Navigating the Perfect Storm of the Pandemic and Workplace Burnout

Written by Duncan So from The Burnout Clinic

The pandemic has put us on a path of rapidly compressing our problems into a short window of time. With public health safety measures and economic shutdowns, it’s put many of us in shock in this crisis situation.

As an effect we are experiencing heightened anxiety, fatigue, fear and worry as we deal with all of the uncertainty and forced changes in our social behaviours.

This year, we are on heightened alert of an invisible enemy that forces us to wear facemasks and wash our hands nearly everywhere we go. Many of us work at home and it’s blurred together with the rest of life, or we’re displaced and out of work. Parents balancing their children’s needs as schools implement online learning or rotating students in class rooms.

Restaurants and places of entertainment you enjoy have been shut down. Family gatherings and holidays won’t be the same this year. Travel bans keep us stuck at home.

It’s not a surprise that it’s significantly impacted our mental health.

A national survey by Statistics Canada show that those reporting poor mental health have risen from 8% to 24% since the pandemic. Feeling more nervous, anxious and on edge being the top symptoms.

As resilient as we want to be, the challenge with this pandemic is having no end in sight while also dealing with regular seasonal variables like back to school, holiday gatherings and the flu with no prior knowledge to fall back on. Everyone has their own threshold when it comes operating in reactive mode with their mental health and wellbeing.

In the corporate workplace, HR leaders feel this heavily working on the front lines of their organizations. A report by AHRI shows that HR leaders are overloaded with work with 73% working on tasks that they have neither the time nor energy to complete.

While HR professionals are coping, they are on the edge of burnout, already starting to show the first signs of burnout, like feeling tired for no reason or saying they’re not as happy in their job.

The effects of burnout from the pandemic on the already increasing burnout problems from technology and many workplace cultures will have a compounding detrimental effect on those in the workplace.

What is Burnout?

“At The Burnout Clinic, we define it as expending more energy than you can recover as a habit.”

The usual indicators of burnout include fatigue and exhaustion, increased anxiety, cynicism, reduced efficacy and existential thinking.

As employees reinforce new unhealthy habits grown from this pandemic like working longer hours, social media and Netflix binges, not exercising, more comfort junk food and panic eating to cope with stress, we can easily predict that turning those behaviors around will be challenging once they’ve hardened into habits.

It’s many habits such as these that will lock us into a downward spiral of poor mental, emotional and physical health if left unchecked.

So how do we manage our mental health and prevent us from burnout during the crisis?

1. Prioritizing your self-care is going to be key.

People often ask, how do you balance your work and life that’s already demanding, and now fit in self care too?

Whether it’s work activities, life activities or self care activities – they are all just activities.

Attempting to balance it all is an illusion.

Instead, set boundaries around what’s important to you at work, life and for yourself. What are your values in each of areas of life: career, family, health, relationships, personal and spiritual growth?

Build small habits in each area, one small habit at a time. Focus on what you need and steadily progress forward. Don’t try to do everything at once – it’s generally not sustainable and doesn’t stick.

Set your priorities and outcomes, simplify, then manage your energy and focus accordingly.

Having an accountability buddy or a coach would be very useful during this time as they can both encourage you and help identify your blind spots that may derail you.

2. Stop energy draining behaviors and coping strategies before they turn habitual.

This means stopping behaviours like having long-haul work hours, being on stand-by answering emails from waking up to going to bed, multitasking, mindless meetings, poor sleep hygiene, poor nutrition and eating junk foods, dehydration, and extended periods of social media usage.

Instead, set a clear work schedule and boundaries around it. That will help you significantly with focus and avoiding distractions. Manage your email by using rules and out of office accordingly to set clear expectations and how to communicate with your peers and management effectively.

Skip unnecessary meetings and focus on work autonomy; outcomes first approach with follow through and spend meetings with clear outcomes that you will contribute to. This could include intentional creative sessions or meetings about making clear and important decisions to move forward.

Setting an hour rule before and after bed for no digital devices helps with proper sleep and keeping your brain calm during the wind down and up points. Eat nutritious food and skip on fast empty calories. Drink clean filtered water.

Lastly, turn on app usage monitoring to limit access to your social media apps, browser and email to line up with your family, social and personal care time.

3. Seek professional support and consider on-going therapy to prevent burnout

With the increased frequency and intensity of stressful activities in our attention based economy, therapy and support is almost mandatory in today’s age. That gray zone of feeling uncomfortable with getting outside support will really soon become irrelevant as we begin to recognize how we’ve socially designed our environments today to hammer our psychology and emotional wellbeing.

Unless we move towards a more socially conscious society, even with the most developed discipline and resilience, most of us are surrounded by internet connected smart technologies that are designed to influence your attention.

Added with the compression of the pandemic, there is no better moment to begin finding and developing relationships with a mental health practitioner or coach and spend focused time to untangle your mental and emotional baggage you unconsciously carry through our day to day as regular mental health maintenance.

Take our free survey here to find out if you’re burning out and how far down that path you’re at. If you do wander into mid-late stage burnout territory, it’s usually a good idea to seek support because chances are your willpower is already thin and it’s very difficult to identify your own blind spots.

4. Increase wellness activities

While self care means prioritizing yourself, wellness activities are what you fill that time with exercises that energizes and fills you up (vs. stopping things that drain you).

Be as creative as you like here and be sensitive to what you enjoy the most.

This could include activities like meditation, going on walks and hikes, journaling and reading a book. Play with different breathing techniques, musical instruments, listen to soothing music, fold origami, bake, cook, adult coloring, painting and even arts and crafts.

Movement based wellness activities like dance, Qi-gong, Yoga, martial arts, boxing, etc. The options are almost endless and the wellness industry is expanding every year with new creative ideas and timeless modalities.

Burnout and this pandemic has created a perfect storm that will negatively impact our mental health if left to its own devices. The good news, we’re not alone.

Mental health professionals and leaders, whether inside or outside the workplace are all working creatively to ensure we come out of this situation stronger on the other side.


About Duncan So and The Burnout Clinic

Duncan So, Founder & Executive Director at The Burnout Clinic. Duncan has been a child of corporate burnout that has led him professionally into the field of human flourishing for over a decade working on systemic social change projects. He’s a social entrepreneur and change agent, on a mission to create a more passionate world building systems and programs for companies and communities on the path of making social good.

Board Certified with the Association of Integrative Psychology. A Master Practitioner in Mental Emotional Release, NLP and Hypnosis. He holds a Bachelor of Applied Sciences, Computer Engineering from the University of Toronto.

At the Burnout Clinic, we help leaders who are exhausted, burning out and overworked who have tried everything to recover and realize it’s not enough. We’ve combined a two-day mental and emotional release process with premium vacations to stop burnout at the source. People return to work happy, productive and fulfilled in their work and life.

On the path of burnout and need support? Book a free confidential consultation, and our team will be happy to learn how we can best support you.

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