8 tips for managing 'working from home' burnout
As many of us settle into yet more months of working from home, our perceptions of time, space and balance are at risk of changing for the worse. There is certainly more recognition now that the Covid restrictions is having an impact on our mental health. In this article, personal development coach and hypnotherapist Chris Dreyfus-Gibson discusses the need for vigilance around Burnout and some tips to help us manage working from home better.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a condition of mental and physical exhaustion as a result of excessive and prolonged exposure to stress. The causes of burnout stress are varied but are often linked to our feeling overwhelmed and unable to meet the constant demands of our job.
During these periods of national lockdown, many of us are living and working within the same environment which creates factors that may encourage burnout.
With so many of us working from home, the usual work-life balance is easily disrupted. We may also find that the concept of time is morphed. Without the need to commute we may start working earlier and stop working later than our normal hours. With a lack of social activity, especially if living on one’s own, we may fill that time with additional work. We may also feel pressure to act as if nothing has changed, keeping up the same pace and regularity of work as we did pre-Covid; a task made much more difficult with additional home tasks such as home schooling added to the to do list.
Tip 1: Accept that things are different for a while
Although the impact of the Covid restrictions feels severe, we know that with the vaccine being rolled out these harsh conditions are temporary. Acceptance, especially of situations and events which are out of our control, helps to reduce our levels of anxiety in dealing with things we find uncomfortable. Accepting that our lives will be different for a while, gives us space to change our relationship with lockdown to a more positive one.
This advice is as much for employers as it is for individuals. Companies can support their employees but giving them the flexibility to work differently and the reassurance that it is OK to find the current situation challenging, or have your kid or pets gate crash your video call.
Tip 2: Maintain balance
Make a conscious effort to find separation between the work day and personal/family time. Perhaps restricting work to one room in the house only to avoid working on the laptop in front of the telly. Or creating a schedule with time allocated to family, hobbies, and relaxation.
Tip 3: Make variety your routine
When we are stuck at home it can be so easy to get stuck in a cycle of lethargy and low motivation. Having a routine can force us to stay active and can inject variety into days. A schedule will also enforce some work-life balance, as well as help to communicate with colleagues our availability.
Maintain a regular wake up time and morning routine. Wash, get dressed and have breakfast. Although getting out of bed might be hard, the body and mind don’t take long to wake up once you are active – even without that cup of coffee.
Routine doesn’t have to be boring. As well as scheduling time for the important things like work, meals, exercise or laundry, make time for activities to look forward to, such as chatting with friends, trying a new hobby, reading that book you got last birthday, etc.
In the current conditions, companies should make clear to colleagues that it is ok not to schedule back-to-back meetings all day and to offer flexibility in work patterns. For example, It might be that your particular home situation means that scheduling 2 hour chunks of work time interspersed with an hour to check on the kids’ home schooling works better.
Tip 4: Get great sleep
Sleep is an important part of our lives. Quality sleep is as essential to survival as food and water. Although we spend about a third of our time doing it, many of us pay sleep very little attention. Getting the right quantity and quality of sleep helps to restore our reserves and reduces our vulnerability to stress.
Simple things like maintaining regular times for going to bed and waking up, stopping caffeine intake after midday, and not using electronic devices an hour before bed, can have very positive impacts on the quality of sleep.
Tip 5: Ask for help
Don’t feel ashamed to ask for help at work, or elsewhere in your life where you may be feeling overwhelmed. Especially at the moment, most people are tuned into the impact which the pandemic is having on others around us, and are likely to be open to providing support if they can.
In the work context, be specific about the sort of help that you need. It is harder for managers to fulfil very vague wishes.
If you are feeling the effects of burnout
Tip 6: Breathing
Breathing is a great way to pull the body out of the “fight or flight” state which is triggered by exposure to stress into the lesser known “rest and digest” state. Both states are different sides of the body’s autonomic nervous system and are not able to reside in the body at the same time.
One simple breathing technique is the “physiological sigh”.
The Double Inhale: Take an inhale through your nose and pause. Without releasing the breath, inhale again and pause.
The Sigh: Release the breath through the mouth, feeling the tension release from the body at the same time. It should feel like a deep sigh.
This has the effect on the body of triggering our “rest and digest” mechanism and is a great exercise to do in the moment when those anxious overwhelmed feelings start to bubble.
Tip 7: Find time to relax deeply:
Relaxation is very misunderstood. When I ask my clients how they relax they often talk about watching TV, doing exercise, or practicing their hobby. All of these require the mind to be highly active. True relaxation comes from giving the mind space to slow down and get as close to doing nothing as possible. Giving the mind time to rest helps to reduce the likelihood of us being hijacked by anxieties, and can boost our creativity.
Meditation practices are the most obvious place to start, but don’t feel you have to conform the stereotype of sitting in the lotus position. There is no correct position for meditation. Whether you are more comfortable sitting, reclined, or lying down, simply focus on slowing down your breath and if your mind wanders just bring the focus back to your breathing. You can enhance your experience with calming scented candles or relaxing meditation music. You will find many free guided meditations by searching online.
Tip 8: Prioritise self-care
Burnout is a sign that something important in your life isn’t working for you. Take some time to focus on yourself, your hopes, dreams and goals, as well as your overall wellbeing. Here are some ideas:
Create some balance in your life
Nourish your creative side
Set time aside to deeply relax
Take a daily break from technology and social media
Make exercise a priority
Enjoy a healthy diet to help increase your energy levels and mood