With a majority of the country continuing to work from home, many of us are still adapting to new routines and unfamiliar ways of working.

While we may have found it easy to spot the telltale symptoms of burnout pre-COVID, we could be inclined to ignore the signs while WFH. If there’s anything toxic hustle culture has taught us, it’s that we’re not as efficient when we’re working at home and that we must push ourselves 10 times harder to show our employers just how productive we’re being, right?

In fact, that’s exactly why 69% of employees are experiencing burnout symptoms while working from home, according to Forbes.

“Our bedrooms, kitchens and garden sheds have fast become the office space of 2020, and the situation has been aggravated with school closures leaving many people juggling work, childcare and everyday chores all at the same time, exacerbated by increasing uncertainty, work pressures and the threat of economic decline,” says psychotherapist Owen O’Kane, author of the best-selling Ten Times Happier. “For many it’s been a recipe for meltdown in lockdown.

“Burnout isn’t a clinical diagnosis under Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria, but it is a well-known concept in the world of psychology with symptoms including increase in anxiety, low mood, difficulty coping, and health issues. As a mental health professional, I’ve certainly noticed an increase in burnout symptoms with many clients.”

Here are O’Kane’s six telltale signs that you may be suffering WFH burnout, and what to do about it…

Changes in mood

If you notice changes in mood ranging from irritability, demotivation, sadness or outbursts of anger this could indicate that your coping strategies are depleted. Whilst there can be degree of normality to some of these experiences, if it’s happening significantly more than often, then take heed. You are possibly starting to burn out.

Increased anxiety

Worry is a key symptom of anxiety which is often seen with burnout. Living in the land of ‘what if?’ is exhausting both physically and mentally. If you are worrying about many things and your mind feels like you are stuck in a loop, then it’s time to slow down and view your anxiety as a warning sign to readjust.

Changes in sleep patterns

Research shows that most people need around 7-8 hours sleep per night. Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up earlier than normal could be another sign of burnout. Persistent stress leads to increased production of cortisol which can lead to negative impacts on sleep cycles. There is also some evidence of changes in melatonin levels (chemical that helps us sleep) during stressful periods. If you notice any of these changes to your regular sleep, then be mindful of the need for balance.

Withdrawing from everyday life

This can present itself in a number of ways ranging from loss of interest in life, not wanting to socialise, avoiding people or dreading social or professional interactions. There is a risk that increased time at home and lack of routine makes it more difficult to engage in life.

Unhealthy habits

Burnout is uncomfortable with many difficult feelings. It is normal to want to numb or soothe these feelings. If you notice changes in your consumption habits, for example, with increases in alcohol, drugs, medication, food, or shopping as a means of soothing, then this could be another warning sign.

Physical health changes

It is impossible to separate physical and mental health. When ‘burnout’ starts to manifest it will result in detrimental changes in general health. Issues such as headaches, high blood pressure, gastric problems and cardiovascular problems have all been linked. The human body keeps score of stress levels; listen to what it is telling you.

If you relate to any of the above, you may be heading for WFH burnout. “The sooner you identify this, the easier it is to manage and regain a sense of control,” explains O’Kane.

Here are his 5 top tips that will help:

  • Break up your routine and create new habits that will make life feel more interesting.
  • Get some form of exercise every day, even if it’s a 10-minute walk. It will help boost serotonin levels.
  • Talk to someone you trust. This will help you process and deal with emotions.
  • Spending time in nature will increase endorphins which will improve your mood.
  • Ask for help or support if you are struggling- this is a sign of strength, not weakness.

If you’re struggling to cope, don’t suffer in silence. Speak to your GP or visit nhs.uk for information and advice on accessing mental health services.

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