When you’re working from the comfort of your own home (and perhaps – no judgment here! – your pajamas), and sparing yourself the hectic mornings of the past (think alarm snoozes and jam-packed highways), one would assume that you’re doing your mental health a favor, right?
Wrong. A Huffington Post article published in July explains that, although you may not be experiencing the traditional signs of burnout (which we previously blogged about here), it hasn’t gone away; it’s just showing up in ways we’re not used to recognizing. Author Natasha Hinde illuminates some of the signs that may tell you you’re burning out. Hinde’s article, as well as Forge author Laura Vanderkam’s July article, offer helpful strategies to combat work-from-home burnout.
Thanks to COVID-19, people are having to minimize their face-to-face social interactions. This carries over into our work performance, says psychotherapist Lucy Fuller. The intensity of being glued to our work is no longer being broken up with hallway chatter, coffee breaks, or lunch outings with our colleagues and friends. It is further magnified by the fact that, for many of us, our laptops and/or workstations are now within arm’s reach, 24/7. This, Fuller says, increases the likelihood of our brains burning out from too much uninterrupted screen time.
What makes burnout-from-home so elusive, though, is that the symptoms are different than those resulting from traditional workplace burnout, which in turn makes them harder to attribute to the real culprit. Most often, says Fuller, WFH burnout shows itself in the form of “mental fuzziness.” It is also characterized by increased exhaustion, anger, sadness, frustration, confusion, and forgetfulness.
So how can we continue WFH without BFH? First, try to physically separate your work area and equipment as much as possible from the rest of your home life. Create a designated workstation – rather than letting your work overtake your kitchen table, for instance – so that you have a place to “report to” for each of your work shifts and depart from at the end of your workday. This taps into another strategy to combat BFH: setting defined times during which you will and will not be working. This will establish necessary boundaries to let both your colleagues and your co-habitants know when they can and cannot reach you. Another way to maintain firm boundaries is to avoid over-crowding your workday by giving yourself a mountain of tasks to accomplish. Instead, suggests Forge author Laura Vanderkam, create “short, focused daily to-do lists.” She calls this “managing by task, not time.”
Another burnout-prevention strategy Fuller says is essential is establishing a transition routine between your workday and your post-workday time. For many, this transitional time was previously built into our days in the form of a commute; now, many of us must create that time for ourselves. Transitioning out of “work mode” can look a number of ways, from putting on music, to washing the dishes, to getting some exercise. It should not look like more screen time, as this will only burn out your brain further.
If, after implementing all of these strategies, you still feel burned out, it may be a sign that you need to take a vacation, if that option is available to you. Just because our options for travel are limited doesn’t mean it taking a vacation is a “waste” if you’re in need of a break. If vacation (or “staycation”) is not a viable option for you, be sure to prioritize mindfulness practices like breathing exercises, gratitude, and meditation, and/or seek psychological support from a counselor or therapist if you can.