By Julie Robertson, CCLS, MSW, RSW
How Are We Feeling?
Is anyone tired yet? Feel like crying, yelling, or stomping your feet with the latest provincial restrictions? As we continue into this 4th wave of the pandemic and kids return for another round of online schooling, many are feeling pushed past the point of being able to hold it all together. So go ahead, cry, stomp or yell (maybe into your pillow) and let everything you feel have its place. The more people I talk to these days, the more I realize that so many are experiencing burnout from the challenges of the last two years. Yes, we’re coming up to two years living through the ups and downs of the pandemic, and that is a long time to be under this much stress.
What is Burnout?
Feeling burnt out is a concept we threw around maybe a bit lightly in previous times to describe big stressors such as crunch time during exams, busy streaks at work, or shuttling kids to activities on top of working and caring for family members. Those things all have potential for burnout but add a pandemic on top of that and it seems almost inevitable that most people would be fizzling and fading out this far into it. One difference is that before, we often caught a break. Exams finished, workloads ebbed and flowed, and kids activity sessions ended with each season. Now, there has not been the same balance, no end to the stress of the pandemic, and so much unknown with all of it that we are left is stress mode for way too long with no way to rest and recover. Even if we are eating healthy balanced foods, drinking water, going for walks and getting fresh air, for many people it doesn’t seem to be feeling any better. This is beyond the tired of before and recognizing it for what it is can help switch from swimming in circles to energy conservation mode, allowing the chance to heal when we have space. Burnout can be described as the imbalance between too much stress and the lack of resources to cope with it, or “feelings of depleted energy or exhaustion because of continual stress”.
Some symptoms of burnout could be:
- Feeling exhausted, despite efforts to relax and replenish
- Irritability or hostility
- Difficulty concentrating
- Change in sleep habits
- Feeling distanced from others, friends, family, kids
- Lack of fulfillment in work, parenting etc
- Feeling trapped
My Coping Tools Aren’t Working!!
So, hands up if you’re feeling depleted from continual stress? How many are feeling the lack of resources to cope with that stress? Are the tools you usually pull out to help cope just not working under the current circumstances? I don’t think you’re alone with that one! The things that normally help us cope like taking time off with friends, some alone time with a cup of tea, going to the gym, connecting socially with co-workers to vent, or even accessing affordable healthy foods have all been interrupted. Health care workers, teachers, other front-line staff especially are struggling with the heaviness of working in helping professions and holding other people’s emotions. Those working in services jobs also have the stress of face-to-face contact, and grumpy grumps complaining about not getting enough ketchup packets with their order is adding layers to an already stressful industry to work in.
Is Parental Burnout a Thing?
And then there are the parents of school age kids and youth, who are now facing another few weeks (at least) of doing it all and having no space to take a breath and regroup. Parental burnout is noticeable on the whispers, sometimes loud whispers, of many parents who feel like they are hating being parents right now. On top of feeling the burnout symptoms, many parents then add on shame and guilt for not enjoying their kids as much as they ‘should’, or for not being able to provide as much support as their kids need right now.
So, after recognizing we’re feeling burnt out, what do we do if our usual coping strategies aren’t working anymore, or we can’t implement them because of the circumstances we’re in?
1. First, breathe. That’s all, if nothing else just breathe. Pretend to smell freshly baked cookies with a deep breath, then blow out to cool them off.
2. Let yourself feel. Everything that is coming up, even the hate, anger or frustration has a place and can be honoured. Just because you have those feelings doesn’t mean they are permanent, but they are valid and can be allowed to be recognized and named for what they are. And scream into a pillow if you need to, just maybe warn people nearby first.
3. Go back to basics of survival. Eat, sleep, create ways to feel safe and prioritize the most important things to get through each day. Oh, and water, don’t forget to drink water!
4. Move. If your body is already stressed to the point of being in fight or flight mode, don’t push it further into stress by pressuring yourself to fit in workouts you would normally do when feeling good. Be gentle, move your body, get some fresh air, or just stretch when you have a few minutes throughout the day.
5. Reframe your thoughts in helpful ways. After letting all the feels do their feeling, look at picking out a few mental statements that have room for a shift in perspective and try them on. Things like “I can’t stand a messy house, I am failing at keeping it together if I can’t keep things organized” could shift to “I can’t stand a messy house, but it won’t be like this forever (even if it feels like it right now). I can leave the toys where they are and focus on doing one load of laundry for today”.
6. If help is offered, take it, or not. If having your mother-in-law in your house for the day to ‘help’ doesn’t feel very helpful, then saying a polite no thank you might be the less stressful choice, and that’s ok.
7. Talk to someone. A friend, a counsellor, a neighbour, a sympathetic pet. Journaling or making voice notes to vent can also be helpful. If you’re really feeling down, call a helpline or head to your Emergency Department.
And that is all I’m going to say because a bigger list is not always better. In times of crisis, illness, burnout, we can let go of all of the extras we have padded onto our lives, the frills, bows and expectations that aren’t essential to what we need, and just focus on taking care of the things that get us through. The frills and bows and be added back on later, if we still want them that is!
If you feel you need more support finding ways to cope that can fit with your circumstances, consider booking a free 15-minute consultation, or go straight to booking a 50-minute session with Julie. All sessions are virtual, Social Work fees are covered by most insurance plans.