How to Reduce Stress and Overcome COVID Burnout

By The Mental Hygiene Project November 20th, 2020

Note from Captive Resources (CRI): At CRI, we work with 40 group captives comprised of roughly 5,000 member-companies. In addition to providing strategic consulting services to these captives, we also work with member-companies to promote safer workplaces. A significant factor in promoting workplace safety is helping employees develop and maintain good health — both physical and mental. Nearly a year into a pandemic, many Americans are dealing with heightened levels of disruption, distraction, and discomfort, all of which take a toll on workers’ mental health. To help companies and their employees address COVID burnout, we worked with our friends at the Mental Hygiene Project to bring you some helpful tips. 

For many workers, the pandemic has thrown regular work schedules into disarray and brought on new extracurricular responsibilities (e.g., helping your kids with their online learning), all while taking away many outlets for dealing with the added stress (e.g., the gym).

The first, second, and third effects of the pandemic are quickly adding up, and we’re beginning to see the repercussions of it in the workplace. According to a recent study from FlexJobs and Mental Health America (MHA), roughly three in four American workers have experienced burnout on the job, with 40 percent saying the pandemic contributed to that burnout.

If your company is looking for ways to improve employees’ mental health during this time, here are 13 practical strategies for overcoming COVID burnout.

13 Tips to Help Workers Avoid COVID Burnout

1: Start Your Day with Some High-Energy Music

It’s important to start the day with positive energy and enthusiasm to tackle the challenges you might encounter effectively. What better way to get into the right mindset before than turning on some of your favorite tunes?

Everyone enjoys different kinds of music, so roll with whatever jams work best for you. Just be sure you start the day listening to the type of high-energy music that gets you pumped up and ready to go for the day.

2: Get an “Accountability Partner”

An accountability partner is someone you can feel comfortable enough with to just “be yourself” and should help you stay on track in all aspects of your development — both professionally and personally. Try to meet with this person weekly to talk about your goals, progress, and thoughts on your personal and professional life. The friendship and discussion you share with this person will help you become more objective, self-aware, and well-rounded. (Note: While this person doesn’t have to be someone you work with, your accountability partner should be someone other than your spouse or significant other.)

3: See the Funny Side of Life

Allow yourself to laugh and enjoy life without being serious all the time. Embracing a lighter mood helps ease stress and bring mountains back down to molehills where they belong. And, laughter reduces the stress hormone cortisol in your bloodstream and releases positive chemicals in your brain (dopamine and serotonin) that give you feelings of pleasure and well-being.

Give yourself and the people you work with a “laugh-a-day.” Family-friendly, work-appropriate humorous cartoons or memes give people a chance to laugh and release stress. Make a point to share funny observations or family-friendly comedy clips.

4: Slow Down

Every once in a while, slow the chaos in your mind and take the time to reflect and think. It revitalizes the mind and refreshes the spirit.

During this time, take inventory of your work, personal life, accomplishments, and goals. Make time to do this to have a clear picture of where you are now and better understand where you want to be in the future.

5: Take Some Time Off

Too many people are under the impression that it is impossible to take a few days off work, especially if you’re already working from home due to the pandemic. If you’re starting to feel the effects of COVID burnout, don’t be afraid to schedule some time off work. If you plan early enough, stick to your commitment, and communicate your time off with your team, you can make it work.

6: Take Short Breaks

Sometimes it just helps to get away briefly in the middle of a workday, whether it’s leaving your desk to grab a cup of coffee or making time to eat lunch with friends or family. Make it a point not to talk about your work or the pandemic. Talk about your hobbies, sports, entertainment, or whatever you enjoy — anything to help you avoid COVID burnout and give you a release from the “pressure cooker” of stress.

7: Dine Alone

If you feel burnt out on people, eat lunch or dinner by yourself a couple of times a week. This gives you the chance to enjoy quiet time and not talk if you do not feel like engaging in conversation. There can be tremendous power in silence.

8: Start an Exercise Program

For many of us, going to the gym is no longer a viable option — whether the facility is closed or you don’t want to take the risk — but there are plenty of ways to get a good workout in. You can go on walks (or runs) around the neighborhood, work out at home using a fitness app, or take quick breaks during the day to knock out a few pushups or jumping jacks.

Exercise makes you feel good about yourself, cleanses your body of built-up stress, and helps you sleep better. It also allows you to be more “present” when you are actually at work, instead of being inside your head, thinking about all the things that are stressing you out.

9: Give Yourself Credit

A sure way to succumb to COVID burnout is to always think about the things you weren’t able to accomplish for whatever reason. This brings your self-image down instead of lifting it up. Instead of focusing on what you haven’t done, give yourself the credit you deserve for what you have done.

It’s best to learn from the past but don’t stay there. Keep a positive attitude about the present and be optimistic about the future.

10: Stay Focused with Blocks of Time

Schedule blocks of time throughout your workday to focus on specific tasks. During these blocks of time, do your best to block out all interruptions. Maintaining focus will increase your efficiency and reduce the anxiety caused by trying to do 20 things at once. Of course, there are always times when emergencies pop up, causing you to divert attention to something else. Just use solid time management to the best of your ability, and don’t procrastinate.

11: Take a Power Nap with Your Feet Elevated

If you feel tired and have difficulty concentrating throughout the workday, taking a quick power nap with your feet elevated can make you feel amazingly refreshed. By elevating your feet, the blood will more readily flow to your brain, which increases the oxygen levels you need to feel well-rested and alert. In just 10-15 minutes, you will get the same benefit of a more prolonged slumber.

12: Say “No”

Do not be afraid to say “no” when you know that you are either already booked or have all the commitments you can handle. Spreading yourself too thin at work can lead to dangerous stress and anxiety, which can exacerbate COVID burnout. Learning to set healthy boundaries allows you to be balanced and more productive, as well as relaxed and free of chronic stress.

13: Embrace Change

Understand that goals can and may change depending on your environment and your experiences. Sometimes situations and circumstances change in your career and life that put you down a different road. If you find that something is not right for you, it is OK to change paths without feeling guilty or ashamed. This is not failing. This is being mature about your future happiness, and what you now know is right for you.

To avoid bitterness and eventual burnout, understand that whatever you choose to do with your career and life has to be for your well-being. No outside influence can know what is better for you than you.

Michael L. Stahl and Ryan S. Gallik

Co-Founders of The Mental Hygiene Project

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