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Struggling to stay motivated this week? You can blame it on the six month slump.

Call up anyone you know right now and ask them how they’re doing. You'll quickly find that there's a common thread.

"I'm just taking it day by day."

"I'm just trying to make it through the rest of the week."

"I'm just trying to get to Christmas."

It's been six months since the COVID-19 pandemic threw the entire world into disarray. And after six months of uncertainty, social distancing, and "doom scrolling", we're all trying to crawl to the end of this moment in time. Whenever that may be. 

For those lucky enough to have jobs at the moment, the last six months have been characterised by working remotely, and spending the majority of our time at home. 

Working from home, which used to be considered a perk, was suddenly prescribed. It was for our own safety.

WATCH: Here's exactly how to spot and combat burnout. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

It was all a bit of a novelty at first. The death of the commute, Zoom trivia, online workouts, sourdough starters, TikTok dances, whipped coffee, and Tiger King.

But now, the novelty has worn off. And for many working Australians, the risk of burnout has become even more acute.

Burnout, of course, isn't a new phenomenon. But this year, the knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have certainly made us more susceptible to burnout.

For many of us, working remotely means there's less separation between work and home. We're struggling to concentrate, and it's incredibly hard to switch off from work and the world in general. We've also lost our commute, which often acts as a buffer between work and home, helping us distinguish between 'work time' and 'me time'.

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Likewise, the economic impact of the pandemic is leading to a lot of financial anxiety. We feel like we should be feeling grateful for having a job in this 'unprecedented time', but we're struggling to concentrate. We want to maintain our productivity levels at work to 'prove ourselves', but we're physically and mentally exhausted.

Perhaps worst of all, we've lost all sense of progression and routine in our lives. There are no holidays to look forward to. There are no weddings, at least as we know them, or big birthday parties. Our lives are virtually monotonous.

When you take all these factors into consideration, it can be easy to understand why so many of us are feeling exhausted right now.

Springfox’s latest report, 'The Australian Workforce Response to COVID-19: A call for courage, connection and compassion', explored how working Australians coped professionally and personally during the first few months of the pandemic.

Listen to Mamamia's daily news podcast, The Quicky, below. Post continues after podcast.

The report found that 60.6 per cent of those aged 25 to 34 years old are experiencing higher stress levels at the moment.

The causes of stress noted in the report included changes to ways of working, working with technology, blurred boundaries, time management issues, "always-on" culture, and worry about the future – all prerequisites to burnout. 

But what exactly is burnout, and what should we do if we're struggling with it?

What is burnout? And what are the signs of burnout?

In 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially recognised burnout syndrome as an "occupational phenomenon".

Dr Kelly-Anne Garnier, GP and Founder of Redefining Health, defined burnout as "a psychological syndrome, typically arising following prolonged stress in a work environment".

According to Peta Sigley, Co-Founder and Chief Knowledge Officer at Springfox, burnout is generally characterised by "feelings of chronic exhaustion, cynicism and a sense of discouragement towards one’s job or life situation".

"Most people start to recognise they’re suffering from burnout when they experience physical exhaustion, suffer chronic fatigue, fall sick often, or start experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression like struggling to get out of bed in the morning, social isolation, or struggling to manage emotions," Sigley told Mamamia.

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"However, the earliest signs of burnout begin much earlier. Some early indicators include feelings of restlessness, interrupted sleep patterns, poor sleep quality, difficulty concentrating, angry outbursts, susceptibility to anxiety or depression, headaches, skin rashes, drastic changes in appetite, and even a decreased sex drive."

What causes burnout? And how is COVID-19 impacting burnout?

As for the cause of burnout, Sigley explained that excessive stress is the main contributor to burnout.

"In particular, workplaces that are prone to fast-paced, high-pressure environments with large workloads, short deadlines and a lack of resources within the organisation can put people on the fast track to burnout," she explained.

Outside of the workplace, however, there are many external factors that can contribute to burnout, such as loneliness.

"At our core, we are relational beings – so being separated from friends and family, and even being removed from the social setting of our work environment can make it extremely difficult to feel fulfilled, and can bring about increased work-related exhaustion, self-doubt and defeatism," Sigley explained.

Working remotely has meant that it's harder to separate work from home. Image: Getty. 

Speaking to Mamamia, burnout expert Corona Brady explained that the significant changes to our routine in the last six months may have contributed to burnout.

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"People feel like they don't have a break. Before [the pandemic], people were leaving their homes in the morning, they had a bit of a commute to work and then they were out and away from their family all day. There was that separation between work and home whereas during the pandemic, everything's been on hold and everything has intensified," Brady explained.

"People are feeling trapped. [Especially in Victoria], you can’t get out and do those things that used to give you joy, like meeting friends. We’re kind of left with this feeling of, 'Gosh, there’s nothing really to look forward to'."

Dr Garnier agreed, adding: "Simplistically speaking, if working from home has meant the workload is more sustained and overwhelming – with few opportunities for rest – and a reduced sense control over our work, we are at increased risk [of suffering from burnout]."

What steps can we take to avoid burnout while working remotely?

The lack of separation between work and home is a clear contributor to burnout. 

So, what steps can we take to avoid burning out while working remotely?

"Being aware of the signs of burnout and what puts us at risk is a very good start," Dr Garnier told Mamamia.

"Prevention is always better than cure. Broadly speaking, avoiding burnout relies on managing our workload stress as well as the stress caused by our own lifestyle."

Here are some of the best tips for avoiding burnout and creating routine while working from home:

Burnout prevention tip #1: Stick to a routine.

Although our normal routines have gone out the window in recent months, it's important to try to implement a sense of routine or structure in our days by implementing new daily habits.

"It might be five minutes of meditation in the morning, or a walk around the block on your lunch break. Regular habits give our brains a predictable pattern to fall back on in times of overwhelm," Sigley says.

Burnout prevention tip #2: Make time for self care.

It's something we all know we should be doing, but it's an important one to remember – making time for self care.

"Whatever you know you can rely on to 'fill your tank', should be a priority. In the same way we recognise that filling up our car with petrol regularly is a natural and realistic consequence of regular driving, we are no different," Dr Garnier said.

"Ongoing daily self care is critical. This includes: a well-balanced diet, adequate sleep, regular exercise and mental health self care such as yoga, meditation or mindfulness."

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Burnout prevention tip #3: Stay connected.

While many of us are separated from friends and family, it's important to try to stay connected during this time.

"Staying connected with friends, family and colleagues during the pandemic should be a priority," Sigley said. 

"Surrounding yourself with positive, encouraging, and like-minded people is crucial to one’s mental and emotional well-being."

In a time where we're using our phones more than ever to stay connected, however, it's important to have boundaries when it comes to technology.

"Most people wake up in the morning and what’s the first thing they do? They go straight to their mobile device. They’re checking it, they’re responding to work emails, they’re scrolling through social media feeds. And they're reading negative news as well," burnout expert Corona Brady said.

"It puts you straight into fight-or-flight. If you're starting your day in fight-or-flight mode, then you know the snowball effect of that is that's how your day is going to continue."

Burnout prevention tip #4: Keep strong lifestyle practices.

It's important to make regular exercise and a healthy diet a priority, as well as aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

"Ensure you avoid digital devices and blue light in the hour before you sleep, as this can impair the quality and duration of your rest," Sigley said.

What should we do if we're struggling with burnout?

If you find yourself feeling burnt out, it's important to reach out and seek help.

If you're experiencing symptoms, book in to see your GP or mental health professional. 

"Self care is at the absolute cornerstone of recovery from burnout so don’t let it get to that point before you start to prioritise your own needs," Dr Garnier said. 

"You matter. Your needs matter. Support yourself in looking after yourself – this includes your physical and emotional wellbeing."

Feature Image: Getty.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or  beyondblue 1300 22 4636.


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