How to Avoid Burnout, Even at Home

Author: Grace Seamon-Lahiff

In all of the articles and blog posts that have been published on how to cope during COVID-19, I have yet to come across one that talks about the dangers of burnout. Burnout is typically described as one or all of the following: an overwhelming feeling of emotional or physical exhaustion, feeling disconnected from your body or your sense of self, and/or feeling ineffective any time you attempt to do work, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Burnout is often associated with the emotional toll that comes with working in mental or physical health. But as life has become one endless day, we are all at risk for burnout. For those who work from home, burnout looms in the inability to set and maintain normal working hours. For those who are still getting up every day to brave the physical world, the lack of human interaction and potential separation from loved ones threatens burnout. For everyone who is unemployed, caring or worrying about a sick loved one, or finding themselves unable to teach their newly homeschooled 8th grader math, burnout is possible.

woman dancing in sunlightPhoto: Jackson David on Unsplash

So, in this time of uncertainty and confinement, take some time to notice how you are feeling.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, or disconnected from yourself, move your body. Research has shown that mere minutes of dancing, jumping, or shaking can greatly improve your mood, decrease stress, and reduce trauma symptoms. If you are feeling ineffective when you’re attempting to do your work, take a break, strike a pose, change your clothes, or change your scenery.

Though once refuted, power pose expert Amy Cuddy has come back with some facts to show that striking a power pose — such as standing like Wonder Woman, or pretending to fly like Superman and taking up as much physical space as possible — does, in fact, do wonders for your emotional health and can boost confidence in your ability to be productive and effective. Along these lines, if you are feeling ineffective at work or you are out of work and find depression and anxiety coming to devour your precious energy, it might be time to change out of the sweatpants.

Hear me out! I know that one of the only good things about our collective quarantine is getting to spend our days in PJs, sweats and yoga pants. But a 2012 study on the suggestive power of clothing found that people participating in attention-demanding tasks performed better, and held their attention longer, if they were wearing a lab coat. So, while you don’t necessarily need to Amazon Prime yourself a white lab coat, it is always a good idea to dress for the occasion. So, pull off the PJs, practice some good coronavirus hygiene (remember showers? remember makeup? remember shaving?) and find your COVID-19 power suit. Even if that suit happens to have Adidas stripes down the side, you stand to feel better if you change out of the clothes you woke up in.

Finally, the best combatant of burnout is to know and acknowledge your own limits. We are only human. Even if you can say with confidence that this pandemic is not the worst thing that has ever happened to you, that doesn’t mean it will not, and is not, wearing on you. So, when you are feeling like you are pushing a boulder up a hill going nowhere, take some time to recharge your batteries. Because no matter what your time in quarantine is like, no one can serve from an empty cup.

Grace Seamon-Lahiff is a military brat, a military spouse, and a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She is currently getting her doctorate at Catholic University and works for TAPS as the manager for Research and Impact Assessment. Prior to coming to TAPS, she served as a mental health clinician for Marine Corps Community Services, providing therapy and creating preventative mental health programs.

COVID-19 Resources

TAPS has partnered with national experts, international leaders and organizations to focus on global issues impacting everyone during the COVID-19 pandemic. The TAPS COVID-19 Resource Page includes information on coping with grief and loss; health and wellness; and tips for parenting and youth during the COVID-19 crisis.