A therapist on why we’re exhausted and how to get back the balance

A therapist on why we’re exhausted and how to get back the balance

More Australians than ever before are suffering from burnout while working from home. Alison Izzo quizzes therapist Leanne Hall on why we’re feeling more exhausted away from the office, and the daily practises that can help quell the stress and restore balance.

It’s a cruel trick that many of us seem to be suffering from; working from home (WFH) burnout. While social isolation has meant many Australians should theoretically be enjoying the health benefits from WFH (reduced commuting times, time to exercise during the working day, eating more home-made meals…), the opposite is in fact the case.

A new independent survey nationally representative survey of 3000 adult (age 18 – 75) Australians, commissioned by Panadol, took a look at our physical and mental health since COVID-19 and especially since WFH became the norm. It revealed that 51% of respondents are now more stressed and find it hard to switch off from work, 59% of new home workers find it hard to focus on the work they need to do, and 45% feel that their overall wellbeing has been negatively impacted.

Perhaps that because 24% of new homeworkers are working from the bedroom and almost 1 in 10 are working from the couch – which can’t be good for productivity. Or alone your back.

Speaking of pain, almost half (48%) of new home workers and two-thirds (68%) of new home students now suffer from having more headaches, thanks to looking at a computer screen all day. It all adds up to a population that is overworked, overwhelmed, stressed, sore and exhausted – otherwise known as burnout. FUN.

We asked independent therapist Leanne Hall why working from home has had this effect, and what we can do about it.

What is burnout?

“Burnout is basically a state of complete physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. It’s caused by prolonged stress, or excessive stress and nearly always accompanied by feeling trapped and stuck, and feeling as though you have very little or no control. The symptoms can mimic depression; and if untreated can become quite severe and debilitating. There are, of course, much milder symptoms and all of us can and do experience varying levels of mental and emotional distress, especially when faced with the unknown. Being in-tune with yourself and recognising the early warning signs is key so we can take measures to look after ourselves and prioritise self-care.”

Do I have burnout?

“The main symptoms really do vary – however it usually begins with things like increased irritability, feeling overwhelmed, poor sleep, a sense of dread when going to work/school (if that is the main source of stress) often accompanied by nausea, and a sense of feeling stuck or trapped in a situation. In terms of what to look for in others; a noticeable change in behaviour, they may become more withdrawn, avoidant, negative, and their work performance may decline.”

So, it’s not just me?

“What I’m seeing are people who are overwhelmed and struggling to adjust to the sudden changes in their lives. It shows that roles have changed, routines have changed and so many people have lost their sense of identity and purpose – something that is likely to continue as we are faced with new and evolving challenges as we emerge from the pandemic. For people who were experiencing stress/anxiety before COVID-19, these changes have added to their distress.”

Why are we over-working ourselves?

There could be a few reasons:

  • Lack of separation between ‘work’ and ‘home time’. Working from home blends the boundaries, so some people find it hard to “switch off” from their work day.
  • Another reason is some people find that they need to work harder to prove they can be productive, which is especially the case if your work culture doesn’t really support flexible working options.
  • Sometimes tasks simply take longer. For example, you can’t just walk to your colleagues’ desk to ask a question. You need to email or call them. These simple things can mean the workday extends longer.
  • It’s also easy to be distracted by chores! This can drag out the day, as you basically end up doing several jobs at the same time.

Essential steps to avoid burnout while at home:

  • Create a separate workspace, away from communal living areas and bedrooms.
  • Plan your workday – and be realistic about what you can achieve.
  • Have breaks, go for a walk outside.
  • Forget the household chores! They can wait. Prioritise your paid work first.
  • Meditation and mindfulness. Being mindful improves and enhances self-awareness, making it easier to manage and work through emotions. Often, we get ‘stuck’ in a negative mood state, and a degree of self-awareness helps us to shift through the negative state to a more positive place. Panadol’s Mindful Month by Smiling Mind encourages Aussies to establish a mindfulness practice over the course of 30 days in June is a great place to start.
  • Seek support if you are feeling overwhelmed. Most organisation’s provide free counselling services through their Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). Contact your HR department to find out about these services. If they don’t have this, contact your GP. The Government has funded a number of initiatives to ensure that people have greater access to mental health support during these times.

Can we undo the damage?

“Support is critical – and the earlier the better. Having open conversations about how we are being impacted by stress is a great way of creating a sense of community and support. We also need to be kinder to ourselves, learn to set realistic expectations and practice assertive ways of communicating with work colleagues.

Learning ways to relax is also important, taking time out, and investing in loved ones. Look for silver linings. Extra time with family, more sleep-ins, wearing Ugg boots all day – and extra coffee breaks.

Being mindful. Mindfulness helps us regulate our emotions which in turn reduces anxiety, improves mood, improves sleep, and increases cognition. It also reduces blood pressure and can ease chronic pain.

Also know that the situation we are in is changing, we will be able to go out for dinner and plan holidays again! In the meantime, while we are all in this together, our individual reactions will differ as we navigate our own unique challenges. So don’t make assumptions when it comes to what other people may be going through.”

To join Panadol’s Mindful Month with Smiling Mind, you can join up here.

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