If you’ve been feeling more stressed out and anxious about your job since transitioning to remote work, you’re not alone.
According to a July 2020 survey conducted by the global employment website Monster, 69 percent of American employees working remotely reported feeling burned out since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is up by nearly 20 percent from a similar survey conducted two months earlier.
Despite experiencing burnout symptoms, 59 percent said they have taken less time off than they usually would, and 42 percent said they are not planning to take time off from work anytime soon.
Melissa L. Whitson, a psychologist and associate professor at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, attributes this burnout to employees’ feelings of anxiety over the possibility of having their salaries cut or losing their jobs if the recession continues. She believes many employees feel like they have to keep working while they’re still making money. There’s also a sense that they need to prove their value as employees to ensure they won’t be laid off.
In a constant state of panic
Alana Acosta-Lahullier of Parsippany, New Jersey has been working from home since the pandemic began. She has also been the primary caregiver to her children these past several months since she and her husband, who works out of the home as a police officer, don’t have access to child care. As a result, the 41-year-old mother of two, who works for an electrical contractor, said she is constantly on the verge of a panic attack.
Fortunately for Acosta-Lahullier, her employer has been very understanding of her situation and has allowed her to continue working remotely. At this point, however, Acosta-Lahullier is just too exhausted.
A tough choice to make
While people like Acosta-Lahullier are fortunate enough to have considerate employers, others aren’t so lucky. Many people, particularly women, now find themselves having to choose between keeping their jobs or taking care of their kids.
Kelly Bebout, a mom from California, said that while she can take 12 weeks off to support her children in distance learning, what happens after that is unclear. Bebout said she expects she will be forced to choose between her family and her healthcare job of nearly ten years very soon.
When quitting isn’t an option
For some people, especially single parents, quitting a job to take care of the kids full-time simply isn’t an option.
The CARES Act’s $600 weekly benefit, which would have allowed some people to make ends meet even while unemployed, expired on July 31st with no new plan from Congress. This leaves many single parents with no other option but to find ways to balance their professional and home lives, even if this comes at the expense of their mental health.
Dealing with remote work burnout
The World Health Organization recognized burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” in May of 2019 and is currently in the process of developing official, evidence-based guidelines on mental well-being in the workplace. These guidelines, however, might not be available until 2022.
In the meantime, there are certain things you can do to deal with burnout and protect your mental health.
Whitson recommends implementing a routine or structure in your daily life. This means setting consistent work hours and sticking to them as much as possible. When you’re always in “work mode,” your system gets exhausted and overwhelmed more easily.
Taking some time off work is also a great way to prevent burnout. A full vacation isn’t even necessary; Monster’s Vicki Salemi says even a short amount of time off can leave you feeling refreshed and more productive. Salemi suggests activities such as sunbathing in your backyard or at the beach or going on a picnic at the park — while observing proper health and safety guidelines, of course.
Finally, don’t be afraid to seek help from counselors or other people in your support network. Whitson says it is helpful to know other people in the same boat as you are as it offers a sense of camaraderie and support.