Many people find that their mental health and mood dip through winter. The darker days and nights, less hours of light, gloomy weather and isolation can have a huge impact on our wellbeing.
This year that impact is worse than usual, as so many of us have been stressed or isolated with lockdown, restricted time with family and friends, and the pressure of working through a pandemic or of losing work because of the virus.
Self-care is never the first priority for many of us, but it’s more important than ever before that we find ways to care for our own needs, to protect our health and emotional wellbeing, but also to enable us to have reserves to continue supporting others.
What I am seeing a lot of, from clients, friends, family, from everyone to some extent – is burnout.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. (From HelpGuide)
In other words, burnout is what happens when you have been fighting for months to stay safe and keep your loved ones safe, to work in unusual circumstances, to pay bills with reduced income, to feed your family through a pandemic, to maintain happiness and health whilst home-schooling, working, social distancing, being isolated, separated from support networks – burnout is what happens when you live through a pandemic, economic collapse, political upheaval and the constant threat of harm.
Burnout is what you’re very likely experiencing when you stare at your to-do list and have no idea where or how to start, and are kicking yourself for not being able to achieve as much as usual.
This is normal – at least, it’s normal as a response to this very far from normal year you’ve lived through. It’s common, it’s expected, and it’s okay. You aren’t alone, and you need to reframe your expectations.
The first thing to accept is that this is not normal – this year, this experience. So expecting a normal level of productivity, of activity, and of output is simply impossible.
Your body and mind aren’t in a productive mode; you aren’t in a place where creativity, action and future planning are really possible.
When you are under the kind of stress and pressure that we have all been experiencing, your mind is in defence mode. Your body and brain are finding ways to protect you, to survive, and to simply get through the day – not to achieve anything beyond simply surviving.
When your subconscious mind is working so hard on survival, there is little energy left for creativity or productivity. When your body is in survival mode, any focus you may ordinarily have for training, exercising, working towards goals, is almost impossible to tap into; your body doesn’t have the energy to fight, survive and keep you going and commit to new goals or targets – so if you’ve struggled to work towards any long-term health or exercise goals this year, that’s okay; it’s normal. Your body and mind simply can’t right now. So don’t be angry with yourself, or disappointed; forgive yourself for where you are, due to a situation that is completely outside of your control, and focus instead on what you can control; forgiveness, kindness and survival.
Steps to take
Recognise and acknowledge the signs
- Set smaller goals
- Structure and routine in your day
- Wind-down time
- Support network
- Ask for help
Recognise and acknowledge
We are all great at berating ourselves and criticising ourselves for what we fail to achieve – but when did you last listen to your body, and acknowledge where you are and how you feel right now?
Acknowledging the signs of burnout is the first and most important step in overcoming it.
Set smaller goals
So perhaps you haven’t achieved what you dreamed of this year, but look at what you have achieved – and focus on the small wins. You have been subjected to enormous and very complex changes, completely outside of your control. The pandemic has robbed you of many freedoms and opportunities – but it hasn’t completely stalled every thing you are and do. So list the things you’ve achieved – and count even the smallest things as a success. Getting out of bed and dressed is the most you can do sometimes – so take that little win.
Structure and routine
If you have lost your work or the activities you usually participate in, it’s easy to slip into a rut and to live in your pyjamas, with no shape to your day and time.
Create some structure; set an alarm and try to stick to a regular sleeping and waking schedule, get washed and dressed, keep meals at the same times each day, and start to add in more things over time – getting out for a walk, calling someone, applying for jobs, reading a book, anything which you feel is a proactive and positive use of time.
Wind down time
Without structure and with less need to leave the house many fall into a habit of distraction; watching tv or films, gaming, scrolling through social media – but often these mindless blue screen activities keep your subconscious brain stimulated and agitated – so ensure that you get some time each day – at least a couple of hours – away from these devices, reading or outdoors in nature, meditating or finding another way to relax.
Personal hygiene, time doing something you enjoy, soaking in the bath, exercising, grooming, styling your hair, picking out an activity which you love to do – whatever it is that give you small moments of joy and which gives your mind and body some healthy nourishment is vital. Even small things – washing your hair, changing your bedding, replacing one pair of pyjamas with a fresh clean set – can make you feel better in small ways.
The isolation of lockdown and social distancing has made many of us very lonely. It’s a painful and frightening experience, so please do take time to reach out to your support network. Call family and friends, make time to video call when you can, and where you’re able to get out of your house to meet others again.
Ask for help
None of us need to be alone. Nobody needs to fight on, without help and support, struggling and battling burnout and overwhelm; you deserve to be supported and find help, no matter what has happened in your life, and no matter how lost you feel.
If you think that having someone you can speak with in confidence could help, and you would like support in processing the trauma and stress you’ve experienced – whether that’s as a direct result of the pandemic or there’s other experiences you are struggling with – call me to arrange a 10 minute assessment call, where we can have a chat about what you need and whether I’m the right person to help you.
Call me on 07749 499783 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or you can message me via Facebook or this website. You can also speak to me on video call via WhatsApp, which is how most of my sessions have been carried out through the pandemic. You don’t need to struggle alone any more.