Quarantine burnout is a thing — after four months of isolation, we can all feel emotional fatigue. No matter if you are an essential worker at the front lines of the pandemic, a parent working from home while keeping kids occupied or you lost your job and are trying to get back on your feet, the current situation in the world has been a struggle at one point or another for everyone. When a person experiences a heavy load of expectations and responsibilities, their anxiety levels may spike, according to Los Angeles-based psychologist, Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. Phone dates with family and Zoom parties with friends can temporarily fill in the need for personal connection, but the emotional drain calls for something more to help cope with tough feelings.
Here, mental health professionals share their most effective strategies:
Break it down — and write it down
Your brain is on overdrive: looming deadlines, homeschooling or even thinking about how you will navigate the long lines at the grocery store tomorrow. Most of the time when we are overwhelmed, our minds struggle to process the overload of information. Rather than forgoing sleep and letting your thoughts overwhelm you, try making a list, suggests Anna Schäfer Edwards of the Counseling and Wellness Center of South Florida.
It sounds old fashioned but getting your thoughts down on paper will free up space in your head. It allows you to rest easier, stay productive and strategize the most efficient use of your time. “Break down your goals into realistic and achievable deadlines, and do not attempt to do more than what you planned for,” she explains. “As you accomplish your small goals, you keep the energy level high going into the next phase.”
Create a budget
Money can be a major source of anxiety — the cost of living can get expensive and you want to have some pocket cash to have fun. Plus, it is smart to be able to save for the future and emergencies. Creating a budget helps make sure you stay out of debt, reach your long-term goals (like buying a house or taking that once-in-a-lifetime trip) and nixes bad spending habits that lead to more stress down the road.
A popular place to start budgeting is by using the 50/30/20 rule: 50 percent of your after-tax income goes to necessities (think: mortgage or rent, groceries, insurance, debt, utilities); 30 percent goes to personal expenses (like eating out for fun, shopping, gifts and travel) and the remaining 20 percent goes to savings. Use apps like Mint or Goodbudget (which is great for couples with shared and personal expenses) to help manage spending. Your “fun” budget can be the hardest to hold back on. Putting a dollar limit on how much you are willing to spend will help to decrease your financial anxiety, according to certified personal trainer and health coach, Nathan Kohlerman.
Set boundaries and stick to them
Boundaries are important and healthy for your mental stamina
There is an incredible power to be found in saying “no” — and it is one that Thomas says will help to keep you sane. Many people are guilty of over-committing themselves, and they end up feeling stretched in so many directions, they become exhausted. Boundaries are important and healthy for your mental stamina and mood. If you do not want to spend hours on Zoom calls with family or friends, it is fine. “It is imperative that you don’t feel guilty or bad for exercising your right to protect your emotional and physical health by recognizing and expressing your limits,” Thomas adds. Learn how to delegate when you are feeling overwhelmed with chores, give yourself a break from social media if it is not empowering you, and feel free to turn off your office Slack messages before dinner so you can create a work-life balance.
Have fun and resist perfectionism
Social media puts pressure on so many of us to have an IG-worthy house, have selfie-ready hair and have a picture-perfect dinner on the table by 5. People right now are feeling stressed about optimizing the “extra time” the pandemic is giving us by eliminating work commutes and social commitments.
The perfectionist in you might be telling you to learn a dozen new hobbies (homemade banana bread, anyone?) or master being a full-time homeschool teacher while also keeping up with your other full-time job. Kohlerman says to stop focusing on perfectionism, give yourself a break and indulge yourself in things that bring you joy. “Be gentle with yourself if things don’t go exactly to plan and see them as an opportunity to learn and grow,” he suggests. Set more realistic goals for yourself, invest in self-care and take note of the areas of your life that you are thankful for every day.
Do not sacrifice health
Heard of the Quarantine 15? When we are anxious, it is easy to resort to comfort food. For many of us, the stay-at-home orders created a disruption in our lives and in our eating habits — making it difficult to find time and energy to maintain a balanced, nutritious diet. With gyms being closed, you can’t even rely on your usual morning SoulCycle class to burn off last weekend’s pizza fest. As much as you can, Kohlerman encourages folks to keep up with your exercise routine with at least one sweat sesh weekly. Consider investing in a Peloton (there is a trial option), practice yoga in your living room, or wake up early for an outdoor run before it gets too warm. Many boutique fitness studios like Barry’s Bootcamp, Define, Pure Barre and SLT are now offering virtual classes.
When it comes to your diet, your body might feel out of whack because you are eating items you usually do not consume – wreaking havoc on our skin, causing sugar crashes and mood swings. Plan your meals for the week ahead so you are not tempted to grab something unhealthy at the last minute. When it comes to snacking, make sure you have plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables on hand instead of junk, plus do not forget to stay hydrated (dehydration can make your body think you are hungry, when in actuality, you are thirsty).
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