndrome (the fear that we’re not worthy of our accomplishments and will eventually be exposed as merely an “imposter”), often procrastination stems from the fear that what we produce won’t be perfect, worthy or enough. Deep down, we are insecure about our professional abilities and doubt the accolades given to us by others; so we avoid tasks that we perceive would “expose” our true inadequacy. We procrastinate because we’re afraid of facing our insecurity. It’s also common to procrastinate due to exhaustion and low motivation themselves - if this is the case, your cup isn’t being refilled and you may need to up your self-care and identify which needs in your life aren’t being met.
Protect your boundaries like your life depends on it
The pandemic has made boundaries vitally more important yet much harder to maintain. For instance, pre-pandemic, we may have gotten our alone time via our favourite yoga studio on Tuesday nights, or been able to decompress with our friends over drinks after work once a week. We might have played in intermural sports leagues with our friends or cooked with our mom twice a month at her place. You’re not alone if the ways you used to care for yourself are no longer available - and this makes it really hard to ensure you get your diverse needs met. What this means is that while we’re in a hyper vulnerable state, we have to be that much more intentional with respecting ourselves. This looks like closing your email after work and not even glancing it again until the next morning, not answering the phone when a friend calls who always leaves you feeling drained, or saying no to picking your neighbour’s kids up from daycare for the 3rd time this week. Know what you need to do to keep your mental health in check and stick to your boundaries without guilt. They are absolutely essential.