Pandemic burnout and how to fight it

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The best way to fight burnout caused by the toll of working at home is by establishing your own work-life boundaries.

While the new normal may have manifested in different ways for different people, one common symptom is a dulled sense of time. “My days are all mixed up,” said Katya*, an account manager for a creative agency. Because we no longer commute, socialize, or even experience outside weather, everyday is the same. Suddenly, months are passing by like days, yet it feels like nothing has changed.

When we aren’t even aware of how many hours have passed, it’s much easier for work to dip into overtime. That results in what is called burnout. “At first, I thought it was easier since I wasn’t spending hours commuting anymore,” said Mona*, a freelance graphic designer. “After a few months though, I woke up and all of a sudden I was like, wow I’m exhausted.”

Burnout happens slowly, building up inside of us until the symptoms hit us like a truck: emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion. It doesn’t help that working from home has made resting much harder since our rooms no longer feel like safe spaces. “I thought I was exhausted because I slept at weird hours so I tried sleeping earlier,” Mona explained. “But no matter how long I slept, I still woke up tired.” The worst cases of burnout can evolve from exhaustion to resentment. “I felt like vomiting when I got assigned new projects,” said Ella*, who works as a junior architect.

Even the simple act of lifting the cup and taking in the inviting aroma is enough to make you pause, breathe, and just enjoy the moment.

The best way to fight burnout is by establishing your own work-life boundaries. Mona’s solution was to transfer rooms when it was time to work. “I started working at the dining table,” she said. “It took a while but my room started to feel like a safe space again.”

Katya’s version was to have a lengthy breakfast with a cup of coffee. “I take my time to eat breakfast and I really try not to think about work,” she said. As someone who used to do cafe runs before work, mimicking that experience with good coffee has helped her feel “more” normal. “Before coffee, I’m not yet a human,” she joked.

Her go-to brand is Nescafé Gold, since it’s quick and easy to make without sacrificing the quality. Made using premium Arabica beans, it’s rich aroma makes her feel like she’s physically at her favorite coffee shop. “I need my coffee strong but not too bitter. Oh, and mabango,” she described. Nescafé Gold’s blend is smooth, with hints of dark chocolate and a bright citrus finish. Even the simple act of lifting the cup and taking in the inviting aroma is enough to make you pause, breathe, and just enjoy the moment.

In order to feel more of a division in her days, Katya and Ella created their own set routines. “I meditate now and do yoga in the mornings,” Ella said. Waking up at a set time to exercise worked like a reset for her, since she knew that once it was 6 a.m, it was a new day. “Meditating helped clear my mind, which was good for my stress,” she added.

Other ways you can establish a division or routine in your schedule is by attending classes, which could make your days feel different, or by picking up new hobbies. As we transition into this new normal, it will get easier to adjust and to establish new routines in place of our old ones. Burnout may feel like it’s everywhere now, but it’s not the end of the world — and when it feels like it is, take a step back and have a coffee break.

*Names are changed at the request of the subjects to protect their privacy.