Everywhere you look, people are reporting a rise in burnout and anxiety associated with the increased isolation necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic. These aren’t just anecdotes: medical professionals agree that our collective mental wellbeing (or lack thereof) will be the looming public health crisis of the year to come.
The vaccine’s arrival brought with it a sense of optimism and an implicit belief that the worst is over – a sense of normalcy would surely return in due course. The powers that be would reinstate liberties, and bars, restaurants and clubs would be saved from liquidation by once again trading on their own terms, and we would never again have to be subjected to a chorus of celebrities delivering unwarranted renditions of popular songs. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but a necessary morale booster amid a rapidly crumbling world.
While hope for the future is necessary, it comes with a side helping of emotional and physical fatigue – the aftermath of a year placed on pause. On a personal and professional level, we have been slow to adapt to the toll of a global catastrophe whose effects will continue to shape our everyday lives.
In the most predictable of times, one’s job can be a source of great stress. The unstoppable march of deadlines, strained interpersonal relationships and even broken copiers can lead to mental unrest or a drop in productivity. Compound these with new everyday challenges, like working and living in the same space or a rise in micromanagement, alongside the looming threat of economic collapse and the erosion of social support systems, and you have a recipe for something quite uncomfortable.
With that being said, any and every effort should be made to mitigate situations that could cause undue stress. Many companies seem to be managing a socially distanced workforce in a way that compounds said stress, rather than reducing it. A year in, and the corporate powers that be are still clinging to old notions of professionalism that were probably out of date a decade ago and have no place in our current working-from- home world. We’re now confronted with things like how-to’s on “The Do’s and Don’ts of Video Conferencing” — an exercise in micromanagement that feels wholly unnecessary. Why this level of suspicion or scrutiny? As a society, can we all agree to keep our cameras off and unmute only when spoken to? Anything more, and you’re asking too much of an already fragile workforce. Allow us a small amount of agency to leave us with the mental and emotional bandwidth to combat more pressing issues. That said, it’s not all bad. Some institutions have gone to great lengths to foster an environment of wellbeing for their employees. During the height of the pandemic, many notable companies made great strides towards helping their workforce maintain a semblance of balance. Google introduced extra sick days ahead of a national holiday to improve employees’ “collective wellbeing”, and Verizon Media, known for its acquisitions of Yahoo and AOL, increased compensation for workers who had to remain in public environments.
Restrictions are slowly easing, and we are on the road to a new form of normalcy, but pandemic fatigue is still very much a reality as we weather the next stage of the storm. Avoiding burnout completely can be challenging or nearly impossible as we have little control over what comes next, but there are ways to ensure that this doesn’t have far-reaching consequences in your life.
It’s important to build in support scaffolding where you can, and recognise when naturally occurring periods of detachment or lack of motivation start to feel insurmountable.
OUR MENTAL WELLBEING (OR LACK THEREOF) WILL BE THE LOOMING PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS OF THE YEAR TO COME
The wellness industry is booming and in some ways, it feels like we’re entering a golden era of self-help. There are many methods to go about tackling pandemic-related stress or depression, as well as countless resources to help combat uncertainty and its resultant anxieties. Even a cursory online investigation reveals a host of apps, influencers, podcasters and experts who’ve made wellbeing, and the sharing of experiences for the benefit of others, their life’s work. The first step towards changing your situation is finding strength or guidance in these experiences in order to navigate your next steps. Reach out to your family and personal networks for help, and remember that what you are feeling is being felt the world over – no-one needs to suffer in silence.
We’ve found ourselves at a challenging point in history, but the story is still being written. While much of the near future remains uncertain, how we react and how we care for ourselves with patience and compassion will be the defining characteristic of this moment in time, and will set the tone for what comes next. — Tshiamo Seape