“I'm a mom, I have a young daughter, and in my work as a therapist, I'm always showing up for others. Sometimes that means that I have very little time for myself, and I can quickly see how my mood can change how I can feel. You can start to resent what you're doing, which I think is another word for burnout. You become misaligned with what you’re doing. Definitely in my life, I've experienced burnout many times." says Ahilia Singh Morales, RSW, a therapist based out of Markham, Ontario. Ahilia has been working in the ER during the pandemic for patients experiencing mental health crises.
What are the symptoms of burnout?
According to FSEAP, burnout is the result of “chronic, long-term stress.” In a workplace context, that can mean:
- A sense of being depleted
- Feelings of negativity and cynicism
- The inability to complete necessary tasks
Symptoms also include difficulty sleeping, more frequent illnesses, mental fatigue, irritability, anxiety, depression, and apathy.
Remote work burnout
In a recent Gallup poll, employees who work 100% remotely are suffering higher rates of burnout than those who work on-site full or part-time for the first time ever. The number of remote employees who said they suffered burnout rose 11% during the pandemic’s first wave.
By the time the second wave started in Canada, the rate of burnout rose even higher. A Capterra poll found 73% of work-from-home employees experienced burnout in 2020.
Like Ahilia, many of us are feeling the effects of burnout. The pandemic has crept into so many aspects of our lives, exaggerating existing anxieties as well as creating new stressors and challenges to navigate. And while you may have to isolate yourself from others, the symptoms of burnout you may be experiencing are normal, and we’re all feeling this together.
"Burnout is quite common, and I see it a lot. Often people will come in and say, ‘I don't feel like myself. I'm tired. I can't seem to get up in the mornings. I don't care about stuff at work anymore. It's so busy. I feel like I can't keep up with this."
- Stevie Atkins, RP
What causes remote work burnout?
There are so many factors when it comes to remote work burnout. Here are a few that pop up interview after interview, poll after poll:
- Zoom fatigue. People may find it hard getting used to video conferencing platforms like Zoom, especially if they typically spend a large percentage of their workday in meetings.
- Managing incoming messages. With all communications moved online, the sheer volume of incoming communications has increased drastically. Tracking messages across multiple platforms—email, Slack, text message—can eat away a large chunk of your day.
- Balancing work and family life. Working from home comes with the ability to take care of day-to-day chores while still “at the office.” For parents dealing with school or daycare closures, that may be a plus. You can run a load of laundry and keep an eye on the kids while sitting in on a call or completing a report at the same time. But it also means multitasking overload and more stress.
- Workdays never seem to end. With work moved online and pressure (perceived or real) to prove themselves, many remote workers are finding it hard to resist checking emails or responding to messages during off-hours, creating a sense of always being “on.”
Sound familiar? These can result in feelings of anxiety, a sense of hopelessness, imposter syndrome, worries about the future, and a changing sense of self-worth. Mixed with social isolation, these feelings can feel even more intense.
Even before COVID, there was widespread discussion of a loneliness epidemic. According to a Cigna and Ipsos poll, nearly half of Americans experience a long-term sense of loneliness or feel “left out.”
Social connection has always been the best way to fight loneliness, but COVID has moved social interactions online or limited them altogether. Routine social interactions, even fleeting ones like exchanging a few words with the supermarket cashier, have been disrupted by lockdowns and restricted us to our immediate households.
The effects of loneliness
In an interview with Global News, Vancouver psychiatrist Dr. Shimi Kang discussed the physical impact of loneliness.
“Loneliness is linked to the release of cortisol, which actually disrupts our immune system and weakens our immune system and leads to muscle wasting [which] predictably leads to anxiety, depression and eventually even psychosis and suicidal thoughts.”
The effects of loneliness can impact people differently based on their ages and living situations. For instance, it can lead to sleep disturbances in children and adolescents. For older adults and seniors, loneliness is more likely to manifest as depressive symptoms, difficulty concentrating and maintaining healthy habits and caring for themselves. Some studies suggest loneliness may even have a health impact roughly equal to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Combatting the effects of social isolation
You’re probably familiar with the common tips like scheduling routine socially distanced visits with friends and family members, regular exercise, enjoying the outdoors, meditation, and #SelfCare. If you feel like social isolation is worsening your mental health, you should consider speaking with a therapist.
Most important of all is practicing patience and gentleness with yourself. It’s hard to say when, but eventually, restrictions will loosen. Take things one day at a time.
“Your cellphone needs to be charged for it to work. Many of us are living on very low battery right now and don't know what we need to recharge us– that is something that can be explored in therapy. What is it that is going to recharge you to feel more vital, more energetic, happier, and more joyful?”
Recharge your mental wellbeing
Overworking, loneliness, and pandemic-induced anxiety will not disappear overnight. Like the virus itself, anxiety about the future has shifted and evolved throughout the pandemic. With the end potentially in sight, that feeling of anxiety has evolved yet again—what will it mean to return to “normal”? After working on a new routine for managing household tasks, childcare, work, and other obligations, it may be stressful to make further adjustments of any kind yet again.
It’s important to keep checking in with ourselves and our loved ones. Take the steps you need to improve your mental health and develop healthy coping mechanisms for the future. Therapy is a great option, especially if you crave having your concerns heard in a safe environment and learning new strategies to deal with stress and loneliness.v
But whatever challenges you face, remember to be kind to yourself. We’re living through a pandemic, and this is not normal, even if it’s been over a year. Sometimes doing your best will be calling in sick and swaddling yourself in blankets on the couch with all of the snacks. Other times it might be diving into a deep spring cleaning or a project at work. Everyone is doing their best, and so are you.