1 August 2021
By Sylvie Tremblay
 
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5 ways to fight against pandemic burnout

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A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are starting to reflect on how our lives have changed – from how we live, socialise, communicate, entertain, shop to how we work. 

Those in essential services may still be required to go into the office or be on-site. But for many others, working from home while handling various family interruptions has become the new normal.

Both situations can be extremely stressful and can lead to burnout.

The World Health Organisation describes burnout as “a feeling of intense fatigue, loss of control, and an inability to produce concrete results at work”. Much worse than ordinary fatigue, burnout makes it challenging for people to cope with stress and handle day-to-day responsibilities.

Workplace stress and burnout affect your job satisfaction and your quality of life outside of work. But critically, they also impact your health. Studies have linked excessive stress to a higher risk of heart disease , stroke, and even cancer.

Identifying the early symptoms of burnout not only helps you lead a happier life but a healthier one too. Here’s how to tell if you’re on the edge of burnout and what to do to turn things around.
 
Assess your risk of burnout

Burnout is on the rise across the board. Anyone can be at risk for developing burnout, regardless of occupation.

To assess your risk of burnout, look beyond your job as well. People experience burnout for a variety of reasons. Things like a personal crisis, life event, or more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, can also add to your stress – and your risk of burnout. Even positive life events, like having a baby, can temporarily up your risk. Personality characteristics like needing to be in control, perfectionism, and being “Type A” can also increase your risk of burnout.
 
Look for early warning signs that you're heading for burnout

Burnout can affect both your physical and mental health. Creeping workplace stress can cause a range of symptoms.

If you’re now working from home or working in an essential service, you might notice a shift in your approach to work – say, from meeting deadlines easily to working at the last minute. That can cause you to feel less satisfied with your job. You might also feel sad, anxious, irritable, and less productive. You may even dread getting out of bed in the morning.

Finally, burnout and stress can also cause physical health issues. Watch out for unexplained headaches, GI problems, or difficulty sleeping.
 
How to handle stress and prevent burnout

If the symptoms above sound familiar, you might be suffering from excessive work-related stress or burnout. Stress may be unavoidable, but burnout is preventable so here are 5 ways to avoid it.

1. Lighten your demanding workload or ask for flexible hours. Look for tasks you could delegate or deprioritise to streamline your workload. Try talking with your boss about shuffling your responsibilities – it could help your work feel fresh and exciting again.

Or, talk to your manager about having flexible work hours if you’re now working from home. This can help you set aside time to take care of your family. That way, you can avoid or reduce the number of interruptions you may get during your working hours.

2. When not managed well, short-term stress can contribute to burnout. There are several strategies that you can use to cope with stress. For instance, set your phone to do-not-disturb at night and limit email to work hours to ease your stress.

3. Make health a priority, even when you’re tired. A balanced diet and regular exercise both nourish your body and help relieve burnout. Try healthy meal preps to get you started. Get in a few minutes of exercise at home or try a brisk walk outside if you can.

4. Reach out to your loved ones. Support from your friends, family, and colleagues can help ease your stress. You may not be able to see your family, friends, or co-workers in person during this period of social distancing. But you can still connect them by phone, email, or video chat.

5. Get professional help. The right mental health-care provider is an outlet to share your worries. They can also help identify personalised solutions to manage your stress. Be sure you’re maximising your workplace group benefits to access e-counselling and virtual care services.
 
Burnout is real and this can be avoided by making more time for self-care. Even if you’re working long hours, studying for exams, or taking care of young children, remember to sprinkle some joy into each day. Try going for a walk in your neighbourhood, talk to a friend or watch an enjoyable program on television. Simple self-care gestures like these can stop stress from turning into something more serious, like burnout.

Remember, if at any time, stress and burnout are causing you to worry about your health, seek the advice of an appropriate health professional.

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