Last updated: The devastated, disappointed, and inconvenienced: Emotional burnout & COVID-19

The devastated, disappointed, and inconvenienced: Emotional burnout & COVID-19


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On the evening of  March 11th, while I was driving home from a local concert, I got the news that the NBA was suspending the rest of its season because of COVID-19. The following day, I went to my local grocery store to find the shelves empty, with only soy and almond milk left in the milk section. That Saturday, an announcement was made in my town that we’d be kicking off the initial stages of “Shelter in Place.”

It’s strange to have such a specific point in time as a reference to when everything changed.

Three weeks later, reading tons of quarantine stories and news reports, I can group those who are being affected by this pandemic into 3 groups: The Inconvenienced, The Disappointed, and The Devastated.

The Inconvenienced: Those that can still work, but can’t do the daily activities they enjoy. They’re likely adjusting to work at home with their families, while their children adjust to homeschooling or virtual learning. They have cabin fever, may be bored out of their minds, but are healthy and still have an income.

The Disappointed: Those that, in addition to being inconvenienced, have had to postpone or cancel major events like weddings, graduations, and vacations. They are missing out on key milestones and navigating that emotional loss, but are otherwise healthy and okay.

The Devastated: Those that have been directly impacted by the pandemic itself. Either they are ill themselves, or they know someone who is fighting for their life, or has lost the battle. They are the doctors, nurses, and hospital staff on the frontlines. They are volunteers, delivery drivers, and grocery store employees working around the clock. They are those whose anxiety, depression, or loneliness make the isolation of quarantine unbearable. They are those who have lost their jobs, and are struggling to provide for themselves and their families.

I fall into the “inconvenienced” category – the “luckiest” of the three. I am constantly trying to put my situation in perspective, feeling like I don’t have the right to be so upset, because all things considered, I am “better off.” And yet, no amount of positive energy or mental reframing that makes this feel okay. We were simply not prepared for this crisis and all the emotions that it has brought to surface.

COVID-19 and burnout

My general feeling lately is lethargic. Usually I start work by 7:30am, but now I’m struggling to find the energy to even get out of bed before 8:30. When I am working, the creative juices aren’t flowing like they usually do. I feel like I’m checking boxes on the things that need to get done, but my heart isn’t in it.

I promise to meet a deadline, and then miss it by two to three days. I still look forward to the weekend, but no matter how much I sleep and try to disconnect, I don’t feel rested. With Shelter in Place cancelling outside activities, I finally have the time to work on my passion projects and hobbies, but not the motivation. Things are moving, but they are far from normal.

After texts, calls, and video chats with family, friends, and colleagues across the globe, it became clear that I’m not alone. So many, if not all of us – even those of us in the “inconvenienced” group, are experiencing some level of burnout.

But this burnout is different from what we usually talk about. As one BBC article explains:

“Usually, when we think of burnout, we think of working 12-hour days, answering Slack messages long after we clock out and finishing a day job only to dive straight into a side hustle. But in a crisis like this, burnout can emerge because of something different – what experts call ‘decision fatigue’. With news changing all the time, information is constant: whether it’s about the pandemic itself, whether it’s about things you should be doing, schedules for your kids, how to work best from home – it’s just a lot of information … This decision fatigue, combined with the pressure we’re putting on ourselves to make smart, safe choices for ourselves, our families and our communities, can lead to pandemic-specific burnout.”

Tips for keeping burnout at bay

Set boundaries around your news intake.

It’s important to be informed, but 24-hour updates takes a toll on your mental and emotional health. Try limiting your daily news intake to something that feels reasonable for you (I’ve been trying no more than five minutes) and make a point balance it with some good news or other light, heartwarming content (I can recommend some great, funny quarantine content if you’re looking).

Make a point to move.

The issue with working from home, especially to those who aren’t used to it, is that you find yourself going hours on end without moving your body. Physically and mentally, it’s not a good habit. Make it a point to get up and move throughout the day, and step outside when the weather is nice. When the sun is out, I’ve been getting fresh air by going on short walks in my neighborhood (which thankfully isn’t too crowded).

But even when I can’t get outside, I’ll give my eyes a break from screen-time every half hour or so and stretch or do a little jig at my desk, just to get my body moving. If you’ve got a standing desk, great! But if not, try stacking your laptop on top of books and encyclopedias just to give yourself a break from sitting.

Don’t be ashamed to do something “mindless.”

Binge watch, pull out your old DVDs, play board games, or read a “beach read” book. When I find myself starting to stare out the window and zone out or spiral, I’ve been picking up my kindle and rereading the Harry Potter series – it puts me in a great headspace. (I am currently on book 3!)

Find safe ways to help.

Donate to local charities seeking assistance (such as food banks helping those struggling to get their next meals). Reach out to the people in your life who are living alone or are susceptible to feelings of isolation and help them feel connected. I’ve noticed my always positive, glass-half-full friend who lives by herself across the country from me has been video chatting me more frequently, and it’s always the highlight of my day. Another friend made me a playlist of songs she thought I would like. There’s something about just being thought of that is balm to the soul during these times.

Once we get to the light at the end of this tunnel, recovery will look different for everyone, and that’s okay. In the meantime, remember: you are not alone. Let’s give ourselves a break.  Though it feels like it now, this will not last forever.

Check in on your employees  
and make sure they’re okay.
Free tools to do this
can be found here.

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