Just when we are still reeling from the first wave of the pandemic, it’s coming at us again. Things were starting to return to normal, but now it feels like the rug has been pulled from under our feet. So, if you already feel like you’re running on empty, we discuss here how to prevent burnout during the second wave.
The normal challenges associated with managing our work and home lives are enough to keep us on our toes. But with the renewed and ongoing threat of exposure to the virus, a whole host of new threats and challenges have been thrown into the mix.
Although the situation has evolved over the last 7 months, we remain in a process of transition and flux. As we enter the next phase of challenges, this is a good point to review which coping skills and strategies have been useful to us. What has helped us to stay resilient up to this point? And what new skills can we develop that will help us prevent burnout during this second wave.
Growth through adversity
The ability to grow through adversity is a key feature of resilience. Resilient people draw on their inner strengths to cope and respond effectively to threat. In doing so, they often discover new strengths and abilities. And this allows them to build confidence in their capacity to manage future challenges.
Take a moment to think about how you have coped. What has helped? How have you thought or acted differently, drawn on your strengths or found new skills or strategies? These skills often go un-noticed. Acknowledging them and understanding how they have helped you cope will be key to maintaining your resilience going forwards.
Developing new skills to prevent burnout
Many of our blogs over recent months have focused on the particular skills and strategies that resilient people use to manage effectively in a crisis. Here we remind you of some of these approaches and encourage you to try them out.
Resilience skills for managing in the moment
Our emotional reactions to crisis or threat can be overwhelming. They take over our brains and bodies and can undermine our ability think and behave rationally.
To be resilient we first need to calm these reactions by using strategies to soothe sympathetic nervous system arousal.
Slow rhythmic breathing
A useful technique for this is slow rhythmic breathing. This is a skill that takes practise, but can be useful in a whole host of situations that might cause us to feel stressed or overwhelmed.
To try out this technique take the following simple steps:
- Breathe in slowly over a count of 4 seconds
- Breathe out for a longer count of 6 seconds
- Pause at the end of the out-breath
Employing this technique will regulate and slow down your breathing in a way that will calm sympathetic nervous system arousal, quickly reducing the unpleasant symptoms of stress. Using a visual prompt, such as the blue square, can be helpful in practicing this technique. You can also see Jo demonstrating the technique in this short video.
Mindfulness is also useful for managing overwhelming emotions and racing thoughts when we are feeling stressed. Practicing mindfulness helps us to stand back from our thoughts, to observe them and allow them to come and go without getting hooked into overthinking or analysing. There are a number of mindfulness techniques to try out, but for a quick exercise to regulate your threat emotions and stress in the moment, try this mindful stretch or the 3 minute breathing space meditation. Or you may prefer an active mindfulness exercise, such as a mindful walk.
Building resilience capacity over the longer term
There are a number of skills and strategies that we can practice day-to-day to build our capacity for resilience over the longer term.
Building positive emotions
Noticing and savouring positive emotions is one way of building resilience capacity. This might include keeping a notebook of three good things that we notice every day, or savouring the moments in our day when we experience positive emotions such as hope, joy or love. Engaging in things we find interesting and getting in the zone can also help us to build our connection to positive emotions such as interest, pride or amusement.
We experience many of our positive emotions in relation to other people. Taking time to connect with loved ones, savour experiences we have shared or anticipate good things, helps to build positive emotions. Expressing gratitude or sharing support and kindness have been shown to boost positive emotions and resilience both in the moment and over the longer term.
As humans we are programmed to focus on the negative as this helps us to attend and respond to threat. However, as stress increases it becomes easy to overestimate threat. In these situations, we can over focus on the negative, take things personally, put pressure on ourselves to always be in control or to do things perfectly. But these ways of thinking contribute to further stress.
Learning to manage negative thinking, finding new more flexible ways of understanding challenging events is a really useful strategy that helps us think clearly when we encounter a crisis situation. Learning to think flexibly and to explain negative events in more optimistic ways helps us to gain perspective and take appropriate, measured action to manage pressure and challenge.
Our ability to remain resilient over the longer term is also affected by our self-care. It is really important that we do not lose sight of this. When we are in a crisis situation, it is easy to go into auto-pilot, making sure everyone else is ok. But doing so often means we take on too much and this can prevent us from finding time for rest and recovery. If we carry on like this, we become vulnerable to burnout.
Building some self-compassion, to pay attention to our own needs and stresses, to have empathy for ourselves and let go of self-judgement, is crucial for self-care. We need to be aware that self-care is not a singular activity. It is relevant to all areas of our lives and spread across many different dimensions, including work, relationships and our spiritual wellbeing. If we are able to maintain good self-care when crisis strikes, across all these different dimensions, we are better able to bounce back and maintain a sense of health and optimism through the experience.
Using resilience skills to prevent burnout during the second wave
Having survived the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic, you already have the experience of coping and bouncing back. Whatever life has thrown at you so far this year, you are still here to tell the tale. So, take a few moments to reflect on which of these resilience skills you have used and found helpful. Perhaps there are some skills mentioned here that you have not tried or would like to have a go at. If so, we encourage you to read our other blogs for even more ideas on how to keep yourself mentally healthy during the second wave of Covid, to survive, recover and thrive.