It’s been almost a year since the majority of us were instructed to work from home, so it’s hardly surprising that many of us are struggling with burnout.

Recent studies have found that our surge capacity, which gives us the ability to initially rise to challenges and threats is beginning to diminish. Our fight or flight system which is activated when we’re under threat is at times overloaded, due to the relentless nature of the situation we’re in. Whilst the loss of commute and the removal of the office might, in theory, have made life easier, the reality is a very different picture. Working from home has significantly blurred the boundaries between work and home life, and with many having to juggle childcare on top of this, it can easily feel as though we’re struggling to keep our heads above water.

Who is impacted by burnout?

We can all be susceptible to burnout. The more conscientious we are, the more we tend to be impacted by it. If your standards are exceptionally high, or you would be described as a perfectionist, it can be hard to manage your inner critic and be self-compassionate – all of which can contribute to the experiences of burnout. People can often develop problems in environments of high workload, lack of support and resources to do their job.

So how can we combat this?

Learn to accept failure is a part of life

Life is unpredictable, there’s a lot we don’t have control over, especially in a pandemic. Accepting that will go a long way towards relieving the pressure we may have placed on ourselves.

It’s not easy to be kind to ourselves, and for many, we can be our own harshest critics. Whilst we can all be guilty of this at times, it’s important to recognise that we are living through a pandemic; something none of us have ever had to navigate before. This in itself is difficult enough, so be wary of layering additional and unnecessary stress on yourself.

Make self-care part of your daily routine

Self-care is a term that’s banded around a lot, but if used correctly, self-care is a really important tool in combatting the sensation of burnout. The problem is that self-care is often used a last resort and when things get difficult. After a hectic week, we might order a takeout or have a relaxing bath, but to get the full effects of it, we need to be adding self-care practises into our daily routines.

There is often an unhelpful narrative surrounding self-care, and many may think of it as selfish or indulgent. But in reality, it’s far from that. Instead, self-care allows an opportunity to recharge and align our focus. Breathing exercises and practising mindfulness are a great example of this and can take just a few minutes out of your day.

Set clear boundaries

Self -care is also about protecting ourselves and setting boundaries. It may feel uncomfortable, but we should never be afraid to be assertive or push back on additional work. Many of us have too much on our to-do lists, too much responsibility and, crucially, not enough time to decompress. Maintaining an open dialogue with those around you will ensure that they know what’s keeping you busy and could even offer support.

Whilst we might need to ensure that we’re doing as much as we can, that needs to be within reason. For many of us, working an extra half-hour at the end of the day or taking a shorter lunch to finish a task might be a regular occasion, but in order to limit the impact of burnout, this needs to be restricted and regulated. Don’t let this become a daily occurrence. Otherwise, over-working just becomes part of your routine.

Focus on collective care

Incorporating these practises into your life will allow for collective care. This is where we have additional capacity to support those around us. Ultimately, the more we care for ourselves, the more able we’re to care for others in way that’s sustainable.

So how can your workplace help?

A workplace needs to create an environment that doesn’t overly focus on individualism and competitiveness. It’s important that we are driven and motivated by collective good, as well as personal incentives.

We’re shaped by our surroundings, so if they’re not compassionate, this may manifest within employees, who may adopt behaviours that might be considered ruthless and unethical as a way of surviving. It’s important to recognise that if your working environment doesn’t reflect or acknowledge the struggles you may be facing, it’s easy to feel like an outsider. You may even feel as though you’re the only person on the zoom meeting that’s feeling overwhelmed – which is unlikely to be the case.

The pandemic has given us an opportunity to create better spaces for people and to have open more honest and open dialogues with those we work alongside. We all have lives, loved ones and interests outside of work that we need – not just to fill our weekends and evenings - but to give us a break from the unprecedented situation we’re living in. 

By Kirsty Lilley, Mental Health specialist at CABA

CABA provides lifelong support to past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, ICAEW staff and their close family members. Learn more about how to strengthen your mental wellbeing and support others on our dedicated hub.

If you’d like to know more about support from CABA, make an enquiry today or chat with a member of our Support team at caba.org.uk/letstalk