I’ve been working from home for over ten years and have to say I love it. Being my own boss means I’m not accountable to anyone except myself and my clients. I can organise my work as it suits, start and stop according to my schedule.
And then the pandemic arrived, putting the skids on everything that up until then had been running quite smoothly. While I was still working on my new book, all the bookings made for speaking and training quietly vanished overnight. It was time to ramp up fast to learn how to operate from a virtual world. I set to and was invited to present on many webinars and virtual events. It was a steep learning curve to become more technically savvy and I also decided I needed to create a new virtual online course to help people struggling with stress, which added significantly to my workload and stress levels!
Suddenly I was working harder than I had ever worked before, spending countless hours chained to the desk creating, writing and presenting. My working hours were spreading across the weekend, the days were blurring into one. I was eating far too many corn chips and my trousers getting uncomfortably tight. I was even having the occasional glass of wine having given up alcohol three years ago.
As demands on my time grew, I started missing important emails and delayed getting back to people. I turned my phone off, so all calls went straight to voice mail. I grew increasingly unfocused and distracted. Items that would normally be completed within the hour were now taking half the day. I started making more silly mistakes, getting time zones wrong and I was starting to resent all this time spent on work, and for what?
The constant barrage of bad news was making me anxious, but like a homing pigeon, I found myself drawn to check for news updates even before getting out of bed. I was so darn tired yet sleeping an hour more than usual and worst of all I realised I was becoming increasingly depressed to the point I knew I needed to put my hand up for help.
This time of the pandemic has proven hard for so many and the concern is that without the visual cues and body language to pick up on how you or someone else is feeling, significant psychological distress and or burnout can develop and go unnoticed for some time.
The irony of the advantage working from home brings – no long commute time, increased productivity and performance for some and greater flexibility around your schedule are countered by knowing we’re now working an average of an extra two hours than when office-based and in some instances dealing with the extra challenge of homeschooling, poor internet access and limited space.
If you’re passionate about your work, committed to doing a good job, possibly a bit of a perfectionist or workaholic and you’re feeling more stressed or anxious at present, here are five ways to stay safe and reduce your risk of burnout when working from home.
1. Set boundaries
If you are contracted do work for eight hours, do that, not twelve. There are no prizes for overwork other than poorer health, mental distress and burnout. Create your own routine for start and finish times, especially noting the TIME OUT button of when to stop. When work and home are the same place, the lines can become very blurry. If you have to work around what the kids or your partner are up to you may have to revisit those expectations of when or where you do your work rather than getting frustrated by noise and interruptions.
2. Schedule more brain breaks
Taking some extra 15-minute mental breathers across your day helps to restore mental energy and keeps the motivation tank topped up so your tasks get completed. Your brain is under extra pressure at present, trying to think and deal with all that extra stress and uncertainty subconsciously, so cut yourself some slack and enjoy that short time out to be still, grab a coffee, water or go for a short walk.
3. Schedule in time for fun and play
Having something to look forward to, that makes you laugh and feels fun helps to counterbalance all that energy-sapping stress. Whether it’s something new like swing dancing or something you’ve done before like yoga, bushwalking, pizza making or watching your favourite comedy show what do you have pencilled in you know is going to make you feel great?
4. Spend time being social virtually or face to face
If you can’t face yet another zoom meeting and you just want to go and hide under a rock, this is a warning sign you could be reaching overwhelm, exhaustion or burnout. This is when it’s important to look at how you can reduce the overwhelm – perhaps using audio instead of always being onscreen or being selective to how many calls you sign up for while choosing to connect more with those who you find energising and supportive. If living alone, do you have a trusted close friend you can speak with or visit? Do you volunteer to help others whether by donating your time to foodbank or say hello to people you meet when out and about?
5. Check-in on how you’re travelling
The trouble with burnout, is it sneaks up when we’re not looking and even when we’re kind of aware that we’re not ourselves and not feeling great, we can remain blind to the obvious. This is where consciously taking time out to reflect on how you’re travelling and being honest with yourself is so important. If you’ve come to realise you’re dangerously close to that cliff edge of burnout, reach out, tell someone and ask for help. I get that it’s not easy, and not everyone “gets” the difference between burnout and depression or understands the two can occur together.
This is where learning about what burnout is, how it presents and what can be done to a) lower your risk and 2) know how to manage your recovery can make the biggest difference.
I am often asked to provide training in resilience in the workplace. While there is a great need for this, I also see that having greater resilience alone doesn’t negate that risk. Indeed, research suggests it is often the most resilient and capable of people who are most susceptible. If you’ve been wearing your superhero cape for too long and want to find out more about how to stay safe from the jaws of burnout you can:
- Book a free 15-minute chat at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Enquire about my virtual (and face-to-face in WA) presentations and workshops
- Download my Top Twelve Tips To Reduce Burnout
- Buy my new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life available at Booktopia, Amazon and all good bookstores or download a free chapter on my website
September 10th is R.U.O.K Day the perfect day to remind ourselves to check in with those we care about, our family, friends and colleagues and start a conversation.
You might just save a life and start someone on the road to recovery.
Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.