How to Avoid Burnout When You're Doing Everything From Home
After a year of endless virtual meetings and “commuting” from the couch to the fridge, working from home may have you feeling burnt out.
And honestly, the work-from-home monotony might have been easier to deal with if you weren’t doing everything else from home, too. Online grocery shopping. Virtual happy hours. Remote learning. Hosting family gatherings via FaceTime.
Factor in the endless stress of lockdowns, plus missing out on actual face-time with friends and family, and it’s no surprise so many people are feeling blah right now.
In fact, in a New York Times article, University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Adam Grant wrote that “languishing” — a feeling of “muddling through your days” — could be “the dominant emotion of 2021.”
But it looks like working from home — at least some of the time — may be here to stay for many of us. So how can you bounce back from burnout when virtual life has you feeling zapped? Here are eight expert tips.
1. Set Boundaries and Stick to Them
If you’re dealing with WFH burnout, you may not be drawing clear enough boundaries between your work life and home life.
“Since working from home has become the new normal, most people feel as though they never quit working,” says Sara Makin, MSEd, NCC, LPC. “It becomes easier to extend work hours into your personal time by telling yourself, ‘I’ll just answer one more email.'”
One easy step you can take immediately: Set office hours for yourself and honor them. “If you happen to see an email pop up after hours, don’t answer it until the next day when you are working,” Makin adds.
2. Schedule a Daily Screen Break
Designate a block of time each day where you avoid screens entirely — yep, even your phone.
“Give yourself at least an hour of screen-free time in the evening,” suggests John Mathews, LCSW, a licensed therapist in Midlothian, VA. “Even if you spend this time doing mundane things like washing dishes or folding laundry, it is important to give yourself a break from the virtual world.”
3. Create a Separate Workspace.
If you’re setting up your remote workspace at the kitchen table, living room sofa, or another multi-purpose space in the house, you may find it hard to “switch off” at the end of the workday.
“Create a space at home that is exclusively for work,” says Summer Forlenza, LMFT, a mental health expert in Montclair, CA. “When you step into that space, your brain and body recognize that it’s time to be productive and engaged. When you step out of the work space, your brain and body get permission to relax and unplug.”
4. Disrupt the Routine
“When you’re working from home, you may not have a reason to leave your house each day, and the days can start to become monotonous,” says Savannah Davis, LCSW, founder of Coastal Therapy Services, LLC in Portland, ME.
“Be very intentional about adding variety to your days so that you don’t feel like you’re living the same day on repeat, which is something that can absolutely lead to burnout,” Davis adds.
“Maybe one day, you learn a new recipe. The next, you take a walk through a new neighborhood. On the third, you watch a movie you haven’t seen before. It really doesn’t matter, as long as it’s breaking the repetitive cycle.”
5. Shorten Your Meetings
“It may not seem complicated, but when people are stuck in back-to-back meetings for hours on end, the opportunity to stand up and look at something other than a computer screen for a brief moment can make a huge difference,” Brown says.
Brown suggests scheduling a 25-minute meeting instead of the usual half hour, or a 50-minute meeting instead of a full hour. That way, you’ll have a few minutes to stretch, recharge, and refill your coffee mug before the next meeting starts.
6. Break a Sweat
“Incorporate movement in your day,” says Erin Dierickx, LMFT, a licensed therapist in Renton, WA. “Getting exercise provides us with endorphins, a change in scenery, and — perhaps most needed to prevent or aid in burnout — a break.”
Bonus points if you take your workout outdoors, so you can reap the mental health benefits of being outside.
7. Limit Your Notifications
Research suggests those push notifications on your smartphone can increase stress and negatively impact concentration, which can contribute to burnout.
It’s hard to resist peeking at your screen when you see a notification pop up, but you can keep your smartphone from demanding too much of your attention with a few simple adjustments to your settings.
Quincee Gideon, PsyD, a psychologist in Santa Monica, CA, recommends turning off notifications for any apps that increase your anxiety and silencing notifications after a certain hour so your workday doesn’t spill over into the rest of your life.
8. Take a Breather
Better yet, take several breathers throughout the day — even if it’s just a five-minute change of scenery.
“I have people set reminders on their phone to get up and walk around their house, step outside, take five deep breaths, check the mail, go to the kitchen to refill their water, or get a snack,” says Angela Ficken, LICSW, a therapist in private practice in Boston.
These mini-breaks “will help you feel refreshed when you sit back down, especially if you do it several times a day,” Ficken adds. “The company isn’t going to burn down because you decided to go for a walk or leave your desk for a few minutes. It’s hard to remember that when we are home in one room all day. “