COVID-19 and Emotional Burnout
August 26, 2020 | by Samir Aziz MD, ABPN

“I wish things would slow down a bit so I can rest and relax, even for just a moment.”

Between attempting to juggle our day-to-day responsibilities and trying to keep our loved ones and ourselves safe, healthy, and mentally fit, life can get overwhelming. Introduce a global pandemic into the mix and these expectations suddenly increase. As life in 2020 goes on, and we start to embrace a “new normal,” we are certainly in uncharted waters, constantly being surprised by changes in our homes and in the world around us.

Over the past five months, COVID-19 has turned our lives into a whirlwind of strong emotions. It is acceptable and, quite frankly, normal to feel fear, anxiety, and worry. Fear of going to work or to the grocery store and exposing ourselves or others to the virus. Anxiety over our job performance in a remote or virtual setting. Confusion about social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Anger over rocky relationships and frustration with our domestic partners and household members. Worry about our family and friends’ mental health. Worry about our own mental health.

It’s a burden when we try to process all these emotions. On top of this heavy combination, our normal lives continue to move at a fast pace around us. Are we ensuring balanced and healthy meals for our families at night? Are we keeping up with our mortgage payments, our utility bills, and our doctors’ appointments? Are we on top of our personal health, self-image, and self-esteem? Emotional burnout and drainage happen when we exceed our capacity for this accumulated stress and still feel the need to keep on performing in our daily lives.

Burnout presents in various ways. Your body can feel like it is in “fight or flight” mode. Heart palpitations, headaches, digestive issues, weight fluctuations, and sleep disturbances are all ways your body can react when it is dealing with chronic stress. Perhaps it presents as increased fatigue or irritability, maybe decreased personal hygiene, or even a lack of motivation and excitement about things you normally like doing.

I regularly ask myself how one can avoid constant and chronic emotional burnout. As I reflect, I realize that there are underlying mistakes that all of us make when we are challenged with emotional turbulence.

Here are some tips to navigate your current situation, avoid burnout, and reclaim your daily life.

Avoid Overcommitting Yourself and Set Realistic Expectations

We all want to feel successful and not miss meaningful opportunities, especially in a time where we might have more free time than before. Staying busy, accepting more responsibility at work, and filling this time with activities can all be rewarding and can fulfill our desire of productivity. However, we need to resist the urge to “do it all.” Supplementing our day-to-day responsibilities should instill confidence in us, not drain us and induce anxiety. Sacrificing peace of mind and self-care for more duties can increase burnout, lead to mental and physical fatigue, and create negative self-views if we do not perform up to our usual standards.

The priority should be combatting the high stress levels that we’re all feeling, rather than putting pressure on ourselves to always do more. Ask yourself, “Am I being realistic with my current thoughts and expectations with myself? Am I giving myself enough time to process and cope with the current crisis?” Recognize that your expectations for yourself might differ from someone else’s, and avoid comparing yourself to others, as this might make you feel inadequate and set unrealistic expectations for yourself.

Develop a Daily Routine and Set Boundaries

Avoid burnout by finding balance. If your job or office does not abide by typical 9 to 5 hours, create your own hours within reason and stick to them. Introduce those boundaries to your daily life and extend them to your loved ones, co-workers, and members of your immediate community. Maintain regular sleep patterns and daily exercise. Setting a schedule for yourself daily can reduce stress, allow you to become more regimented, and can help regulate and balance your emotions.

These boundaries can also extend to the daily news cycle. News headlines can be scary, and being constantly exposed to these headlines can raise our anxiety levels. As with all things that might be emotionally draining or traumatizing, you have to try to limit your exposure to whatever is depleting you. Watch a show that makes you feel happy or laugh instead of the news. Read, journal, meditate, listen to music, try a new recipe, go on a daily walk, take a virtual exercise class, or schedule virtual time to spend with distant friends and family.

Practice Mindfulness and Gratitude

Mindfulness is a tool that helps us process our emotions and manage stress and anxiety. Mindfulness is the practice of observing our thoughts through an objective lens. This helps us to avoid ruminating over negative emotions, and allows us to unpack these emotions and accept rather than judge them. It also helps to identify what things we have control over.

Finally, be grateful for what you have and what you have accomplished so far in life, focus on the blessings around you, no matter how small or simple they may be. Build trusting and loving relationships, appreciate one another, and support each other in your journeys.

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