Why you're suffering from burnout when you're not actually doing that much

Emily Gulla
·4-min read
Photo credit: d3sign - Getty Images
Photo credit: d3sign - Getty Images

From Cosmopolitan

Cast your mind back to the first lockdown, when we all promised ourselves we'd learn a new language or take up crochet. Chances are it didn't happen, and you were left feeling pretty lethargic, right?

Well, now that we're well into the second lockdown, you might find yourself feeling just as tired and burnt out, even though you're not actually doing much at all.

Experiencing burnout even when you're not busy can be frustrating, but don't beat yourself up too much; there's an actual psychological reason why you're feeling tired and burnt out right now, according to the experts.

It turns out feeling burnt out is actually to do with stress, rather than just being busy. "Burnout is used to describe what happens when you are stressed or under pressure for a long time," explains Specialist Mental Health Adviser for Bupa UK, Fatmata Kamara.

"Although a certain amount of stress can be useful and make us productive, when your stress levels become unmanageable you can become overwhelmed," she adds. This feeling of overwhelmment may be what leads to you struggling to find the motivation to do anything at all.

Photo credit: skyNext - Getty Images
Photo credit: skyNext - Getty Images

Why do you feel burnt out, even when you're not busy?

"Our daily life – and our sense of normality – has been completely uprooted. Burnout is still very much around, as we’re being exhausted in a whole new way," explains Fatmata.

"Although you may feel less busy during lockdown, COVID-19 has brought new stresses in our life ... All of these added pressures and worries can leave us feeling anxious, stressed and emotionally exhausted."

Plus, as well as feeling mentally stressed out, you might find yourself working longer hours and being disconnected from loved ones, which can contribute to burnout. "With many of us now working from home, it’s a different setup to what we’re used to. It can be tempting to work longer hours, as we’ve not got our usual after-work commute," says Fatmata.

Plus, there's a lack of differentiation between work and relaxation right now, which can take its toll, and your risk of burn out can actually increase if you're not balancing your work and home life, Fatmata adds.

Photo credit: Westend61 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Westend61 - Getty Images

How can burnout lead to a lack of motivation?

When you feel overwhelmed, as happens with burnout, it's easy to feel demotivated too. With work, for example, "it can be difficult to stay motivated if the demands of your work consistently exceed the amount of energy you have available," explains Fatmata.

Plus, feeling worried about a pandemic isn't the most encouraging thing in the world, either. "High levels of stress, anxiety and hopelessness can really impact our motivation and enthusiasm for our work," says Fatmata.

How to cope with feeling burnt out

So, what can you do about it? It's totally normal to feel burnt out right now, but that doesn't mean there aren't things you can do to try to curb the feeling.

Photo credit: ULTRA F - Getty Images
Photo credit: ULTRA F - Getty Images

Fatmata suggests:

  • Prioritise sleep. "Make sure you’re getting enough sleep – aim for between seven and nine hours," says Fatmata. It can help to give yourself a relaxing bedtime routine and avoid digital devices for an hour before bed, she adds.

  • Try to exercise. Finding the motivation to exercise can be really difficult. But you don't need to do anything too strenuous. "Exercise has lots of benefits for both our physical and mental health. Even if you don’t feel like it, heading outside for a walk can help."

  • Slow down. If you're feeling stressed, your mind might be going at a hundred miles per hour, even if your body isn't. Fatmata suggests taking slow deep breaths to reduce stress and anxiety levels. "Try to focus on the present moment and think about what you’re grateful for – it can help to write this down, too," she adds.

  • Keep up connections. Staying in touch with loved ones has a positive impact on our mental health, so make sure you find the time to call or meet from a distance (with one person at a time).

  • Separate work and home. If you're feeling burnt out from work, keeping it separate from your relaxation time can help. "Try to find a space to work and set your desk up properly for the day ahead. Being able to walk away at the end of your working day can help create a distinction between work and home life, and make sure you're taking regular breaks," says Fatmata.

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