How the scientists are recognising the personal impact of the pandemic
I mean, I’m grateful for it, but as a family with three teen sons, due to the fact the UK is still in full lockdown, it’s not the most exciting of weeks. We live near an incredible park, so we’ll be visiting that, along with playing some board games, eating too much food and relaxing together (aka going slightly stir-crazy).
I’m taking a few days off. I need to get away from the constant laptop usage and I would like to be more available for my boys so that we can do very little together.
Honestly, like many (most/all) of you, I’m really pretty exhausted. It’s not that it’s unbelievably busy (although it is, but life is always busy in this house).
It’s something else.
Some days I feel emotionally and physically worn out.
It seems I am not alone. I am talking to friends, colleagues and family members who are all experiencing the same thing. Hitting a wall. Feeling tired after sleep. Low mood. Can’t-be-bothered-ness.
Apparently, this could be burnout. The rollercoaster ride of lockdown, out-of-lockdown, home-schooling, homeworking, frontline worker exhaustion, the removal of delineation between any areas of our lives, lack of meaningful connection, feelings of intense overwhelm, or guilt that we just aren’t doing ANYTHING very well, is causing what scientists would name burnout.
The term burnout, according to the WHO definition, originates in the workplace. The definition is centred around ‘chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.’ It seems that this definition is now too narrow, and that instead there is a chronic lifestyle stress that is causing many people to push towards burnout.
Another definition I discovered that might be more resonant right now: A State of Vital Exhaustion.
So, do you have burnout? Do I? Well, Christina Maslach, a psychologist spearheading the research into burnout at the University of California, has collated research in order to develop a Burnout Inventory, so we can discover quite how exhausted we actually are. Three factors need to coincide for burnout to exist:
That feels slightly nebulous, so to be specific, it might manifest as things such as being exhausted even after plenty of sleep, being emotionally distant from loved ones, short fused, emotionally unpredictable or no longer caring about jobs that need doing.
Whether we have burnout or not, I’m pretty sure that you have experienced at least some of the aspects mentioned above over this past year. My hope is, that rather than being disheartened by reading this, that instead you feel validated.
You feel like you do because you are under unusual (shall I say unprecedented?) pressure. Yes, you may not be travelling as much, you might not be ferrying kids here there and everywhere as much, juggling a busy calendar, but you’ve replaced that with other stresses: no boundaries around work and family, no separation of responsibilities, a deep sense of guilt that you’re not doing anything as well as you’d like to, an absence of social variety, months of distance between loved ones, and a stack of uncertainty as to what is coming next. It’s not just stress and change on a personal level, but it’s also on a community level, a country level, and a global level.
I don’t have all the answers, I’m sorry.
But I will say that meaningful connection is absolutely one of the solutions.
There are days when I don’t want to be near anyone. Sometimes I’ve worked online in zoom meetings all day, and the last thing I want to do is connect with anyone else. The other day we had arranged a FaceTime with some of our best friends and I really was not in the mood for more socialising. But, like many of us right now, I didn’t know what was best for me.
An hour later, after some storytelling, jokes at my expense, real life, trustworthy connection, my heart was happier. It was good for my soul. So, the lesson learned was that sometimes we need to push through and do what we don’t want to. Our body and mind need that connection even if we don’t think we have it in us.
So, as we dig in again for this last phase (I’m ever hopeful) of lockdown, make room for those meaningful connections. Take the walk in the park with a friend, arrange some FaceTimes with those that know you best, and be honest about how you are doing. We can be grateful for all that we have and at the same time be honest about what is tough. And when you need to rest, do it. Some days you just have to say enough is enough, pop on the eye mask and go to bed early. It’s often these little acts of resistance that get us through a tough day.
And remember, you’ve got it in you. To quote a famous phrase – you’ve got a 100% track record of getting through difficult days.
P.S. Are you a parent? Scientists are noticing a steep rise in extreme parental burnout (most likely to impact perfectionist type parents). You can see if you’re suffering from this condition, you can take a test here
P.P.S. If you know you’re really struggling, please don’t suffer alone. You can contact samaritans.org at any time on 116123.