If you are feeling exhausted and want to stop burnout before it takes hold you are not alone.
We are going through a period in the world that many generations have not been through. People are searching for an explanation of why they’re feeling the way they’re. Possibly, they’ve never felt like this before. In this context, we discuss burnout after COVID in the interview with Katrina Streatfeild and what we can do about it.
We’ve come from a society where even before COVID, in so many ways we were stretched to the limit and pushing ourselves. We were trying to integrate this idea of being able to parent, work full time, progress at work, and run our own businesses. We want to have full lives; to be able to do everything. The digital world has meant that we are now in this always active environment. And we are experiencing burnout now more than ever.
Old coping mechanisms might not be enough to stop burnout
COVID hit and we’ve been through something very stressful for over three years now. It is a bit different from other disasters that have happened. Social connectedness and that feeling of belonging is the pathway to psychological safety, well-being, and mental health. The uniqueness around COVID is that we actually had those removed from us because of isolation.
It’s a unique context and it’s new. We don’t have a lot of terms of reference for what would be a normal feeling around that and what to do about it. It’s not just COVID. It’s the after-effects of COVID. And we’ve lost some of our sense of safety.
Suddenly we’re a bit destabilized and we can’t rely on things in the same way that we used to internationally, nationally, or at a local level. Perhaps we’re even starting to wonder if we can rely on ourselves the same way that we used to.
Things have changed so significantly around us and in our lives that we could be feeling lost. If we’ve gotten to the place where we are feeling so lost and nothing that used to work for us works anymore, it means we are starting to lose belief in ourselves. Are we able to cope?
Long-term stressors, stress hormones, and our ability to cope without burning out
Our systems are designed to get us activated and moving. It’s called our sympathetic nervous system. We are designed to activate, to keep ourselves safe under certain circumstances. That’s adaptable for short periods, and then we have to rest and get ourselves back to physiological equilibrium.
Our safety systems went off. We were all activated. We tried to cope with everything that was going on. We tried and tried. Then we kept trying and we tried some more. Eventually, what happens when you don’t rest between activations? You become fatigued on every level; physiologically, mentally, cognitively, and emotionally. You get to a burnout state.
So our bodies are trying to go back to this safety system; where it’s adaptable with short bursts and rests. But when we’re active all the time, it dampens the response when you actually need it. Then we are in this constant chronic state of activation, which is not necessarily achieving the outcome that we want.
We’re on, but we’re not going anywhere.
How do we get off the hamster wheel?
What has to change in terms of moving away from that constant state of activation? To achieve recovery from burnout, what can we do to readjust, reset and move forward? First, notice, acknowledge, and validate yourself. It’s easy to start getting annoyed and frustrated with yourself. And that’s very harsh.
This is not about you not trying. It’s not about you failing. It’s a normal human reaction to what has happened to you and to the world around you. Validate that experience and have self-compassion because that allows us to feel a little bit safer.
A nice side effect of being able to think about yourself compassionately is that it’s easier to think about other people compassionately as well. You’ll find yourself getting less frustrated with the people around you. It’s not easy to do and might need a lot of reminding yourself.
Secondly, it’s important, with that compassionate voice, to get to the point where we accept that this is not going back to how it was before.
What’s realistic in terms of goals today?
Ask yourself … whatever goals I had, whether they’re personal, or business, are they still relevant in the context I’m in today? Are they realistic anymore? Do I still define success in various areas of my life in the same way that I used to? What have I learned from COVID that has maybe shifted what I value in my life? We need to stop and check in on all of that.
You need to say: how do I accept this change in a greater or lesser way? And how do I adjust my goals, expectations, and definitions of success to the current environment? How do we have to run our businesses so that what we’re doing is meaningful?
1. Start a Self-reflection Process
We can use a self-reflection process as a mechanism for getting us started on thinking about what should be different moving into the future.
Here’s a way to start a reflection process:
- Get a big piece of paper and divide it up into boxes.
- Put headings in each of those boxes for each part of your life in a way that makes sense to you. For example, it can be work, kids, home, or health.
- Maximize this process. If you’re able, set some quiet time aside so that you’re not going to get distracted or interrupted. Have that quiet time aside for 5 or 10 minutes. You don’t have to do it in one sitting. Do one box at a time and over some time. Don’t make it bigger than it is.
- Then think about what your definition of success looks like in each of the areas of your life. What would good enough look like? What’s the ultimate goal here?
2. Break it down into short, medium, and long-term goals
So you’ve defined what success means to you and you have your ultimate goal. Is your ultimate goal short, medium, or long-term?
If it’s a long-term goal, what would the short and medium-term goals be? Gradually, start doing things in the here and now to work towards that. Keep your eye on that ultimate goal.
Once you’ve done that, think about what resources or people you’d need to support you in implementing those short, medium, and long-term steps. Bear in mind the current context and what the next would look like; whether that goal is realistic under current circumstances and context.
Go through mind mapping. This exercise helps people to put their thoughts on paper and do it in a way that they can keep track of them. They can come back to it semi-regularly, check-in, and adjust to keep their eye on the ball.
3. Do a before and after and set new baselines
Most people already have business plans. They have an idea about what success is. They’ve thought about what they want to achieve in their life out of what they’re doing.
Redo this exercise with this new context in mind. COVID and other infectious diseases are not going to go away anytime soon. So, we have to be able to live our lives around or with that. This will help you see what the difference is between before and after COVID.
Then put in place a plan for making those new things happen that you’ve decided are going to be your goals. This exercise gives you a sense of at least a little bit of control over where you’re trying to go or to take your business.
What do you do if you don’t know what success looks like any longer?
It’s important to give yourself permission to not have the answers. Supposedly as adults and business owners, we’re expected to theoretically have all the answers. That’s never the case.
You want to continue learning and growing and being able to pick up new skills, new thoughts, and new ideas.
In these cases, answers that tend to come from our bodies and our subconscious tend to be more accurate than answers that come from our minds. It’s worth sitting, wondering, and being curious.
It’s good to remember that at the end of the day, we are in control of absolutely nothing in our worlds, except our ability to step up and the choices that we make in terms of how we do that. Sometimes stop and reflect on that and what it means.
It helps us to define some of the goals that we are thinking; might be about things that we can control or not. Not knowing is also good. Sometimes we talk about experts knowing everything, but maybe the real experts are the people that know enough to know when they don’t know.
Have faith in your ability to listen to yourself! Stop the burnout before burnout stops you.