2020 was quite an exhausting year and 2021 has not felt different. The last year has brought new and unique challenges that no one could ever imagine. Facing a global pandemic, social injustice, riots, and so much more have wreaked havoc on the world. Up until this point, everyone has felt the dark enduring weight of burn-out and have struggled at times to stay afloat. When the pandemic was brought to light, we all imagined that we could walk away after two weeks of quarantine, but we know better now. Throughout this last year, the most commonly asked question I faced has been: “how do I take care of my mental health when it feels like the world is on fire and I’m exhausted?”. Those who had a consistent self-care regimen were at a loss. The world was forced to get creative and find new ways to do everything. At times, everything felt like a struggle and does even now. Finding alternative coping strategies that did not include going outside and interacting with others took lots of creativity. Even now, mental health needs are at an all-time high and burn-out is real.
Identifying burnout can be the most important step because it requires paying attention to your mood, thoughts, and body. It can look different from person to person but can typically be characterized by, but not limited to: feelings of exhaustion, irritability, insomnia/hypersomnia, changes in eating behavior, increased suicidal ideation, becoming easily reactive, lack of productivity, and increases in headaches and stomachaches. An ultimate consequence of ignoring your signs of burnout is depression. There are ways to intervene before you get to that place. Once you are able to identify that you feel burned out, try to focus on the source of your burnout. Is it an overall response to what is happening in the world/country, is it work related, isolation, parenting expectations, difficulties with a partner/family/ friends, or all of the above?
Starting to assess how well you are attending to your most basic needs is a good place to start. Your safety is the most important, then sleep, and eating and drinking what nourishes your body. Finding solutions and creating boundaries around ensuring such needs are taken care of can allow you to explore other areas of strife. Reaching out to your support network is the next step to consider. Of course, methods of communication have changed, but there are still safe and rewarding ways to find support. If family and friends are not able to help, reaching out to a mental health provider could be the next best step. Making a list of activities you enjoy and engaging in those activities as often as you like could feel reinvigorating. Some self-care strategies I enjoy are reaching out to friends (whatever that may look like), exercising, taking my dogs for a walk, painting, putting together jigsaw puzzles, and anything else you find enjoyable. Being mentally present can be incredibly powerful when engaging in self-care activities because it reconnects you to your passions. Spending less time on social media and screens can also be a self-care tool. Throughout this process, it is important to note that judgments toward ourselves and our capabilities may arise. Practicing grace and using a non-judgmental approach can be paramount while we rediscover likes, interests, and what overall makes us feel good.
Once you are able to consistently implement some of these strategies, it important to begin to find different ways to address what triggered your burnout in order to reverse the impacts and return back to yourself. Continuing to enforce boundaries around self-care and the things you enjoy will help prevent burnout from taking place again.
Azalea Di Nardi, M.A.
Psychotherapist CORE-Center of Relational Empowerment, P.C.