We were already on the brink of burnout before COVID-19 came along. Juggling health, economic and existential anxieties has us exhausted and we are not sure how we can move forward. Today’s world is full of stressors we feel we have no control over.
But to see stress as abhorrent and frowned upon is both unproductive and unkind. We usually learn more about ourselves and do more coming out of a period of stress. Although no one can choose to make a pandemic go away, we can choose how we respond to these challenges.
For one, grittiness is necessary for human thriving. Sometimes in our lives, we must simply endure. But the Coronavirus has made it so that it feels like one more day working from home, one more zoom call or one more call to the unemployment center will bring us over the edge. So yes, keep calm and carry on- but in a smart way. Here are some tips on how to tame the burnout most of us are feeling.
Tip #1: Let go of unnecessary expectations. Instead, treat yourself with kindness.
It is important to recognize if we are hanging onto unrealistic goals. You must separate the tasks that are necessary and that you should grit your way through, and those that aren’t. We are approaching the situation all wrong: why would the most psychologically taxing period of public life be THE time to be the most productive?
With what feels like more time on our hands, we feel like we need to aim for – and maybe even reach – self actualization. Think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: first come basic needs like rest and safety, then psychological needs like intimate relationships and a sense of belonging. At the very tip, in other words, last, comes achieving one’s full potential. The pandemic and subsequent quarantine have rocked the pyramid down to its very core.
We are not guaranteed health and safety, and a lot of us are struggling to protect our sources of income and therefore, our livelihood. So why would anyone be expected to reach the tip of the pyramid when the bottom itself is already unstable?
You’re going through one of the more traumatizing events in recent history, so be kind to yourself. Don’t spend your time off forcing yourself to read those mind-numbing personal development books when you should be making time for what relaxes you. It is OK to rest.
In fact, it’s the doing, doing, doing that is the source of this burnout you’re feeling. The small choices are what make all the difference: intentional unproductivity and forgiving yourself for it. If you’re gritting through tasks that meet unnecessary expectations, just grant yourself the grace and dignity to quit. It’s not giving up, it’s goal adjustment, which makes you able to better adapt to the world.
Tip #2: Make a shift from task-based to objective-based thinking.
Of course, we can’t erase all pressures from our new lives where work, family and leisure become one big blur. Like I said, some things we just need to grin and bear. But in these situations it can be helpful to switch your thinking from task- to objective-based. Take a certain task that feels especially draining, and think of what objective it works toward. Then modify the task in a way that makes it bearable but still fulfills the original objective.
Let’s say you have to get on a phone call with your team every day, and you despise it. The objective is to manage collaboration on a work project, but nothing gets done and it gives you social anxiety. Perhaps you can pitch the idea of using a workflow platform like Slack or Monday.com to work more efficiently together. That way, your team can still collaborate while avoiding the dreadful hour-long conference calls.
Tip #3: Connect to your “why.”
There are stressors we can avoid, and others we can recalibrate. But there are some situations we cannot change right now. These are the ones we can, however, control our relationship with. Here’s a tip on how to navigate these waters.
Stop thinking of these things as things you have to do. Instead, remember why it is you’re doing them. If going into the office once a week is necessary but it deeply scares you, think of how this task relates to your ultimate goals and values.
Perhaps it is necessary in order to keep your job. That’s how you pay the rent. This connection to your higher self instantly upgrades the task to at least a can-do rather than a have-to. You still may not want to do it, but you can because this courage is what provides for your family. This shift in thinking allows you to move forward with intentionality and choose why you continue to put one foot in front of the other.
Guard your energy wisely.
This article is inspired by the podcast Checking In With Susan David.
cover photo courtesy of Cleveland Clinic