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Monday, August 3, 2020
New York, NY, USA

Quarantine Month 5: Summer of Burnout



I remember when I was texting one of my friends back in March, and I asked for her guess on how long we would be in quarantine. "Hm, I think September," she said, to which I reacted with skepticism, but as it is already August, the reality of it is starting to sink in.

Given how uneventful my summer has been, I was not sure what to write about, but I had an idea after several conversations with friends, when I noticed that we all had one thing in common: we were incredibly burned out.

Last summer, I wrote a blog post about emotional exhaustion, which is defined as being emotionally drained or worn out, usually from accumulated stress from work or personal life. I want to bring this topic up again, because burnout is hitting me differently this year. I find that it is difficult to stay focused, productive and motivated, which makes this whole pandemic even more stressful than it already is.


I think this can be attributed to several factors, but the below come to mind.

As I mentioned in my last quarantine blog post, work has been very busy for me and my colleagues. Work from home (WFH) has actually made our hours worse, because it is obvious we are all home and thus "available" around the clock. I was surprised to hear that this has also been the case for my friends in tech. I think the expectation to be available 24/7 has gotten slightly better as NYC slowly opened up (hooray, phase 4!) and social commitments are now to be expected to some extent.

Another factor of burnout is that sources of relaxation and mental clarity for many people, like gyms and vacations, are indefinitely unavailable. Sure, there are lots of home workouts, but it's definitely not the same without weights and cardio equipment. (I applaud those who have been able to finish Chloe Ting's summer shred challenge.) Vacations are kind of pointless as they essentially only provide a change of scenery for quarantine.

Not sure about others, but commuting was an effective source of mental clarity for me. Don't get me wrong - WFH lets me maximize my sleep, I'm not melting in the subway station and not getting trampled while squeezing into a packed ACE train with a horde of aggressive New Yorkers, but at this point, I miss the sense of urgency. In the pre-COVID days, I would sometimes take the subway to Grand Central Terminal instead of the stop closer to my office, so I could soak in the energy from the morning rush at GCT and then enjoy a nice 10-15 minute walk on Park Avenue to the office. Obviously, this small luxury is gone for the time being.

So having said that, how do we stay mentally energized and manage burnout?


I'm still trying to figure this out for myself, but my approach so far has been to avoid cluttering my mind more than is necessary. The below have been helpful for me:

  1. Know that you are not alone in feeling unmotivated or unproductive. It's normal, so cut yourself some slack whenever you feel this way. 
  2. Log off of Skype/Lync when you are "done" for the day. While you may still get work or emails afterwards, being offline sends an indirect message to others that you are "off" work. The effect is more psychological than anything.
  3. Use your personal days. On those days when you "literally cannot," take some time for yourself, if possible.
  4. Surround yourself with empowering, positive words or art. I recently purchased some canvas art with motivational quotes, and I feel so much better every time I look at them.
  5. Incorporate social interaction outside of work regularly if you can. Whether virtual or in-person (with social distancing measures), a dose of social interaction here and there is refreshing and very much needed.
  6. Take a break from social media, especially Instagram. My reason for doing this is to minimize distractions, so I can focus on myself and what I need to do. This has actually been incredibly helpful for me, because I have too much on my plate to care if an influencer is stressed about renovating her Southampton summer home.
  7. Get as much vitamin D as possible. As soon as I get up, I open my blinds all the way to let in all the natural light to get that "new day" effect. However, the weather in NYC has not been great lately, so it is not always reliable...
  8. Acknowledge that there is only so much YOU can do. The universe works on its own time, so there is no point in stressing over what you can't control. Obviously, easier said than done.



Has quarantine affected your mood or productivity? What has helped you offset those effects, if any? 

Thanks for reading. Hope you are staying safe!
Phyllis

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