Burnout has become a buzzword, lately. Everyone's telling us we're burnt out, but not doing nearly enough to alleviate it.
Originally, when the pandemic hit, employers and media outlets told us to give ourselves some grace. We were living through a historical moment, they said. We were living through unprecedented times. But as the months ticked by, they got impatient. Those who were given time off to process were forced back into rigid work schedules. Life didn't pause, it just...adapted.
Everyone coped with the pandemic differently. For some, they needed to have less going on because of the tremendous amount of emotional energy they poured into living life (especially with kids, job-hunting, illness, and other strains now thrown into their day-to-day.) For others, they became hyper-productive, fixating on what they could control when their life became distinctly uncontrollable. Spoiler alert: I'm the latter.
Here's the problem: life may have adapted, but the sheer amount that we're dealing with didn't change. We're still punishing ourselves for being unable to handle a catastrophe and a global context beyond the scope of our understanding. When this is all over, when we have time to breathe and reflect, I have the feeling that many of us will realize that we had a tremendous amount on our shoulders that we didn't comprehend at the time.
A loved one is sick.
It's harder to focus on work over Zoom.
My job might get furloughed.
It's harder for me to stay fit when I don't have social accountability.
The kids don't understand what's going on.
The list goes on. It's also nonlinear. Some people had their breakdowns at the beginning of the pandemic, while others are hitting their wall now.
The New Year always brings a freshness with it -- a desire to change. Right now, we don't have a lot that can change, and we're exhausting our willpower by getting through the day. (Remember my post on willpower? Our batteries are being drained significantly more quickly now than during "normal" life.)
Emotional maintenance occurs differently for everybody. Some people need to be around loved ones to recharge; others need complete quiet. There are some universal signs however; if any of these sound familiar, you may be emotionally burnt out.
1. Sleeping poorly
You're sleeping 8+ hours but still don't feel rested. You wake up exhausted. You're on your fourth cup of coffee by 10 A.M. -- or maybe have been sleeping until noon because there's no reason to get yourself moving earlier.
Sleep is one of our most fundamental needs, yet it's one of the first habits to go out the window when we're encountering a rough period.
Have you ever heard the quote "if you hate everyone, get something to eat, and if you think everyone hates you, get some sleep"? It's pretty accurate. Additionally, since we're spending so much time on our screens, we've seriously thrown off our circadian rhythms. Humans are meant to get up with the sun and go down with it also, but we don't always honor that.
If you're having trouble sleeping, try the following:
Swap out your bedding for sweat-wicking, eco-friendly versions that feel like a treat.
Upgrade your pillow.
Add melatonin or CBD to your nighttime routine.
Use a real alarm clock, not your phone. (You should charge that in the other room.)
Keep a book or journal by your bed to unwind -- or, alternatively, only retire to the bedroom when you're ready to sleep, if you unwind in another area of the home.
Give yourself something to look forward to first thing in the morning.
2. Screen time is making you irritable.
I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about how important it is for me to turn off notifications on my phone. It's truly a life-changing magic. We genuinely forget how much time it takes to check our phone every few minutes, and how often it distracts us from our accomplishments that day. Plus, if you're on your computer all day for work, sometimes looking at another screen at night can make you want to scream -- even if you don't realize it at first.
Right now, when I look at my phone, I see friends that I haven't been able to see in months, family members that I miss, inspirational travel photos from places I want to go that are now inaccessible to me. It doesn't mean I'm not grateful for my life here in Hawai'i, with my incredible husband and a lifestyle I love. But it does mean that sometimes, in order to be fully grateful for my present, I have to know when to unplug. During the pandemic, it is especially relevant.
Some solutions, when you realize screen time is burning you out:
Go outside. Leave your phone at home.
If you can't, keep it on airplane mode.
Communicate to your colleagues and friends that you may have designated times to check your phone. If they contact you outside that window, allow yourself flexibility in responding.
You should not have to be accessible via your email all the time. If it's helpful, have a block of time every day in which you check it.
Know when you've exhausted your bandwidth, and be willing to tell others: I love you, I would love to talk to you, but I don't have the attention span or energy to give this conversation as much focus as I'd like.
Explore non-screen related activities. Play games instead of watching the new show with your household. Read a book.
3. The small things are getting you down.
You know how when you're a kid, if you drop your toy in the mud, or spill juice on yourself, you immediately start to cry? It's not that that one aspect of your life has so singularly rattled your world. It's that you're so intently focused on such few things that when one of them goes wrong, your entire reality comes crashing down.
Even as an adult, it's easy to still do that when we are overwhelmed. For example, I've had moments where the smallest aspect of my day has completely destroyed me. The grocery store being out of lemons didn't make me cry, not really. It's that I was already dealing with so much -- so burnt out, so exhausted, so worn down by a dozen other aspects of my life that mattered significantly more -- that the smallest catalyst can make everything come tumbling down.
Focusing on the little things can be a healthy way to practice gratitude. But the flip side is that sometimes they can also hurt us in ways deeper and more visceral than we would have expected.
Here's the solution:
When something little throws you into a black mood, interrogate the deeper reason. There's usually a deeper reason. Are you hungry or tired? Are you angry at the toxic family member who just always seems to trigger you? Analyze whatever has been on your mind, and how you can prioritize your mental health and happiness.
Apologize. When you blow up on someone because a small thing has derailed your ability to focus, or care for yourself and your mental health, it can feel extremely shameful. But it will make your relationship -- and your head -- a lot stronger if you can own up to doing the wrong thing as a byproduct of your emotional burnout. This also goes for work responsibilities. If you let the ball drop, let them know and take accountability.
Make a list of little things that make you happy. Or a list of fun activities; then go and do one of them.
Share your gratitude with others. Think something kind about someone? Text them. See someone struggling? Help them. Be constant and verbal about what you love about the universe, and it will reward you by helping you feel a little lighter.
How do you deal with emotional burnout? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, or over on Instagram! And no matter what happens, you will get through it.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash