Pandemic Burnout 8 Months In

18 Nov, 2020

When rumblings of the pandemic started last year, I remember thinking, this was happening somewhere else not here. I was aware of the conversations and media articles and warnings about the pandemic, but I never really considered at the time that hey this could impact me. Never did I think we would be where we are right now as a global community. I remember being in a meeting and media asking the speaker about the pandemic. At the time, I felt annoyed because I really felt that COVID was just being blown out of proportion by the media and that it was just going to go away.

Then, it happened the world began to shut down more and more people were getting sick and dying. Some because of COVID and some because of the impacts on the economy and access to things that were not available.  At the time there was a lot of articles about the concerns of what the isolation and shut down will do for many people’s mental health. I have worked in essential services for some time and suddenly, there was more work to do but no more hours in the day to do it. The government began to offer more money to folks to thank them for working more in dangerous environments. For a time, I believe that was motivating there were many people who were happy to take on the extra work for extra cash.

Now, we are 9 months into the pandemic. I have spoken with many other women over the past few weeks and what I am noticing for myself and what others have expressed to me is exactly what was talked about at the beginning of the pandemic. Women are taking the brunt of pandemic burn out. Women are navigating the impacts on their children’s mental health, their own mental health, working in caregiving professions and often times caring for others in their lives. Many workers are still being asked to take on more clients, work longer hours, and balance their own anxiety about contracting COVID or possibly transmitting it to someone else. Should someone complain about their exhaustion or feelings of guilt and overwhelm there is sometimes a response that you should feel grateful that you have a job and not complain. Absolutely many people have lost their jobs as a result of this pandemic and are struggling in many different ways. So certainly I want to mention that hardship is real! That being said, it can not be used as a way for us to minimize our own needs and stresses related to continuing to work during a pandemic.    Sometimes the overwhelm is seen as a weakness or that you are not taking charge of your life by demanding balance, but the truth is, the world has been set up for this. Workplaces are benefiting from the socialization and oppression of women and their conditioning to care for others while holding it all together.

The reality is people need rest. Working more, for longer hours,  plus navigating the need for connection, caring for children and others in our lives on top of increased workloads while navigating new technology and environments is a lot all at once. When the need for money is so great that the need to care for ourselves and out own health is not able to be a top priority we are in a tough spot. This experience of financial insecurity has been a reality for many for generations. The pandemic has applied an added pressure while being pitched as an opportunity to make more money for some and loss of money for others.
More money but at what cost to ourselves? What cost to our families? With a possible 8 or more months of this pandemic and then the impacts that we will see as a result of job losses, economic recession and symptoms of isolation, I am concerned more than ever about the individual and collective impacts.

Workplaces would benefit from providing extra paid time off during this pandemic. Flex work schedules and make accommodations that are outside of the existing legislation. Now is not the time to take on new projects. The world is still right in the middle of a pandemic. There is a saying that I think about and applying it here in the context of a pandemic  “less is more” I don’t mean less resources, less support, less people working. The pandemic is real and there are necessary services and real healthcare impacts but what if we did less for just a little while longer? Gave permission for folks to care for themselves with out undertones of guilt.

There are many who will continue to work running on cortisol and filling their cups from being a helper. Many folks  feel that they have the capacity to continue to do more and all the power to you we need you right now, For me I worry about sustainability. When we are overworking in a global pandemic and a state of crisis with little or no time to care for ourselves, there are impacts. There are impacts on ourselves, the people we serve and the world around us.

I am a fan of people making decisions for themselves that work for them in the moment, but I am also a fan of shifting norms and the power of leading by example.  
So this is a call to the folks in charge, to government officials, those in leadership roles and to us collectively as individuals.  
Take this pandemic as an opportunity to recognize that capitalism is not working.  Collectively caring for ourselves and others cannot be achieved if leaders are not caring for themselves or  whole heartedly facilitating the opportunities to care for ourselves individually.

Ultimately, on the individual level, I think the most powerful thing we can do is say no, no I can’t work more, no I can’t take on more, no I can’t support in this way. I think about it similar to the labor rights movement in that until labor force starts to demand what they need and put up firm boundaries,  collectively we wont see the shifts that are needed to sustain another 8 plus months of the pandemic and then what will come after.