Lockdown Burnout: What It Is And How To Combat It, According To The Experts
Burnout is a word that we often hear these days, especially during the pandemic. Burnout takes on many forms, burnout from work, burnout from studies and burnout from lockdown. Many of us may be adjusting to the new normal, but that's not to say it hasn't taken a toll on us. Finding our footing in the difficult times we're in, especially with the prolonged quarantine and lockdown affects us both physically and mentally. It's difficult to find any aspect of society that hasn't been hit by the pandemic in some way.
Isolation, being away from family, the lack of travel, working from home, maintaining work-life balance and the need to social distance, are all new––leaving us feeling overwhelmed and potentially leading to lockdown burnout.
To offer you some words of comfort and advice, we sought the help of Allison Heiliczer, counsellor, psychotherapist and head of corporate psychology at OT&P as well as Dr Joyce Lai a registered medical practitioner to give us the lowdown on what is lockdown burnout and how to deal with it both physically and mentally.
What is lockdown burnout?
Allison: A lockdown burnout is a regular burnout that has happened to due to the recent lockdowns.
Technically, a burnout is the crystallisation of mental and physical exhaustion due to prolonged and excessive stress. Therefore, lockdown may be one of the contributing factors that leads one to experience burnout amongst the more common reasons such as work, family or financial stressors. For some, lockdown alone may be what causes burnout as it can result in people feeling mentally and physically exhausted.
What are the root causes of lockdown burnout?
Allison: Lockdown has exacerbated a lot of these non-work-related issues. For many, it's not just about work—this is often the assumption that burnout is rooted in corporate soil. Yet when we look deeper, we often see the root cause is multifactorial and includes family, financial and other pressures.
People who are in "survival mode" financially are often pushed to burnout due to worries of work. However, outside of being in this survival mode, those who have perfectionistic tendencies or a personality structure that is fiercely independent often resist delegating others. This lack of delegation often creates anxiety that feeds overwhelmingly and eventually causes burnout that's not work-related.
This lockdown has also removed a lot of coping strategies that one would normally use to cope with stress such as socialising, travelling or exercising in a gym, leading to issues worsening as a result.
What are the symptoms and who are most at risk?
If you noticed or feel the following, chances are you're suffering from lockdown burnout:
- Reduced appetite
- Sleep disruption
- Lack of energy
- Poor focus and reduced productivity
- Irritability and mood change (anxious or depression)
- Increase substance use
- Worsened tension headaches and migraines
- Injected conjunctiva (redness in the whites of the eyes)
- Nasal allergies from being in a different environment for longer periods of time
Anyone is susceptible to lockdown burnout, but there are definitely those who are more at risk. People who don't have clear or healthy boundaries, especially those allergic to saying no either when it comes to work or family. As mentioned earlier, perfectionists and people who are in survival mode financially. People who are insecure about their job as well as those who have a history of anxiety or depression.
See also: Work From Home: Productivity Tips For Remote Working
What are some general nutritional tips we should be aware of?
Dr Joyce: Physicians recognise that burnout is real. In fact, it's an official medical diagnosis by the World Health Organisation. Medically speaking, stress is beneficial and adaptive as it provides the body with a fight or flight response to help us cope with stress exposure. Ongoing stress is maladaptive and can drain our adrenal glands (also called adrenal fatigue). When this ongoing stress lasts weeks or months, we then will experience not only psychologist stress but physical symptoms may even arise.
Here are some general nutritional tips to combat burnout:
- Avoid stress eating
- Avoid convenient eating and overeating by placing food and snacks out of sight except during mealtimes
- Monitor your daily caloric intake
- Try intermittent fasting. Either the 16/8 fasting (eating for eight hours and fasting for 16) or the 5:2 approach where you eat regularly for five days and then have one-meal days for two days
- Eating dark green and leafy vegetables like spinach and kale can fend off the unpleasant feelings of burnout and improve mood as they contain high level of folic acid which can help produce serotonin or the happy chemical, leading to improved indigestion
- Maintain a healthy gut and kidneys by drinking 6–8 glasses of water a day
- Limit foods and medications that harm the stomach. Instead, try including a probiotic in your diet
- Chamomile tea has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can reduce symptoms of anxiety. Peppermint, lavender and turmeric are also well-known to promote relaxation and improve concentration
- Avoid simple carbohydrates, sugar and sweets or anything that can cause fluctuations in blood sugar level
- Include lean proteins with your meals such as nuts, seeds, eggs, fish, chicken, tofu and dairy yoghurt. Proteins are excellent in supporting stamina and endurance
- Limit caffeine as it's a stimulant that can precipitate and perpetuate feelings of anxiety, palpitations, jitters, tremor and insomnia
- Limit alcoholic intake
- Consume food rich in omega-3 fatty acids to clam your system and reduce anxiety, street and depression
- Add magnesium-rich food in your diet as magnesium has mood claiming effects on your body that can help relax tense muscles
See also: Hong Kong Fitness And Nutrition Experts Give Their Tips For Keeping Healthy
What are some physical things we can do to manage it?
- Ensure your workspace is more ergonomic. Position your monitor 20 inches away and directly in front of you, your eyes should be at the top of the monitor. Make sure to adjust the chair height so your feet rest flat on the floor and knees are level with your hips. Make use of the backrest of the chair for spine support
- Control screen glare. Take regular breaks for your eyes or have an eye lubricant nearby
- Adjust the armrest on your chair so the elbows are supported to take the weight off the shoulders
- Take 30–60 seconds for regular stretching a few times a day
- Optimise your working environment to be free of common house allergens
- Do an average of 2.5 hours of aerobic physical exercise every week to maintain your cardiovascular health and improve overall emotional health
- Step outside. Exposure to sunshine provides vitamin D which helps with bone health and immunity along with calcium. Sunlight also helps increase the brain's release of serotonin, helping boost mood
- Everybody can benefit from having a stress-outlet. This can include a workout, a punching bag, baking, a massage, writing, meditation or even simply talking to a friend
- Get more sleep. Sleep is the strongest natural fuel we can gift ourselves
- Keep a positive mood journal
- Listening to a podcast can also help lift your mood. OT&P is releasing some informative ones on their website
See also: Why Exercise Is More Important Than Ever and How to Stay Safe Doing It
How can we manage it mentally and stay positive?
Be clear with boundaries
Don't allow the lines between work and home to blur entirely. It’s critical that you focus on drawing a clear line. This may mean having a morning routine that may have otherwise been a commute and also time to wind down at night. Make sure to make these boundaries explicit with work so that you’re not expected to be “on” always.
Fiercely protect your sleep
Make sure to turn off all devices one to two hours before sleeping and have a solid bedtime routine—this applies to adults, not just kids. Also, make sure you invest each evening in sleep as having solid sleep will help your mental health.
Drop any ideas of a timeline
Something that’s making the lockdowns so intense is an unknown timeline. Psychologically many people can navigate something difficult if they have a clear timeline of when the difficulty will end; what we’re enduring now has a different shape entirely and with that no clear end date.
Focus on connections
Try to make your connections count these days; leverage the worldwide struggles to go beyond the superficial in conversations. Consider how you’re interacting with close friends and family and play with the idea of emotionally connecting in ways maybe you didn’t in the past,
There may be no clear meaning in this pandemic, yet try to be open to creating some sense of meaning in the future. Humans endure experiences much more profoundly when they feel there is some sense of meaning.
Look back at history
This isn’t the first crisis the world has faced, and it won’t be the last. Leverage this perspective so that you don’t feel “special” in a psychologically torturous way and focus on being part of a much longer story ahead in the world that is yet to unfold.
See also: 5 Expert Tips On How To Talk About Mental Health