After living through the COVID-19 crisis for a year now, many of us are understandably exhausted, depleted and just burned out. When you consider the unrelenting stress we’ve been under — from fears about the virus to job insecurity to social isolation to political unrest — it’s no wonder people have hit a wall.
“Your bandwidth pre-COVID is not your bandwidth now,” Branden Crawford, a cognitive behavioral life coach at Kaleidoscope Family Therapy in Atlanta, told HuffPost. “Even though we are a year into this global pandemic, it’s OK to gently remind yourself that you don’t operate how you did pre-COVID. Be aware of where you are and show yourself some grace.”
So what can you do when you feel like you’re running on fumes? Below, experts offer advice on how to deal.
1. Pinpoint what’s causing the burnout so you can address the root issue.
Maybe it’s being isolated from your friends or the fact that you’ve been stuck in your tiny apartment for months on end. Maybe it’s trying to work from home while taking care of your kids — or something else entirely.
“Once you have a sense of what’s causing the burnout, you can take the appropriate steps to improve the negative feelings,” said Samantha Elkrief, a therapist and health coach in New York City.
Then focus on tackling whatever element you’re struggling with most. For example, if you need a break from the constant togetherness with your family, maybe you could coordinate something with them so you can have a night to yourself.
“One patient I work with has taken turns with his wife the past two weekends because they were both short on alone time after a year working from home and homeschooling two young children,” Elkrief said.
If you’re craving connection and a new experience, plan an online activity that isn’t the same ol’ virtual happy hour you were doing last spring.
“My friends and I had some fun Zoom cocktail hours and then a few months in, we just burned out on connecting by video,” said Nicole O-Pries, an LGBTQ+ therapist in Virginia. “Instead of just giving up, we took an inexpensive online art class with an instructor in Spain. Our relationships were fostered while experiencing an opportunity to try something new and creative.”
2. Incorporate more pleasure into your life.
Chances are, pleasure is sorely lacking in your life these days — and no, we don’t just mean sex (though that totally counts, too). We’re talking about any feel-good experience, however small, that helps you slow down and savor the moment.
“Check in with yourself and rate your current level of pleasure from 1 to 10,” said Lauren Donelson, a Seattle writer and astrologist who’s training to be a therapist. “See what you could do to increase that even by one number. For example, if you usually take quick showers, but a long, luxurious shower would bump your pleasure up from a 5 to a 6, go for it!”
3. Shake up your routine.
The schedule you established early on in the pandemic may have given those confusing days and weeks some much-needed structure while providing a sense of normalcy. Now, that same routine may feel stale and monotonous, which could be contributing to your state of apathy.
“If you have the option, try changing one or two aspects of your routine for some freshness,” Donelson said. “For example, if you always make coffee at home, get coffee from a coffee shop once a week. A little bit of novelty can go a long way.”
4. Make plans for the future.
Now that the vaccine rollout is underway, there’s finally some light at the end of the tunnel. While we still have a ways to go before we can let our guards down, we can, at least, begin to plan — or at least dream — about what we’ll do when it’s safe again.
“That might include booking a vacation for a certain date in the future that seems reasonable to imagine being feasible,” O-Pries said. “Or you might simply begin to save for the vacation and start doing your research on all the details of your future trip.”
She also suggested creating a vision board to create some healthy anticipation.
“This situation is temporary, and we need some visual reminders to help us remember that is the case,” O-Pries said.
5. Carve out more time for rest.
Sleep is essential to our mental and physical well-being, but being truly rested goes beyond how many hours of shuteye you get each night. According to physician and researcher Saundra Dalton-Smith, there are seven different types of rest: physical rest (like sleep or restorative activities like stretching), mental rest (like taking breaks from work), sensory rest (like turning off the lights or disconnecting from our devices), creative rest (like soaking up the beauty of nature or listening to music that inspires you), emotional rest (like saying “no” or being honest about how you really feel), social rest (like limiting your interactions with people who drain you) and spiritual rest (like praying or meditating).
“With pandemic burnout, we need a fresh new way to rest that’s more than deep breaths and adequate sleep,” said Dara Bu Elliott, a life and career coach at Wellspace SF in San Francisco.
Reflect on which types of rest are lacking in your life. Then schedule a “rest date” with yourself, Elliott suggested. For example, if you need more physical rest, take a restorative yoga class instead of going on your morning run. If you need more sensory rest, dim the lights, close your laptop and sit in silence for a few minutes after you finish work for the day.
6. Connect with your inner child.
Think back to what things used to light you up as a kid. How can you reintroduce some of those into your adult life?
“For example, if you loved playing soccer as a kid, get a soccer ball and play around at the park,” Donelson said. “I loved playing the piano as a kid, and I’ve been playing a lot since the pandemic. My inner child loves it.”
Sprinkle more of these joy-inducing activities or items into your week.
“Those past positive experiences are the fuel we need to climb out of burnout and to create new ones,” Crawford said.
7. Talk to a therapist.
When left untreated, burnout can lead to clinical depression or other mental health conditions. If you’re struggling, consider making an appointment to connect with a mental health professional now. (And if cost is a concern, know that online therapy services, such as BetterHelp and Talkspace, tend to be more affordable options.)
“It’s normal for folks to be feeling burned out right about now. Having someone there to focus on nothing but you can be a huge help,” Elkrief said. “Mental health concerns are at an all-time high, so finding a therapist can be a great way to help manage feelings of burnout.”