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This Simple Step Can Help You Stay Sane During a Covid Surge

This Simple Step Can Help You Stay Sane During a Covid Surge

A mother who is dealing with stress and burnout trying to care for her baby while also working from home.

Written by Patricia Sheahan

The déjà vu of relentless COVID-19 surges for nearly two years is hard on everyone. But new research from Australia’s Gender Equity Victoria reveals exactly how the triple load on women—paid work, care work, and the “mental labour of worrying”—can easily lead to burnout (but, of course, you already knew that).

The research found that Victorian women are more likely than men to feel nervous (40% compared with 30%), lonely (28% compared with 16%), and “that everything was an effort” (30% compared with 22%).

Women often carry the burden of emotional labour in the home as well as the paid work they do outside the home. They manage the emotions of the children (and/or their partner) to keep the peace and facilitate order. No wonder many women are feeling burnt out, says Dr. Carolyn Ee, a general practitioner in Sydney and researcher at NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University.

“One of the key features of burnout is emotional exhaustion, and women tend to suffer more because traditionally we take on a lot more of the nurturing and caring,” Dr. Ee says. “Women might need to support friends and extended family members as well – our experience may be different to a man’s experience.”

“If you feel like you are drowning, it’s important to retain a feeling of being in control. Finding a routine that works for you will help.”

Burnout is different from depression or anxiety, Dr. Ee explains. “The three key features [of burnout] are emotional exhaustion, feeling drained with nothing left to draw on; cynicism, a feeling there’s just no point in anything or that you don’t care anymore; and reduced professional self-efficacy, when your performance starts to suffer and there are mistakes at made work.”

Work-related burnout is something you should raise with your manager, but for anyone working from home, one simple step can make a difference. ­Dr. Ee says that when you are feeling overwhelmed, setting a template for your day can help.

“If you feel like you are drowning, it’s important to retain a feeling of being in control. Finding a routine that works for you will help.”

Think about when you tackle which tasks. Doing the heavy lifting in the morning can lighten the rest of the day, according to Dr. Ee.

“I start work at 6:30am so I can get a chunk of important work done and not get behind. For most people, their peak productive time is before noon and then we unravel after lunch. That’s more the time for checking emails and doing smaller tasks. Leave the big picture stuff – the brainstorming with colleagues, for example – for the later bit of the afternoon.”

For those living alone, a good routine is even more important because work can easily spill over into rest time. “Getting out of the house is super-important, as is having a social catch up – virtually, of course – with colleagues or friends.”

More Tips to Help Combat Burnout

  • Exposure to sunlight is essential, so try to work where there’s natural light and get outdoors two or three times a day. Getting exposure to morning sun in particular will help you sleep better at night.
  • Try not to work in your bedroom or any other space where you normally sleep or relax. Psychological detachment from work will allow you to switch off at the end of the day.
  • A whole-food, plant-based diet is great for your mental health as well as your physical health. Instead of reaching for comfort food and processed foods, opt for more veggies and whole foods.
  • Take regular breaks to move your body. Sitting for hours on end is a health hazard because a sedentary existence leads to the risk of increased heart attacks, strokes, musculoskeletal injury, and much more.
  • Minimize Zoom fatigue. Whenever possible, limit meetings to 30 minutes. If it’s a meeting where you don’t need to be onscreen, go for a walk around the block while you are tuned in.
  • Stop trying to multi-task. Attention-switching from one thing to another not only makes us less productive, it also affects the area of the brain that helps with impulse control.
  • Most of all, be kind to yourself. You’re doing the best you can. Treat yourself the way you would treat a close friend who is struggling—with kindness, care, and compassion. If you’re not at your best, you won’t be any use to anyone else, so putting yourself first (whenever possible!) is far from a selfish act.

Stay safe, healthy, and well!

This article was originally published by Tonic Magazine

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