Ways to beat work-from-home burnout in 2020

It's one of the challenges working from home has posed amid the pandemic

Millions of people around the world are forced to work from home during this Covid-19 pandemic. Some may argue that such an arrangement comes with perks like flexible hours, with no need to commute on crowded public transport.

The reality is that many challenges have surfaced because of this crisis, such as a loss of autonomy, forced social isolation, and the uncertainty of how long this state will persist.

These factors put a huge mental strain on people who have never had to experience such magnified mental duress over a long period of time.

The good news is there are ways to defuse a burnout, or allow us to prevent the onset of one, and we can take charge.

What is burnout? And how does it differ from stress?

Burnout refers to a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged involvement in emotionally demanding situations, especially in the context of work.

According to the World Health Organisation's International Disease Classification, burnout is categorised as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

While burnout can be the result of excessive and prolonged stress, it is not the equivalent of too much stress. You can respond in different ways to stress - having increased anxiety, being frustrated or angry, or perhaps even using stress as a positive motivator.

Burnout, however, is a distinct entity characterised by emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation (feelings of cynicism and detachment), and a low sense of personal achievement or accomplishment.

Burnout occurs gradually so it is important to recognise the early signs and symptoms.

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Symptoms of burnout

Emotional - loss of humour, irritability, resentment, loss of motivation, decreased sense of accomplishment, depressed mood, apathy, feelings of guilt, hopelessness and negativity.

Cognitive - poor concentration, suspicion, mistrust, stereotyping, dehumanising, distancing, rumination and cynicism.

Behavioural - work and responsibility avoidance, isolation, inflexibility, inefficiency and procrastination, and acting out (through alcohol, drugs, gambling, affairs).

Physical - tiredness, lethargy, sleep disorders, changes in appetite, frequent headaches and muscle pains and increased minor illnesses.

Working from home has intensified a host of risk factors that contribute to burnout. These include a blurring of boundaries between personal and work life, a lack of control over the current situation, and a forced reduction in social interaction.

Finding ways to manage these risk factors, paying attention to the signs and symptoms, and actively reducing stress can prevent you from burning out.


  • Maintain boundaries

Many are facing challenges of integrating child or elder care responsibilities at home with a high workload. Setting physical, social and temporal boundaries is critical for our well-being and an increased work engagement.

This may mean planning a schedule for work duties and personal life, creating a dedicated work space at home, and having some form of a simple 'transition ritual' - this may include making a cup of coffee, a short meditation, or even showering and changing out of pyjamas and applying some make-up - to signal to yourself and others that you are in "work" mode.

  • Prioritise

Focus on the most critical work, rather than work that will just keep you busy. Many employees may feel the need to appear productive and perform immediate tasks rather than those which are actually important.

Apart from work tasks, prioritise your self-care - this means adequate sleep, proper nutrition, and scheduled time for physical exercise, hobbies or activities.

  • Reach out

It is important now to reach out to connect with people. When you are burnt out, problems may seem insurmountable, and these feelings are heightened by isolation and loneliness.

While face-to-face meetings are impossible, keep connected to friends and family through online video chats, games or virtual group exercises. If needed, reach out to a mental health counsellor or therapist online. Simply talking to someone about your problems can help put things in perspective, calm your nerves, and relieve stress.

  • Reframe

Certain personality types can be more prone to burnout than others. High-achieving, Type A personalities, having perfectionist tendencies with a need to be in control and a reluctance to delegate tasks to others can increase the risk of burnout.

Reframing your perspective on work may be beneficial. Find what makes your job meaningful, focus on aspects you enjoy and things within your control, while accepting the things outside your sphere of control and involvement.

The writer is a resident doctor at DTAP Clinic Robertson