Professional Development
COVID-19 / Health / Remote work / Resources / Workplace culture

Another COVID wave, another mental health crisis. Here’s how to get through it

In summer 2020, asked Wilmington therapist Rich Lombino for advice on pandemic-related burnout. With no end to that pandemic in sight, we returned to him for an update on maintaining a healthy state of mind.

Therapist and lawyer Rich Lombino of Lombino Counseling. (Courtesy photo)

This editorial article is a part of Lessons in Resilience Month of's editorial calendar.

Four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, in July 2020, many of the people who had transitioned to remote work in March were feeling the strain of social isolation, household distractions and so many Zoom meetings. turned to Rich Lombino, a Manhattan lawyer turned Wilmington therapist who specializes in workplace stress and was also the host of the podcast “Attorney Buoyancy,” which specifically dealt with quality of life issues for people in the law profession. We asked him about what causes work-from-home burnout and what people can do about it for a story called “Work-from-home burnout is real. Here’s how to combat it.”

Seventeen months later, we’re heading into 2022, the third year impacted by COVID-19. We have vaccines and boosters, but with virus mutations creating strains such as Delta and now Omicron, masks are still part of life outside the home, and plans for things like travel and large events remain precarious, with the new strain threatening to shut them down at any time.

Some people who thought they would be returning to the office imminently in July 2020, between the first and second waves, are still working from home, and in many cases there is no longer an office to return to as some companies — included — have pivoted to an all-remote model.

How have things changed in terms of the mental health of employees and business owners? We got in touch with Lombino to find out.

### It’s been around 17 months since we last spoke, and the COVID-19 pandemic is still impacting the workplace. What changes have you seen in the general mental health landscape from then to now (if any)?

Lombino: The biggest change that I see is a transition from thinking of the pandemic as a new crisis with many unknowns to a longer-term concern that we’re settling into and trying to be proactive and prepare for the likely events that will occur. One positive trend is more openness of people in the workplace and otherwise discussing mental health concerns and providing support and resources to those in need. Greater access to therapy sessions by telehealth has also been a welcome addition.

Does burnout look the same in December 2021 as it did in the summer of 2020?

I think burnout back then came from a place of shock and fear. Burnout has become more of a long-term chronic issue that can affect multiple areas of a person’s life. But we’ve shown an amazing ability to be strong through our resilience and adapt to the changing times.

Has the increase in hybrid work and in-office work made a noticeable decrease in burnout?

It really depends on the person. Some have become comfortable working from home and enjoy the flexibility. So if the employer talks about implementing an in-office mandate, that can significantly increase stress and burnout. Others really can’t concentrate at home and prefer to come into the office so they’d welcome the change. Generally, the more flexibility that a company can give it to employees regarding where they can work, the better outlook they seem to have.

On top of COVID, the social climate in general has become increasingly contentious. How can a person work in an environment they see as toxic? Should they stay in such an environment?

It’s never a good thing to be exposed to a toxic work environment. Whether or not you’re being directly subjected to it, the negativity can affect your well-being. You can weigh the pros and cons of staying or leaving and try to picture being on the other side of each decision and what it would feel like. If staying seems like the direction to take, look inside and see if there’s small changes you can make to adapt and better manage your emotions, and also consider tying to affect positive change in the work environment. Ultimately, leaving the job may be your only option if it’s negatively affecting your health. With the “great resignation” taking place, you’d certainly not be alone in changing jobs and opportunities are there.

What advice do you give people struggling with mental health issues such as burnout that you may not have given in 2020?

All of the strategies we spoke about in 2020 are still relevant and helpful today:

  • Limit overexposure to the news and social media
  • Get outside for walks and drives
  • Keep a regular work routine and sleep schedule
  • Get exercise
  • Take breaks
  • Do deep breathing
  • Do journaling
  • Get professional help if needed

Additionally, be sure to take care of yourself, not just when you’re overwhelmed, but all the time. It’s about being proactive in your mental health care. For example, you can take some deep breaths when you’re feeling anxious. Also consider doing it every morning when you wake up and combine it with a couple of minutes of thoughts of gratitude. Expressing gratitude is a powerful way to stay balanced and focus on the bigger picture of what’s going well in our lives, rather than getting caught up in the daily frustrations of the work day.

Series: Lessons in Resilience Month 2021

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