By Taylor Adams, Manager of Workplace Mental Health at Mental Health America
It has been 23 weeks since MHA began working from home because of COVID-19. Daily life has changed a lot over the course of the last five months, including more hours of sleep. Could sleeping more be the result of more time spent indoors or is it a recurring symptom of depression? (That is probably a different conversation…) Although I am getting enough sleep, I have never been more mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. Instead of taking walks like I used to at the office, I find myself collapsing on my bed midday for my breaks. Why am I so tired?
Since the start of COVID-19, many organizations moved to remote work as an alternative to working at the office, and millions of employees experienced a rapid shift in their routines, schedules, and lifestyles. People are now sharing the same space with spouses, partners, children, and pets but are still expected to maintain the same amount of productivity and communication as if they were in the office. To make up for lost time, people may be working longer hours and struggling to establish boundaries between “work” and “home”. These new challenges and change in routine can lead to chronic stress and an increased risk for burnout.
One popular phrase circulating on social media states, “You are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.” The last five months have been an unrelentless roller coaster of information, stress, and anxiety. A certain amount of stress is healthy and is intended to help your body react quickly and effectively to a high-pressure situation. However, chronic stress, a state where you’re perpetually reacting with the fight or flight response, can pose serious concerns for your physical and mental health and lead to burnout.
As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Burnout is specific to the workplace, and there are three primary signs of burnout.
- Exhaustion – Restlessness, depleted energy, irritability, negative impact on relationships with family and coworkers
- Personal Efficacy – Confidence in one’s ability to succeed, doing the bare minimum, easily distracted, just going through the motions
- Cynicism – Withdraw from work activities, reduced feelings of empathy and responsibility towards coworkers and work, resentment and hatred towards coworkers and work
Unfortunately, burnout doesn’t tend to go away without some type of intervention. Understanding the source of your stress or burnout can help you identify solutions for how to reduce its impact and return to a greater sense of ease.
This may include learning techniques for stress or workload management, taking a personal day to recover, or taking a vacation to recharge. It may be time to think about changing managers, teams, or projects, or seeking out other positions or responsibilities within the organization.
During these tumultuous times, it is completely understandable to be feeling burnt out. If you feel like you may be on the verge of burnout, please don’t hesitate to have that conversation with the appropriate person at your organization. Now is the time to challenge your understanding of burnout and how it applies to you, your manager, or your co-workers in an office or remote environment. For more information, you can access MHA’s Employee Support Guide at https://mhanational.org/employeesupportguide.