How to overcome pandemic burnout

How to overcome pandemic burnout

Last updated on 28th January, 2022 at 10:21 am

Living under lockdown for almost two years has taken its toll on our mental health. Here’s how to recognise – and find relief from – pandemic burnout.

When the COVID-19 outbreak sent South Africa into lockdown in March 2020, few people thought that we’d still be living in a pandemic at the end of 2021. Despite the rollout of the vaccine, new variants continue to mutate and spread. The effects of this will no doubt follow us into 2022. One of the many fallouts of the pandemic is the significant toll it has taken on our mental health. The 2021 Household Pulse Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that 37% of those surveyed reported symptoms of an anxiety disorder (in 2019, the figure was 11%).

Sanlam Reality members (excluding Reality Access for Fedhealth), have access to Trauma, Assault & HIV Assist as one of their benefits. Get 24-hour medical assistance and counselling telephonically.

What is pandemic burnout?

For almost two years we have been living in lockdown, with ever-changing degrees of interaction being permitted. With less socialising and limited travel options, many of us are spending all day indoors and online. But despite having more ‘free time’ due to things like the lack of our work commutes, many of us are still feeling stressed, anxious, unproductive and lacking purpose. “Getting to the point of burnout means that you have ignored your body’s signals and extended yourself beyond your current capabilities,” explains certified mediator and life coach, Julia Fourie. “The reason that many people are experiencing pandemic burnout is the combination of pressure from work and daily life, and in some cases, fear and grief – associated with the virus itself.”

A survey conducted by Pharma Dynamics revealed that 56% of South Africans had struggled with their mental wellbeing since the onset of the pandemic. It’s not surprising, with Statistics SA reporting that 2.2 million jobs were lost in South Africa in the second quarter of 2020, and as of August 2021, 78 000 South Africans had lost their lives to COVID-19. Working from home has also been easier for some and less so for others. Many people have struggled without the daily interaction that work life brings with it. It has also led to some people working longer hours or finding it difficult to switch off. We don’t know what things will look like next year or the year after, but we can look at ways to find balance in these uncertain times. Here are four practical ways to avoid, or overcome, pandemic burnout.

1. Check in with yourself

“It’s important to do this at least once a day,” advises Fourie. “This requires you to pause whatever it is you’re doing and evaluate how you are feeling. If it’s not good – take a few minutes to recentre yourself by taking a few deep breaths. This will help to calm down your nervous system and reduce feelings of anxiety.”

2. Take daily action

“Often when you take the time to slow down during your daily check-in, you become aware of things that are causing you stress,” says Fourie. “The next step – and one that should be taken immediately afterwards – is to try to do something to alleviate it.” Take a break, eat something, or if you’ve been ignoring an email you need to address or have been procrastinating a project – try to tackle one thing that is contributing to your stress.

3. Practise self-care

Self-care doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Just 20 minutes of mindful meditation per day can have significant benefits for your wellbeing. Good-quality sleep, free from technology and other distractions, is also crucial. “Like other forms of burnout, pandemic burnout is a physical reaction to stress. You need to allow your body some much-needed rest and relaxation so that it doesn’t exist in constant fight-or-flight mode,” warns Fourie.

Our free Personal Assistant can help Reality Club, Core, Plus and Health members source meditation classes or coaches and practitioners in their area to help them manage their stress levels better.

4. Ask for help

“We are living in isolating times, and it’s normal to feel at times as though you are all alone,” says Fourie. “But it can be incredibly beneficial to seek out support when experiencing pandemic burnout. Support comes in many forms, whether it’s asking a colleague for input, or reaching out to a friend to vent your frustrations. Sharing what you are going through with others can help to unburden you, not just of your responsibilities, but of your feelings and fears, too.”

Have you been left traumatised by the pandemic and struggling with your mental health? As a Sanlam Reality member (excluding Reality Access for Fedhealth), you have access to a Trauma, Assault & HIV Assist hotline. Call 0860 732 548/9 for 24-hour telephonic counselling.

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