We’re not even one month into the new year, and everyone has already had enough. For many, the Christmas break was many things, but relaxing certainly wasn’t one of them.
Between trying to access RATs, self-isolating and frantically reorganising family gatherings, the holiday period was far from joyful. Then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, we’re all back at work again. Back to rushing for deadlines, clearing our inboxes and fighting to maintain a social life despite extreme exhaustion and fear of COVID.
No wonder we’ve already had enough.
The new year is supposed to mark the start of new possibilities. It’s a time for us to reflect on the year that was and make plans for the one ahead. But how can we make plans when everything feels so far out of our control? We’re used to having our plans cancelled, to constant disappointment, so it almost feels futile to plan for the future. It can leave us feeling frustrated, hopeless and very, very lost.
We feel like we’re living the same day over and over. The past two years have somehow managed to pass us by at breakneck speed, while still feeling like the longest chapters of our lives. You begin to disassociate from the concept of time, searching for the few simple pleasures we can still look forward to, and hoping that we don’t lose them as well.
This year is shaping up to be just like the last, where we’re either afraid to go outside and risk catching COVID or the panic of a looming lockdown discourages us from doing anything at all. When the days go by like this, it’s no wonder we’re all feeling burnt out in January. We haven’t had the fresh start we’ve all dreamed of, the new year hasn’t brought the promise of a new reality, and we’re all stuck wondering when it’ll ever get better.
According to psychologistDr Nancy Sokarno from Lysn, burnout is the result of prolonged stress—which is something everyone can relate to right now.
“Put simply, burnout is feeling emotionally and physically exhausted and as though you just can’t go on that way,” she told marie claire Australia.
“Burnout is typically caused by excessive and prolonged stress where a sufferer feels overwhelmed, drained, and as though they’re unable to meet constant demands.”
The World Health Organisation officially recognised burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” in 2019, noting that symptoms had not been successfully managed—and that was before we added a pandemic to workplace-related stress and fatigue.
“The symptoms of burnout range from feeling physically and mentally exhausted, experiencing chronic tiredness and fatigue, trouble sleeping or insomnia, feeling anxious or depressed, suffering from physical ailments or a weak immune system resulting in constant sickness, a lack of focus and forgetfulness,” Sokarno said.
As for why this feeling of burnout is so universal right now, Nancy echoed our own thoughts. We’ve all battled two years of intense, universally-felt anxiety, and at some point, it feels like it’s going to break you.
“The past couple of years have been emotionally exhausting thanks to the constant anxiety felt around the pandemic, whether it be fears around health issues, loss of job, financial stressors, changes in plans, cancelled plans—and then on top of that, the constant influx of the news cycle with case and death updates,” she said.
“For over two years we’ve experienced this constant stress, and the new year was set to offer a clean slate on what’s been a rough 24 months. Then, the rising Covid cases at the end of 2021 felt as though the carpet had been ripped out from underneath us. No longer were we able to appreciate the new year as a blank canvas because we carried the pandemic stresses into 2022 with us. Not only were we not able to wipe away the remnants of 2021, but we weren’t able to get as excited about 2022 being a fresh start.”
While we’re all feeling a little broken, it’s important to remember that we can still get through it. The new year may not be off to the best start, and though it may take a while to see the sun through the clouds, we know that day will come.
To save us from spiralling, we asked Nancy to share her five tips for combatting burnout in the New Year, as something to fall back on when we feel like it’s all getting a bit much.
Do a digital detox
The constant influx of information surrounding the pandemic whether through news outlets or social media can feel a little overwhelming at times. Try to limit your exposure to this kind of news, or at the very least, set aside a time limit of how long you might spend consuming it.
Set clear boundaries
With many people working from home, it’s important to ensure that you set clear boundaries for better work-life balance. That means setting specific work hours, assigning a clear space to do your work and avoiding working outside of work hours as much as possible.
Schedule worry time
While it might sound counterintuitive to encourage you to worry, if you are going to do it anyway, you’re better off doing it with some restrictions. ‘Worry Time’ refers to the practice of setting aside an allocated time to worry each day. Anywhere from 15 mins to 30 mins is enough, where you can write down any of your worries throughout the day, then only think about them in your allocated time. The idea behind this is that it can stop you from spending all day worrying about the same things and the act of writing it down can allow it to almost forget about it temporarily. Just be sure to only practice worry time in the afternoon for a short amount of time and avoid doing it right before bed or when you first wake up. Ideally you can allow time for a joyful activity after your worry time, such as watching your favourite TV show.
Prioritise your physical health
Truly understanding how the mind-body connection works is the focus of ongoing research. However what we do know is that a person’s biology (body) can affect their psychology (mind), and vice versa. For example, using the body for exercise is thought to lessen feelings of anxiety because it produces changes in brain areas associated with anxiety. Conversely, chronic stress may negatively affect the immune system through the elevated production of stress-related hormones. It is important to keep in mind the fact that our physical health affects our mental health and therefore we need to ensure that we exercise regularly, eat nutritious food, drink plenty of water and avoid overuse of substances such as alcohol or drugs.
Talk to someone
Sometimes getting your thoughts out in the open can be incredibly beneficial for your mental health. If you are struggling with feeling burnt out already, talk to friends or family about how you’re feeling. You may find that they are also experiencing similar feelings and you can benefit from feeling not alone in your experience. If speaking to someone close to you feels a bit daunting, consider seeking the help of a professional. Hopefully one day we start to approach seeing a psychologist in the same way we might see a personal trainer. Mental health should be an ongoing thing that we ‘exercise’ or work on, not just if we are struggling. Services like Lifeline and BeyondBlue provide free over-the-phone counselling with trained experts that can help you through any mental health concerns. Services like Lysn provide access to psychologists via video chat, which can be accessed from the comfort of your own home around the clock. These services can be instrumental in providing the support you need when facing concerns like burn out early on in the new year.