New on the Blog:

Battling COVID-19 Burnout With Tough Love


If there were ever a buzzword to escape 2020 and climb on over to 2021, it would burnout. The pandemic has caused people of all different walks, ages, and professions—especially healthcare to experience extreme levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. There is no doubt that the majority of us never expected anything like the COVID-19 pandemic to become a reality – at least not in our lifetimes. So, what do we do with this new, ever-present burnout that we are dealing with on a near-daily basis? Burnout typically refers to how we feel towards our jobs and our careers, but has it taken on a whole new meaning now that most of us are working from home? And those who aren’t now having to worry about what they may be bringing home from their job. 

This is what we are going to be discussing in today’s episode. We are going to cover what burnout is, its signs, and how it is becoming an all-encompassing state of being. We are also going to touch on tough love and how we can fight this COVID-19 burnout with a healthy dose of it. So, settle in and buckle up as we get ready to tackle these two, unfortunately, very relevant topics.

Episode 125: Battling COVID-19 Burnout With Tough Love

What is burnout?

Believe it or not, the term burnout is relatively modern. It was coined in a book from 1974 titled Burnout: The High Cost Of High Achievement, authored by Herbert Freudenberg. He applied the term to a professional setting describing burnout as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”  Essentially, burnout is a reaction to prolonged or chronic job stress that is characterized by three main dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of reduced professional ability. 

Again, we see this as a term that is used in a professional setting. However, it is very clear that burnout is now something that presents itself in nearly every aspect of our lives. This is likely because we are, in some ways, in survival mode. We are living day to day and putting in the work to complete the tasks that will keep things going. We have lost sight of our long-term goals and desires because we have absolutely no idea as to what is going to happen and what we can expect. 

Though burnout typically refers to our jobs or career, it is easy to see how this state of being could easily translate into other areas of our lives. The first dimension of burnout, exhaustion – do I even have to explain this one? We are all so clearly exhausted, which is to be expected from the constant and ever-present stress. Don’t forget, we are all going through something that has no definitive end and has impacted our lives immeasurably. It is nearly impossible to feel energized during the current state of everything. 

The second dimension of burnout is cynicism. This is another emotion that tends to seep into areas other than our professional spaces. Cynicism describes a person who believes that humans are only motivated by selfishness, and cynics typically disbelieve in or belittle selfless acts from a place of bitterness. 

The final dimension, which is feelings of reduced professional ability. Nearly everyone that I speak to these days feels, in some ways, incompetent. It is becoming increasingly hard to complete all of the things that we have to accomplish each day. It is getting harder to do a good job, especially when motivation has become so evasive. 

Now, what we just described is, of course, a very technical way to approach burnout. But I think it is crucial to address ideas and words that are quite hard to turn into concrete examples and understanding. Sure, burnout has become a buzzword that everyone likes to throw around. Still, when it is difficult to pin down the true meaning of something, it becomes a challenge to acknowledge it properly in the first place. 

What are the signs of burnout?

Burnout may not be a diagnosable mental or psychological disorder, but it still needs to be taken seriously. Burnout affects us on many different levels, including our mental health, emotional health, and even our physical health. Just because this isn’t something a psychologist would diagnose doesn’t mean that it should go unacknowledged. Let’s talk about some of the signs that you should be on the lookout for when it comes to burnout. 

Are you isolating or alienating yourself? Those dealing with burnout usually view their everyday tasks or activities as stressful, boring, or frustrating. They may become cynical or jaded regarding those around them and their circumstances. Burnout typically causes us to pull away from others emotionally. If you are feeling numb and disconnected, that may just be a sign that you are experiencing some burnout. This is one of the most apparent symptoms of burnout. Since we are so exhausted from the things that are causing us stress, connecting with others on even the slightest emotional level becomes incredibly taxing and near impossible to muster up the energy to engage. 

There are also many physical symptoms associated with burnout. These can include headaches, stomach aches, intestinal issues, and physical signs of exhaustion. Headaches are typically related to stress when they occur during burnout. Tension is namely to blame for frequent headaches that pop up during these times. The stomach aches and intestinal issues may shock some, but it is actually quite common for your gut health to be affected by stress – this can sometimes even cause ulcers. Some of the physical manifestations of exhaustion include moodiness, irritability, shorter attention span or decreased focus, and even aches and pains throughout the body. 

The emotional exhaustion is just as taxing as physical exhaustion. This symptom tends to affect your loved ones and others that you interact with as much as it affects you. Burnout causes us to feel drained, tired, and unable to cope with the situations that we are facing. It becomes hard to find the energy and motivation to work out, work from home, and even complete the mundane daily tasks that we usually keep. Emotional exhaustion is a definitive marker of burnout and should be treated with the utmost care and consideration.

One final sign that you may be experience burnout is that you really don’t feel like doing anything, and when you do, your performance is below what is normal for you. Burnout primarily affects our ability to complete daily tasks, whether they are related to work, family, or personal life. Those dealing with burnout typically have difficulty concentrating and will feel stuck creatively. 

How has professional burnout become personal?

While the term burnout is usually reserved for professional settings, it is easy to see why it is now synonymous with how people are feeling during the pandemic. There are no longer any boundaries between work and home as most of us are working from home, working strange hours, worried about whether or not we have been exposed to the virus at work and possibly brought it back to our families – the stress and worry really never end. 

Another thing that contributes to this new, all-encompassing burnout is the fact that we are now taking on roles that we have never had to before. We are with the people that we live with 24/7, we are teaching our kids from home, and we are still working. Because everything is taking place in our homes, we no longer have those physical boundaries that tell our brains – this our workspace, this is our school space, or this is our home space, so now you can relax. 

Without these clear barriers, it becomes confusing to our minds and our emotional states about whether or not we can relax and decompress. This is how the traditional, professional burnout has become something that now takes hold of many different areas of our lives. However, the most important thing to remember is that we can combat this state of being and these feelings. We can choose to pull ourselves out of this burnout funk, but it does require some work. This is where our good friend tough love comes in. 

What is tough love?

Tough love is a hard concept to define as it holds a bit of a different and unique meaning for everyone. However, it usually refers to some form of parenting or disciplinary approach, but we are going to consider it from a different angle for the sake of our discussion. We are going to consider how we show ourselves, tough love. After all, even tough love can be a form of self-love when it is needed. Tough love has a range of approaches and applications – for some, it is setting some firm boundaries. For others, it is creating reward and punishment-type cycles to influence behavior. These forms of tough love may be useful on a short-term basis but typically have adverse effects beyond that. 

When we talk about tough love today, we are going to discuss how we can be honest, straightforward, and, yes, a little tough on ourselves in order to overcome the feeling of burnout. You know when you hear fitness and nutritional coaches talking about willpower and motivation. They usually point out that the fact that nobody feels motivated to work out every day – it’s simply not possible. Somedays, you are going to have to fight tooth and nail to get your butt out of bed and on that treadmill. The same thing applies to burnout. 

There are going to be days when you don’t feel like getting out of bed or off the couch, but there are still things that need to be done, and you are going to have to do them. I am not saying that everyday needs to be wildly productive or that you shouldn’t forgive yourself or feel guilty if you didn’t live up to the standards that you set for yourself that day. But there does have to be a level of accountability that you try to maintain despite the circumstances. 

Being honest with ourselves regarding our emotions is incredibly important, and it is essential to acknowledge them. If there are days that you are feeling frustrated, unmotivated, or just down and out, you don’t have to hide those emotions. It is perfectly normal to feel those things, especially under a tremendous amount of stress. However, it is essential to try your best to overcome those feelings. Rather than use those feelings as a motivator to check out and give up, figure out what it is about those feelings that make you want to disengage. For example, it is normal to be incredibly distracted and unable to focus when we are feeling burned out. When this occurs, we typically go on our phones, grab a snack, or engage in some form of a passive activity to take our minds off of what we should be doing. 

Instead, when you are feeling those kinds of emotions or impulses, it is better to take a breath and check-in. When you are staring at your computer screen trying to write that email, and you begin to feel yourself getting distracted or unmotivated to keep going, this is usually the point in which we reach for our phones or some other form of escape. This is where the tough love comes in. You are going to have to tell yourself not to start drifting towards other forms of entertainment or distraction. This is the instance in which you are going to have to fight the urge to check out and keep writing that email. Stopping now only means that you are going to have to return to it later, and you are likely to forget where you left off, or you are going to continue to let your work pile up. 

This is similar to what you are going to face in your personal life. Sure, you don’t really feel like doing the dishes or vacuuming, or even turning off the tv to go for a walk. But you are eventually going to have to push past those feelings and get your stuff done. The good thing about taking that first step is that it is contagious. Once you move past that distracted state of mind and those feelings of burnout, you will likely start to find it easier to combat them on a regular basis. Getting out of a rut happens one step at a time, and burnout is very much like being in a rut. While it is essential to take responsibility for your actions and take accountability for how you respond to burnout, there are going to be that requires you to relax and take it easy on yourself. 

Is tough love ever too much?

Of course, there are going to be times when tough love is not the right response to how you are feeling. Sometimes we mistake more severe circumstances and emotions for burnout when we are actually experiencing depression, anxiety, or something else. Back when we went to work, it was a bit easier to decipher what was burnout and what was depression. Typically, those who felt relief after leaving work were suffering from burnout, while depression tends to be a consistent and ever-present state of being. However, as many of us are working from home, it has clearly become more difficult to make the distinction. 

If you are feeling like the typical symptoms of burnout don’t really apply to you but have noticed that you are experiencing some other feelings such as low self-esteem, hopelessness, or are having suicidal thoughts, then tough love is not the answer or the solution. If you believe that what you are dealing with is more severe than burnout, then the tough love that you need to show yourself is to make a call and reach out for help. Sometimes the strongest thing we can do in a situation is to ask for help. 

If you think you may be experiencing something other than burnout, then you should reach out to your doctor or a loved one for help. Like we have been talking about, this is a very stressful, challenging, and frankly strange time for everyone. Many of us are having a very hard time dealing with all of the circumstances and hardships surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown. 

Keeping it together and moving on

Some days it is just going to be about keeping it together and trying to remain optimistic while we weather all of the difficulties and challenges that come our way. However, we have to keep taking care of ourselves, taking care of our loved ones, and being sure to try our best at work. It is certainly not easy, but it will help you feel better as things continue to progress. 

Small steps turn into big progress. By pushing through those moments of feeling unmotivated, distracted, or exhausted, you will become more determined to keep fighting against those moments of burnout. As you become more diligent, it will get easier. During these moments, you have to show yourself that tough love is going to keep you on track and off the couch. If you find that you simply can’t push past those feelings brought on by burnout, try taking a break and doing something constructive. Go for a walk, meditate, do some yoga, anything that is going to clear your mind for a bit and help you stay on track in the long run. 

Tough love doesn’t have to be overbearing or intense, sometimes it is as simple as telling yourself that you need to stay on track. In many ways, tough love is a lot like self-discipline – it requires responsibility, accountability, and consistency. Just remember to keep in mind that COVID-19 and the burnout that comes with it, like most things, is temporary. Take it one day at a time, keep your head up, and don’t lose focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. 

Jennifer Deputy-2.jpg

Hello, I'm Jennifer Deputy

I am a writer, blogger, and traveler. Being creative and making things keep me happy is my life's motto.

Get Curated Post Updates!

Sign up for my newsletter to see new photos, tips, and blog posts.

Scroll to Top