As the pandemic continues, we are hearing from clients that they have ongoing exhaustion, difficulty motivating to do small things, not feeling motivated at work, and having a shorter fuse with partners and kids. Continuing to live in “survival mode” is bringing up anger and resentment, loss of what might have been, and disconnection from others. Clients are often surprised when we bring up the possibility of burnout, but once we name it together, it tends to make a lot of sense.
Burnout can really creep up on you, as it is often gradual. If we notice the signs of burnout, it can be a helpful tool in helping us pay attention to and respect our limits.
Silver Lining of the Pandemic: Mental Health
While the many tolls on mental health have been exhausting, something that we as mental health professionals see as a silver lining is that in some ways, the discussion about mental health and therapy has been cracked open. The struggles brought on by the pandemic are almost giving our society no choice but to name and address them. In June 2020, the CDC found 31% of people surveyed reported anxiety and depression, and by December 2020, the Census Bureau reported 42% of people reported these symptoms. It seems helpful to identify burnout as separate from anxiety and depression, and as a way to possibly prevent ongoing symptoms.
How the Signs of Burnout Help Us
We are often trained to ignore desires to slow down and take a break. But when we listen to what our bodies and minds are telling us, these desires are a sign that our lifestyles are unsustainably demanding! If you had a broken toe, the pain would indicate to you that it’s time to rest and treat the injury before it becomes worse. Yet when we are feeling anxious or hopeless, we don’t always use the same logic.
It can be a relief to have awareness that these feelings are burnout. Even more powerful is when we begin to understand how the signs of burnout in our bodies and minds are sending us messages that we need to take a break in some way. The basic messages of burnout are:
- “I’m tired, I need a break.”
- “I need to take better care of myself.” (Often when giving most of our energy to others)
- “I need to be doing less.” (Needing to say no to more things or clearer about our limits)
- “I need a change.” (I’m not passionate/energized about what I’m doing)
- “I’m having a hard time and need to be seen.” (Going through an emotionally taxing time, and need to acknowledge this)
Take a moment to acknowledge the messages that your burnout symptoms are sending you, and what they might mean for your life. It might help to process this with a friend (or therapist, of course). Many are going through this right now, so remember, you are not alone, and you can get through this!