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Try this Technique if You're Struggling with Burnout in Quarantine

Try this Technique if You're Struggling with Burnout in Quarantine

Did you go into this quarantine already burnt out?

And now, all of a sudden, instead of resting, you’re working from home with your partner and trying to entertain and homeschool your kids at the same time?

For a lot of us, quarantine means less work and therefore more time to rest, more time to realize how capable our kids are of actually doing things on their own, and more time for new boundaries. But for the burnt-out brain, this current situation is like doubling down on your already scarce resources.

Let’s talk for a minute about what the "typical" burnout symptoms are, according to burnout researcher Christina Maslach, Ph.D. The symptoms have been broken down into three main categories:

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion.
  • Cynicism and detachment.
  • Lack of feeling impactful or accomplished.

If we combine this with the newer research that shows the grey matter of the brain decreases with long-term stress, we can start to add physiological symptoms that explain the issues mentioned in the Maslach Burnout Inventory.

[Related: Stop Talking About Burnout Unless You Plan to Do Something About It]

These things combined translate into a simple fact: When you’re already fried crispy, your ability to handle new stresses is diminished, and therefore new stress will feel more overwhelming to you than it does to the average healthy-brained person, no matter your actual circumstance.

So, if you find yourself unable to handle what’s happening, please know these two things:

  1. It’s not your fault.
  2. It can change.

The first solution that might usually be suggested is a gratitude journal - they’ve been scientifically proven to help. However, I’ve found with my clients and patients over the years that when you feel like you’re under attack, it is difficult to conjure up the feelings of gratitude that make journaling about it so successful.

Instead, I ask that you so something completely counterintuitive - start a resentment journal. Yes, a resentment journal.

Why? Because every place that you’re feeling resentment is a place where a new boundary needs to be put into place.

Once you have this information and you can look at it outside your body, on paper, you’ll find that you feel a bigger sense of control. Now that you know what needs to change, you can start changing it.

Once you’ve written down a few resentments, your job is to choose the easiest one to "fix" and fix it. For instance, if you are feeling resentful every time your phone dings with a new message, then shut off your notifications and maybe decide on a frequency that you’ll check your phone.

[Related: Seven Things Smart People Do to Avoid Passion Burnout]

What I’ve learned through the years is that these small efforts are what end up creating the space that you need to heal from burnout.

I recently noticed I had a resentment every time I made eggs, because I was scraping them off the pan. I eat eggs every day for breakfast. Having that dose of frustration as a side dish to my over-mediums was unhelpful and a waste of energy. I bought a new pan. Fixed.

By fixing four or five mini-resentments during your day, you’ll find that you’re overall more relaxed and less on edge. You’ll find that some of the bigger resentments don’t bother you as much and you might just feel inclined to start that gratitude journal, and then the true healing can begin.

Burnout is not your fault. There are systems at play that keep us running on this cycle that seems (but isn't!) impossible to break. Mastering this one simple tool today will save you from years of heavy emotions and crashing and burning.

[Related: Five Ways to Manage Burnout in a Digital Career]


Caitlin Donovan combines acupuncture, Chinese medicine lifestyle recommendations, and life coaching to keep entrepreneurial women off the frying pan and actively engaged in their lives and businesses. Her favorite current project is her podcast, FRIED: The Burnout Podcast. Her book, The Bouncebackability Factor, will be published in 2020.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.