How to survive online burnout — and even thrive!

I’m writing this as a collator of the wisdom of others and I do my best to follow these tips myself.

By Joe Oliver

Published: Tue 9 Mar 2021, 11:50 PM

Online working full-time has become a reality for so many of us during the pandemic. Although work for many of us has always had an online component, few of us were prepared for the rapid transition to be online all day, while working from home.

Although it has benefits (working in a tracksuit, easy access to the fridge), online working comes with more than its fair share of challenges. This leaves us dealing with inadequate working spaces, fewer boundaries between work and personal spaces and times, “home-schooling” and kids at home, unrealistic expectations from work and clients about our availability. On top of that, there’s the never-ending tech problems — poor WiFi, sound issues, and those awful broadband problems that seem to happen right when we go to say something really important in a big meeting.

All of these experiences can lead to a range of symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, anxiety, tearfulness, increased volume on the “I’m a fraud/no good/worthless” story, withdrawal from work, and waves of nausea whenever someone mentions the word ‘Zoom’. These experiences have commonly been called Zoom Fatigue or Online Burnout.

But these symptoms just simply our body letting us know when we need to do some adjustments. If we let them go on too long and ignore them, sure, we will get into trouble. But if we listen to them and make the necessary changes, life gets easier. Here are some top tips to survive Online Burnout.

IMPORTANT CAVEAT: By virtue of writing this article, it does not at all mean I’ve personally somehow mastered this issue. I, of course, struggle with the pressures of online working in my own way. I’m writing this as a collator of the wisdom of others and I do my best to follow these tips myself.

1. Good enough is OK. Most of us want to do a good job at work, get things done, help out our colleagues and progress in our careers. Sometimes, this can tip into high standards or occasionally perfectionism. This can mean we end up driving ourselves, constantly comparing ourselves to others, leaving us feeling like a fraud or imposter.

Good enough is a kind, compassionate principle that allows us to do what is necessary to a good enough standard, whilst making room for our human limitations. I would recommend that you get ‘Good Enough is OK’ tattooed somewhere prominent on your body as a reminder of this principle.

2. Listen to your needs. Burnout is not a bad thing. It’s simply saying “hey, you — time to adjust!”. Consider then how you can listen; how you can slow down, reduce your caseload, take breaks and watch a bit more Netflix (Cobra Kai for example…). It just may be the case you need more breaks or more downtime than you require when you are in the office or your normal working environment.

3. Introduce mindful transitions between clients: Choose to focus when you are working, but also, choose to have a proper break when you need it. Sit back on your chair or stand up for at least a couple of minutes before your next task or meeting, reconnect with your breath and body. Do a quick body scan; notice your body and it you are feeling, both physically and emotionally. Take a moment stretch neck, back and legs. Bring your attention to your breath and just observe it for a few moments. It doesn’t have to be an hour long meditation. Brief mindful pauses can have a tremendous impact on your energy and well being.

4. This will pass too: Remember that this situation is temporary. We will return to face-to-face work. This may be a good opportunity to identify how you want to reorganise your diary in a way that works for you, is sustainable in the longer term and is aligned with your values. There are likely things that you can’t wait to get back to, but equally, it’s likely that there are practices you will want to carry forward with you as we slowly return to “normal”.

Joe Oliver is an author, speaker and clinical psychologist and Course Director at University College London.

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