Intive Blog

Burnout: New Stressors in Times of Pandemic

During this pandemic, people are presenting more and more signs of burnout, due to changes in their regular working environment. This makes sense, since the burnout syndrome entails a state of physical and mental exhaustion caused by chronic work stress and several other factors, nowadays. The fact we live in a constant state of alert, trying to avoid catching or spreading the disease, or trying to help our children with their homework in the middle of our work day are some examples of stressors we may encounter in our everyday life.

The Brain and the Burnout Syndrome

If we’re healthy, when we wake up in the morning, we experience a peak in the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). These levels decrease during the day until it’s time to sleep again. When we feel burnt out, the opposite happens: we start our day with low energy and our levels of cortisol increase at night, together with thoughts that worry us and cause insomnia. There’s also an imbalance of other hormones, such as noradrenaline, adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin, changing our mood, putting us in a state of high alert and making us intolerable and, at times, aggressive.

Together with this hormonal imbalance, typical symptoms of burnout start appearing:

  • A feeling of despair and emptiness
  • Sleep disorders and lack of energy
  • Bad communication and changes in interpersonal relations
  • Lack of motivation and a feeling of underperformance at work

Hence, it’s possible to experience burnout, which has already been identified as a disease by the WHO, as depression or hopelessness, when in fact it’s extreme physical and mental exhaustion.

Same Syndrome, New Causes

Even though it’s not really possible to tell whether we feel more stressed because of our new working environment or our new schedule, one thing is for sure: other reasons now cause burnout too. All of them may cause chronic stress, and this might turn into burnout. For example:

  • Having to do everything related to work in the same place where we live.
  • Combining working and leisure activities in the same place and, sometimes, at the same time.
  • Parenting while working.
  • Lack of freedom to go out and have a change of scene. Before, if we got stressed out, we could find an outlet in different after-office activities. Nowadays, even though it’s possible to do so, the possibilities are more limited and they pose other risks.
  • Changes in communication with our work teams and the rest of our colleagues.
  • Constant tension due to the uncertain economic situation.
  • Changes in our habits.

Our Approach at intive: Relieving Stress and Fatigue

Because of the situation we’re going through, we’ve decided to take action.

  • We’ve organized 1:1 meetings (so-called “Be in touch”) so as to relieve feelings of loneliness in this situation of remoteness and distancing.
  • There’s always been transparency about the situation of the company in this global economic situation and, on a timely basis, we’ve communicated the actions to be taken. This, in turn, dispels anxiety due to uncertainty.
  • We continue to organize recreational initiatives, such as “Meet intivers”.
  • In our wiki, several good practices for remote working can be found, including active pauses and relaxation techniques.
  • We encourage intivers to take online yoga classes to have a healthier remote work day. These classes can be accessed through the Enjoy intive app (offering discounts as a company benefit).
  • We’ve organized webinars to maintain good communication channels with work teams.
  • We’ve already had two after-office meetings for integration; undoubtedly, it was nice for everyone to socialize during the current global situation.

That’s how we’ve been trying to support people in times of adversity, and all these actions were very interesting, since they aimed at relaxing people and reducing stress levels.

The Role of Technology to Reduce Burnout

We definitely know that if we use technology to our advantage, we will leverage a great tool. We’ve been using technology all this time to keep socially close (respecting the physical social distancing), which has allowed us to talk to our families, take part in virtual birthday celebrations and organize the initiatives mentioned above, like the virtual after-office meeting or the online yoga classes.

There’re also many apps that remind you to take active pauses (which are ideal to decrease burnout levels), designed for self-care while at home.

Even though none of the things mentioned before could be possible without technology, it’s also important to manage the frequency and intensity of its use (we should use technology, not misuse it), so that it remains a supporting tool and not a negative influence. Everything’s bad when done in excess. If we don’t control ourselves and, for example, constantly read the news, there’s no doubt we’ll feel more burnt out.

I Am Burnt Out: What Can I Do?

There’s lots we can do to help ourselves find some balance, like:

  • Taking active pauses. It’s vital to know our brain cannot focus for more than 90 minutes on the same task. That’s why it’s important to take short breaks, if possible, practicing short physical activities and, then, going back to work.
  • Asking for help. If you belong to a work team, you can always raise your hand and let them know if you’re not feeling 100% and need a hand to carry on; if you put all the weight on your shoulders, you’ll definitely make it worse.
  • Preserving basic habits. When we’re at home, we sometimes dismiss them. Drinking water, going to the bathroom, having a good night sleep make our bodies find homeostasis.
  • Dividing goals into smaller objectives. It’s not about how many big tasks you’ve accomplished, but how far you’ve come with those tasks. Think about every activity as a goal, and set some steps to follow. This will bring you closer to the feeling of having achieved something, which increases motivation.
  • Modifying your work environment. Stop working from your bed! If you have a work space and you don’t feel comfortable there, try improving it and placing some visual motivation, good light and good music. Working can also be enjoyable.
  • Redefining success. A successful day should be a day in which you carried out your tasks quietly and you took all the necessary steps to accomplish them.
  • Asking for opinion. Sometimes, talking to a colleague, relative or friend about what we’re going through helps us release the burden and let things flow a bit more.

In the long term, burnout can become chronic. Don’t be afraid to let others know what you’re going through and look for support. It’s okey to inform yourself and find your own balance in the current state of affairs.

Leydis Aponte

Leydis Aponte is IT recruiter at intive since June 2017. Graduated in Psychology from the Metropolitan University (UNIMET) of Venezuela -his native country-, Leydis began to specialize in Community Clinical Psychology at the Andrés Bello Catholic University, before migrating to Argentina. Co-founder of Psicosalud SYL, a therapeutic center in the vicinity of Caracas, Leydis enjoys writing self-help and personal experiences’ articles, as well as researching and documenting articles of psychological interest, especially in relation to Autism. Wife of Josmer and mother of Eva Sophia, cooking and dancing are her hidden talents.

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