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COVID-19 / Health / Remote work

Work-from-home burnout is real. Here’s how to combat it

Therapist Rich Lombino shares advice on staying mentally balanced while under WFH orders.

Working from home can lead to burnout. (Photo by Pexels user Andrew Neel, used under a Creative Commons license)

While many Delawareans have gone back to work since the state began, for better or worse, phasing back open after months on COVID-19 lockdown, lots of people are still working from home — including people in tech, teachers, marketers and accountants — and may not go back to their offices until at least early 2021.

Workplace trends publication Fishbowl recently polled employees from across the country, and found that in Delaware, like many other states, work from home burnout was reported by the majority of local respondents (75 out of 110, or 68%).

World Health Organization defines workplace burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It’s characterized by:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

Rich Lombino is a Manhattan lawyer turned Wilmington therapist who specializes in workplace stress, as well as the host of the podcast “Attorney Buoyancy.” We asked him about WFH burnout, what causes it and what people can do about it.

“In general, I think everyone experiences burnout at some point in their career,” he said. “It could be the type of work, or maybe they don’t have enough training and they’re feeling overwhelmed, or it’s just volume where work is continually dumped on you.”

Therapist & Lawyer Rick Lombino

Therapist and lawyer Rich Lombino. (Courtesy photo)

The stress of the pandemic, including working from home, is prime for burnout.

“Now with COVID, with offices closed, one of the top factors [for burnout] is the blurring of lines between home life and work life,” Lombino said. “Before COVID, getting a day to work from home was great, but that faded away pretty quickly for a lot of people, especially if you don’t have a home office and you’re at the kitchen table and/or have kids. What winds up happening is that you’re never really at home and you’re never really at work. It’s confusing for your brain to be in that situation.”

On top of that, many people have anxiety from feelings they may be having about being with their family 24/7.

“Let’s say they’ve living with a significant other and a couple of kids. They love their family unconditionally, but they’re on top of each other all of the time,” he said. “They feel guilty and maybe a little ashamed that they need a break because it’s so intense. Those things are totally normal.”

Self care is especially important when you’re in a situation like WFH where it feels like you never really get a break: “You can take care of yourself and still be good at your job, a better spouse, et cetera.”

What can you do if you’re feeling burned out? Lombino has some advice:

  • Limit exposure to the news and social media — “A lot of people back in March were reading every article possible, going on Facebook or Twitter constantly, and that really led to burnout and anxiety,” Lombino said. “You can’t just shut it down and put your head in the ground. You have to be informed while at the same time taking care of yourself. I recommend that people set up some sort of structure like in the morning read the news, limiting how many articles you read, and again toward the end of the day and end it there. Stay away from social media and its conspiracy theories. Turn off news alerts. It can make a significant difference.”
  • Take walks or drives to nowhere — “When you feel isolated, go outside and take a walk just to experience being outside,” he said. “Or just drive around, even if you’re not going to the store. You’re seeing new environments. And you can combine them — you can drive somewhere like a park and walk around. I recommend doing that on your own periodically as a way to get away.”
  • Try to keep your regular schedule — “A lot of people have been sleeping later, wearing pajamas all day,” he said. “Go to bed and wake up around the same time [as usual], ideally putting on some professional clothes — I’m not saying put on a suit for anything. Some people go so far as to drive to work, to give them the psychological feeling of going to work. That may seem silly or unnecessary, but some people find it helpful.”
  • Walk around while you’re on the phone — “You can get a lot of steps in,” he said. “With my clients, sessions are 45 minutes long, and I’m basically doing laps in my home office [during calls]. I’ll do like a mile and a half. It’s a way to get some extra exercise.”
  • Take breaks throughout the day — “If you’re working for three hours straight and taking a two-minute break before jumping on something else, by the end of the day, the quality of your work is really not going to be that good,” Lombino said. “Take a five-minute break once an hour to get away from your computer, go outside. It resets your mood.”
  • Do some deep breathing — “Research has shown that taking four or five deep breaths once an hour can bring you stress level down,” he said. “When you do that, you can add a positive affirmation like, ‘I’m OK, I’m going to get through the day.’ I recommend both apps and learning through videos or articles online. It’s pretty simple. Whatever motivates them and makes them comfortable doing it.”
  • Journal — “It’s something powerful that people should consider,” he said. “Grab a piece of paper and either vent or come up with a strategy on how to better handle your mental health. It doesn’t have to be five pages, it can be a little paragraph.”

Sometimes, self care isn’t enough. Knowing when to see a professional therapist is important, too.

“Anxiety is a normal human emotion that we all feel,” said Lombino. “It’s normal. Generally, if your anxiety or mood is impacting your functionality at home and/or at work, that’s the time to reach out and talk to someone. If you wait too long, you could get into a serious situation where you’re not able to go to work or care for your family.”

Series: How to Work Remotely / Coronavirus

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