Selfcare versus burnout, an exercise in fine balancing.


As part of the new normal, our lives are centred around our computer screens. The lines between work and home life are hazy, as we often find ourselves leaving our laptops at the end of the working day feeling exhausted, achy and unmotivated to do anything but sprawl out on the sofa.

Winter can zap energy out of us in the best of years, but with the added pandemic stress, many of us are experiencing a complete COVID burnout, and it is just as contagious as the virus itself.

In 2020 our homes became our offices, and it was not long before the four walls around us began to feel like prisons, with the obligation to stay on top of corona-related news feeling like an additional full-time job.

We have all felt the urge to completely shut down at times, only overcome by the harrowing awareness of ever-expanding to-do lists and the growing number of work emails left without reply. The term ‘burnout’ was even added to the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases in 2019, describing the overwhelming malaise caused by this internal battle against all the demands of our working lives, so much that the brief aversion to any physical activity turns into a perpetual state of mind.

Burnout is not plainly a symptom of working yourself too hard; it is your mind and body screaming out for a break from the unceasing demands and expectations of the modern world.

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Cover photo: Luis Villasmil

By Anna Alford: arts COLUMNIST

We live in a culture without an off switch, with the idea of ‘just doing nothing’ or ‘taking a break’ bringing an immense sense of guilt.

We often forget how interconnected our mind and body are, with prolonged mental fatigue having a profound impact on your physical endurance. Performing any cognitive task raises adenosine levels in the brain, a neurotransmitter involved in the regulation of sleep and energy levels. Too much and it begins to act as a sedative, making any physical activity feel utterly draining.

Intensive computer use can also result in more direct aches and pains. Bad posture while sitting down for a long time can lead to migraines, neck and back pain, acid reflux and eye fatigue, among other complaints, in turn contributing to our irritability in a vicious burnout spiral.

When you do have to work, get up from your desk at least once an hour to stretch and breathe – this is an easy way to increase your efficiency and boost your mood. Getting a good night’s sleep is also essential for maintaining energy levels and mental performance.

In order to properly ameliorate a burnout, we need to challenge our internalised working habits, and rethink what we think constitutes a ‘productive’ use, or ‘waste’, of time. It is okay to be kind to yourself and take a step back sometimes; no one should ever have to work themselves to the point of madness. One ‘lazy’ day may be all you need to be happier, sprightlier and more productive in the long run.