Stella Goddard

BA (Hons) Counselling, Registered MBACP (Accred)
Registered AMemACC Registered MNCPS (Acc.)

Recognising Burnout in a Worldwide Crisis

A Confusing Time

I originally wrote this article on recognising burnout in June 2019 for LinkedIn.  I have decided to modify it to reflect where we are now in April 2020 as the world has changed so much.  I still believe that burnout is a real possibility as we adjust to a ‘new normal.’ Trying to juggle working at home, fears about whether you have a job or not, fears about children being at home with the schools and universities closed at the moment, fears about our health and the health of other people, fears about being away from those that we love, to name just a few.  I believe that we are all still being bombarded with many stressors and there is a limit for all of us before we become overwhelmed and in despair.

So much is expected of us – how will we manage emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually, relationally during a time of unprecedented uncertainty?  Our instinct to survive is profound and we may be on overdrive trying to do all we can not to drown.

How do I manage my work/life balance?

The pace in today’s world is relentless, as we are expected to work longer and longer hours if we want to climb the career ladder. People are bombarded with demands to be present at all times and with the extensive use of Zoom, Skype, Face-Time etc it can be almost impossible to ‘switch off’ and ‘not be available.’ Added to this is our desire to ‘see our families and friends’ so we may spend many hours online chatting, playing games, ‘having coffee or a drink.’ Our pleasure and need to be connected pathways are satisfied with being fed, but then we may feel sad and anxious afterwards as we come to terms with the reality of not being able to see some of the people we love for an indeterminate amount of time.

 It seems to me that boundaries can be crossed by employers who expect their staff to respond immediately regardless of what time zone it is. I remember being told that a boss was going to continue to send emails late into the evening because that is the time that suited him. The stress and anxiety that this caused was profound. Whilst I recognise that working globally is now very much part of the modern way of being, I wonder if sometimes we have become so driven towards the goal that we forget the humanity of the people who are on the ground. It can be hard to say ‘no’ for fear of being seen as obstructive, not committed, lazy, etc. I heard a new expression recently – Are you Zoomed out?

I am always perplexed when I ask someone how they are and they respond with ‘busy.’ What does that mean, I wonder?

Could it be I dare not stop because the whole family/company/country/world is  depending on me’? I wonder what it is like for the WHO, NHS and for the Government  as they seek answers to our endless (and reasonable) questions – they too are human and have their mental and physical health to consider.

Please do not talk to me. I am so stressed and anxious that I haven’t got time for silly questions.

I am so busy and I can’t find a quiet space to work at home. The children keep interrupting my Zoom calls and I do love them but cannot concentrate properly

I keep having arguments with my wife/husband/partner and I cannot find  any space to have some peace and quiet.

You ask me if I have considered having some therapy – how can I do that when I cannot find a private space to think, talk and reflect?

Setting Boundaries

If we are self-employed, we may also find it hard to set boundaries and say ‘no.’ How often have we said to ourselves late in the evening? ‘I will just quickly respond to that potential client.’ What is it we are afraid of? I know sometimes I have responded to clients in the evening or weekend and the next time I see them they say ‘I wasn’t expecting you to answer me at the weekend.’ – Good reminder and I am definitely still learning…plenty of room for improvement.

Working long hours has got to take a toll on our mental and physical health. I have noticed a ‘work hard, play hard’ culture in which people recognise that they need to relax but are so exhausted they use drugs and alcohol to enable them to ‘keep going.’ I hear phrases like ‘oh that’s fine, everyone does it.’ ‘It’s only Friday, Saturday, Sunday…’

The problem with all of this is that people can lose sight of their own well-being as they are caught up in ‘everyone else is doing it’ and assume that if they want to earn lots of money and be successful materially then it is a price worth paying.

It can be difficult to say to your boss or team that you are not feeling that great and are struggling. I have known situations where people have tried to reach out and say that they are feeling suicidal only to be dismissed and laughed at. Imagine what that must feel like to have reached a place where you are beginning to try and find a way out of this life because you do not know what else to do. Whilst I recognise that it is hard to hear that someone is considering ending their life, can I ask please that you do not ridicule or minimise what someone is trying to express to you. At least listen and suggest they see their GP.

Stop for a moment and notice…..

Imagine that you were able to stand back for a moment and watch your activity just before the outbreak of Covid-19 and now.  What would you notice about:

What time you get up in the morning?

How you interact with the people you live/work/interact with? 

Do you take breaks? lunch? where? at your desk?

What are your family and friends saying to you and about you?

Have your family or friends expressed their concern to you about the amount of stress you are under? If so, how have you responded?

What has happened to your ability to listen and hear?

How is your sleeping and eating?

Are you finding that you are short-tempered and snappy?

If those that you love and care about are expressing concern for you, it is wise to listen though you may find that you feel defensive and brush them off. Equally if you are concerned for yourself and know that you are not feeling quite right please consider how you may take care of your physical and mental health.

Being self-aware and self-compassionate is so important. If we do not look after ourselves properly, set some boundaries and learn how to express our needs both at work and at home we may burnout and not even recognise what is happening to us. We may notice we feel stressed, low, anxious, angry, isolated, exhausted, lacking in motivation…..

If anything that you have read here resonates with you do reach out for some help. This takes courage and is a sign of strength not weakness. Our mental health and physical health are inextricably intertwined and matter very much.