Beat Back on Quarantine Burnout

As I write this post, National Life Group begins our 7th month of working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Within a 24-hour span in mid March, our two campuses in Montpelier, VT and Dallas, TX with over 1,000 employees became a Virtual Company.

This has been a significant undertaking from both a company and employee perspective. Luckily, we had a great disaster continuity plan in place and our colleagues have been able to continue to function at a high level during these turbulent times. From the employee perspective, this has been extremely difficult and unchartered territory for most of us non-Work from Home (WFH) folks. In addition to working our normal jobs, families have been tasked with becoming overnight Teachers and Day Care Providers.

I know that we are not alone in this new reality as millions of Americans have had to make tremendous sacrifices to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

There is an underlying epidemic taking shape in the United States and around the world in the form of employee morale and quarantine burnout. Most companies had some type of disaster recovery plan, however very few have manuals on how to be a WFH Superstar. Historically as a country we have put an incredible emphasis on work, and things like health and family secondary. Over the past few months, this unbalancing to our daily lives has shone a spotlight to this work/life imbalance. In fact, according to a recent study by NordVPN[i], a 3rd Party that tracks user connections to VPN networks, U.S. homebound employees are working on average three more hours per day during the pandemic. Whether its logging on early or late depending on your situation, most of us are on the verge of a complete burnout. Of the countries NordVPN tracks, the US had the highest increase in extra hours worked.  To help combat the fatigue of this extended WFH and increased workload we are carrying, I’ve compiled some helpful tips to be mindful of during these difficult times.

Mental Health Awareness is a friendly reminder to all of us to pay special attention to not only your own mental health, but those around you. The burnout both mentally and physically from this extended isolation and new socially distanced way of life can have big consequences if gone unchecked. According to a recent joint study conducted globally by SAP, Qualtrics and Mind Share Partners found that over 40% of respondents reported a decrease in overall mental health since the COVID-19 pandemic started. The study also indicated that regardless of title, CEO to Individual Contributors, all reported a 40%+ decline in mental health.[ii] The point is you are not alone in this, and to take care of yourself and your virtual colleagues during this pandemic.

Adaptability is a coping skill that I have leveraged throughout my life to make it through tough times. When life gives you lemons, what do you do? You make lemonade. Think about your circle of friends and families that have had to deal with the reality of cancelling milestone in-person events such as weddings, graduations, bar mitzvahs / bat mitzvahs, etc. What have these people done, they’ve adapted and found different ways to celebrate these milestones. So, in the face of this current situation we find ourselves in, adapt and make lemonade. If you are called upon to take on a different task outside of your role at work, challenge yourself to think outside of the box. Who knows you could find yourself with a new set of skills that you never thought you had pre-COVID-19.  

You must make time for yourself! This seems like a daunting task, considering everything that American families have on their plate right now. At the end of the day it is important that you make time for yourself and do something that makes you happy.  It is a proven fact that when we smile our brain releases molecules, including endorphins, to combat stress. We could all use a little time to unplug and with the summer holidays around the corner, what better time to do something that you’ve been putting off for a while for you.  

Family, as they say, is everything. They are the constant in our lives no matter what you are going through. For most of us, it has been months since we’ve been able to be social with our families in this new social distant reality. The things that we might’ve taken for granted in the past, for example a hug, now seem much more special. While we may not be able to physically hug all our family members, it is important to stay engaged and provide virtual hugs as much as possible.

One Day at a Time: a former boss of mine used to say, “Control the Controllables” It is a mantra that I’ve strived to live by after digesting this statement many years ago. We cannot control what tomorrow brings, so take it one day at a time and live in the moment. Meditation is healthy tool to help you live in the moment. Find your inner Zen to help you live one day, one hour and one minute at a time. Easier said than done I know, however if you begin to practice and live by this mantra, it will undoubtably lower your stress and curb the burnout level during these uncertain times.

Exercise is vitally important to your overall health to exercise, we all know this to be fact. This is even more important now as we enter our third month in this WFH reality. My solace during this pandemic has been my bike. I made it a point to get out there and ride every day the weather was cooperative. For those that haven’t been in Vermont during the late winter or mud season aka springtime, the weather can be truly sporadic. In fact, it snowed here the first week of May last month. While biking may not be your preferred exercise, however find that exercise medium that suits you. Whether it’s the gym, yoga, a walk or a hike, make the time in your day to dedicate to exercise. It will certainly help you be WFH Superstar.

Rest, though it may be difficult at times right now to get a solid 8 hours, is imperative in order to manage the fatigue this quarantining can bring. The increase in anxiety from extended quarantine and WFH can be overwhelming.  The connection between anxiety and insomnia is no secret and can have lasting impacts on your overall mental health. Follow these helpful tips from Dr. Meg Danforth with Duke University Psychiatry Department to combat the effects of insomnia[iii]:

  • Keep a consistent Body Clock
  • Don’t try to go to bed unless you’re tired
  • Quiet your mind
  • Take a bath or shower
  • Do some stretching or yoga       

Goals are not always easy to create, but SMART goals can be. We are all tasked with various goals and deadlines for work and add the responsibility of teaching and child care into the mix, we could all use helpful techniques to effectively manage our time more efficiently. Writing goals down on paper can release some of the anxiety these demands can bring. Think of it this way, when we write goals down on paper, we are freeing up mental capacity for the more challenging situations we are faced with. As you start to set your SMART goals, they must meet the following criteria:

Specific – Make your goal specific to the desired outcome.

Measurable – What resources can you use to measure the goal.

Attainable – Be realistic and ask yourself is it attainable in a timely manner

Relevant – These should be in line with your overall goals and or deadlines

Timely – Set a realistic, ambitious deadline and prioritize accordingly

I hope these tips are helpful as we continue to strive for WFH Superstardom. There will be challenging times ahead no doubt as some of us won’t be back in the office this year and some will transition back to the physical offices. 

As we work through the uncertainty it is important to remind yourself:  1. You are not alone,
2. Take care of yourself and your loved ones,
3. In time, this too shall pass. 


References

[i] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-23/working-from-home-in-covid-era-means-three-more-hours-on-the-job

[ii] https://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2020/05/19/the-other-covid-19-crisis-declining-mental-health/#6d9983413d65

[iii] https://abc11.com/how-to-sleep-go-having-trouble-sleeping-have/6135659/ 4/29/2020

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