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Unhappy Anniversary; Dealing With Pandemic Burnout

This week marked the 365-day point in the pandemic and many of us are feeling this heavy marker in time. Let that sink in for a moment. We’ve had a year of new normals, unprecedented times, changes in routines, and increased stress and anxiety. This week, I read social media post after post of people crying and breaking down, along with messages from people who said their emotions were running high and their tempers were on edge; I was personally feeling all the feels, as well. Many of us are, sadly, dealing with Pandemic Burnout.

Back in March 2020, Harvard experts helped us understand the main triggers of stress: novelty, unpredictability, threat, and lack of control. As luck would have it, this pandemic cues each of those stress triggers. By now, we’ve lived with this stress for a year and know the toll it can take. Microsoft studied the effects of the pandemic on work teams impacted by the pandemic and the information gathered was compelling.

Key Findings

  1. The pandemic increased burnout at work – in some countries more than others.

  2. Causes of workplace stress differ for Firstline and remote workers.

  3. There are more communications and fewer boundaries.

  4. No commute may be hurting, not helping, remote worker productivity.

  5. Studies show meditation can fight burnout and stress during the workday.

Does any of this sound familiar? With so much uncertainty and seemingly everything on the line because of the pandemic, it is not uncommon to have increased stress, burnout, and catastrophizing thoughts. While I have a lot to say about stress, let’s first talk about catastrophic thinking.

Catastrophic thinking happens when thoughts lead to:

  • Worst-case scenarios

  • High levels of anxiety

  • “What-ifs” that may not be realistic

You are less likely to find solutions when you’re dwelling on the worst that can happen. That’s because:

  • Anxiety creates a strong fight-or-flight response. The release of the stress hormone cortisol may limit your ability to think critically and creatively.

  • You waste critical energy by planning for a worst-case scenario that isn’t likely to happen.

  • You focus on areas that are out of your control.

The way we stop this cycle is to find strategies that help you think in a more productive way. The key to helping your mind and body shift from the fight-or-flight response to a problem-solving mode is to broaden your awareness around these patterns, then consciously tap into positive emotions which help to calm us so we can think more clearly and creatively.

Step 1:

Notice when catastrophic thoughts have hijacked your attention or are causing worry, stress, or anxiety.

Step 2:

Recognize that you’re not your best when under stress. Have a plan to shift to a more positive emotion. You might call a loved one, watch funny videos, or practice deep breathing. Even telling yourself your thoughts are unrealistic can ease your stress and give you hope.

Step 3:

Address the problem once you’re thinking clearly. Focus on the areas where you have control. You may surprise yourself with a novel, creative solution. Using positive emotions to accurately assess the facts and tap into your creativity can help you make good decisions and solve problems, now and in the future.

Now let’s focus a bit on your Pandemic Burnout and stress.

Dr. Amaal Starling of Scottsdale Arizona’s Mayo Clinic recommended trying to maintain consistent sleep, exercise, hydration, and eating habits. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep a night; going to bed and getting up around the same time; and 20 to 30 minutes of exercise, two or three times a week, she said, adding that a brisk walk can be sufficient. To prevent fluctuations in blood sugar, Starling encouraged eating six small meals throughout the day.

It is equally important to incorporate stress-management techniques into your daily routine. A randomized clinical trial published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggested that mindfulness-based stress reduction, such as yoga, can improve quality of life, levels of depression and disability, among others.

25 things to help you with your own self-care:

1. Talk about it and release

2. Unplug and take a break; be mindful of your intake

3. Look for the helpers

4. Look for resources (many of which are in my Client Portal)

5. Channel your emotion into something positive

6. Honor your feelings

7. Take care of yourself physically

8. Help someone else

9. Take a long walk

10. Write a letter to get it all out… and then re-write another if you can’t let it go

11. Engage in an online yoga class

12. Go watch a TEDx video on something that feeds your soul; learning is often the key to tapping into inspiration

13. Join an organization that inspires you

14. Start a blog/ Write in a journal

15. Go to bed early—restore and recharge

16. Watch a funny movie

17. Engage in your hobby/ Start a hobby

18. Restore with your faith or mediation

19. Go do something daring—conquer a fear and take control

20. Do some grounding—go lay in the grass

21. Find solitude in a task that allows you to tune everyone else out

22. Do something creative and out of the box

23. Take a bath/ luxuriate

24. Call someone you love and catch up—be mindful in your communication

25. Set boundaries without guilt

Even if things feel like they’re getting back to a semblance of normal, that doesn't mean that we're finished processing it. Be respectful of yourself and your needs. Immerse yourself in something that empowers you and increases your sense of safety, control, and power. Rigorous self-care habits are a powerful healing ally to get us through tough times.

Things will get better. In fact, I believe they ARE getting better.

We are seeing our national infection rates retreating as more people are getting vaccinated. We are seeing more focus on how to control our stress and finding creative ways to normalize. We’re turning inward and finding peace with these new patterns. When I look at the past year, what I’ve learned “in captivity” has been helpful:

· Outdoors is better than indoors

· Masks and distancing work

· Smaller groups are safer and somehow more comforting

· Mindfulness in my intake and communication brings me peace

· I look forward to my second vaccine shot, and all the extra yuck that may come with it, this week

· I know that the fact that I haven’t gotten Covid involved a lot of good luck

· I am so much more resilient than I ever realized

And, I’m guessing you can relate to much of this, too.

Much love, to you… we’ll get through this.

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