PORTLAND, Ore. — As the pandemic stretches into six months, more than two-thirds of employees working from home are experiencing symptoms of burnout, according to a survey from online employment platform Monster.
The problem seems to be growing. The number of people reporting signs of burnout is up 20% from a similar survey in May. On this week's episode of "Straight Talk," a Providence psychologist and a sports medicine specialist offered advice on how to battle burnout and succeed in a work-from-home and remote learning environment.
Providence Sports Medicine Program Manager Matthew Hauck also provided tips on how to keep kids active, and for student-athletes to stay in shape and avoid injury when athletes return to their competitive sports.
Providence psychologist resident Dr. Annelise Manns said part of the reason for the burnout is the feeling of not knowing how long the pandemic will last, and how long it will be before our lives return to a sense of normalcy.
She said that sense of grief over the loss of the way things used to be can show up in a number of psychological, emotional and behavioral ways.
"That can be changes in the way you sleep, how you handle stress, lashing out at family members, feeling fatigued, distressed, wanting to withdraw from others," she said.
Children can also feel burnout and anxiety. Dr. Manns said more than 20% of kids reported increased feelings of depression and anxiety after one month of quarantine. Children may have a difficult time focusing and become more withdrawn, wanting to spend more time in their room.
Manns said it's important to notice the changes and talk about them.
Checking-in with children
Dr. Manns recommended checking in with children daily. She said try acknowledging things that went well in the day and things that felt hard.
She suggested a fun way to engage with kids.
"Ask them what their 'apple' of the day was. Something that went really well. And then ask what their 'onion' of the day was. One thing that went really hard," she said.
For children more disposed to feeling anxious or worried, Dr. Manns added it can be beneficial to simply notice how they're doing.
"Saying something like 'I noticed math seemed really overwhelming for you today. How are you feeling about that?' So they can feel you are aware of how they're doing. They're seen, and it can open up a greater conversation," she said.
Checking-in with yourself
Dr. Manns encouraged adults to identify what they need, and think about strategies to counter the enormous added pressure of the pandemic.
"A lot of my patients have been isolated and are feeling lonely. So, get creative. How can I navigate these feelings of loneliness in a way that's going to be helpful to me?" Manns said.
Things like socially distanced gatherings, getting creative with playing games online with kids, journaling, and forming something Dr. Manns called a "double bubble."
She suggested finding another family practicing the same pandemic safety measures you are, and then do socially distanced activities together in a safe way.
Some families are using this "double bubble" idea to do remote learning together for their children or hiring private tutors for a small group.
Your work and school spaces
Dr. Manns said it's important to keep work and school spaces differentiated from the rest of your living space.
"As humans, we thrive on routine and boundaries," she said.
Set up a work and school space just for work and classroom time. Kids should have a desk or table. She discouraged doing work from the bed. It can disrupt sleep patterns.
She suggested setting up a basket near a desk with all the student's school supplies nearby, and to let kids have ownership in creating their space.
"What do you want your space to look like? How can we set this up? It helps develop motivation and helps them to feel engaged with a sense of ownership," she said.
Keeping boundaries around your time spent in the work and classroom space is important, too.
"Keep to being in that space just during work or school hours and really focus on leaving that space once those work hours are done. We need to maintain that work-life balance to thrive," she said.
Keeping a schedule
Keeping a schedule can be important for both children and adults. Children should get up, eat meals and do school work at the same time every day.
"It helps maintain a sense of normalcy with all the changes happening," she said.
However, Dr. Manns recommended building in some flexibility to the schedule around break and exercise time. Let them help decide what their routine will be. It helps add to that feeling of ownership and some independence.
"For older children, thinking through this, it's kind of a practice run for independence, for college, for adulthood. For maintaining their own schedule and motivation, and getting some buy-in can be helpful as well," she said.
Exercise to battle burnout
"Exercise is medicine for so many things and that's true for mental health. It's such a good way to metabolize the feelings you're holding inside," Dr. Manns said.
Providence Sports Medicine Program Manager Matthew Hauck said a lot of children are missing out on important physical activity. They don't have that routine of recess and PE in the school setting, and general activity levels walking to and from classes.
"They're becoming unplugged from that normal level of physical activity when they're in the home setting. They may be, unfortunately, in their own room or living room. So, we need to build back that normal level of physical activity," Hauck said.
It's recommended students get at least 60 minutes of physical activity, preferably moderate to vigorous activity. Hauck said it's crucial kids of all ages schedule time for exercise.
"In the home environment, we recommend shorter, more frequent breaks. Possibly every 15-30 minutes or every hour on the hour. Get up and get moving around the house. Up and down the stairs, if you have them. Stretch and move," he said.
In addition to that, Hauck recommended scheduling time for fun physical activity. Parents and students can find a number of fun activities on the Providence Sports website.
Hauck added to suggestions from Dr. Annelise Manns about giving kids ownership in decision making.
"Give them a selection of activities to choose from. Whether it's a neighborhood scavenger hunt in a couple of yards, using the 'double bubble' idea in a safe way. Or bicycling, hopscotch, outdoor activities while we still have the good weather. Give them a little control and they are much more likely to adhere to those things," Hauck said.
Getting outside is important for adults, too, he said. Battling burnout can be as simple as getting outside for a midday walk before or after lunch.
"Get out, Get some atmosphere on your skin. Feel some fresh air. Walk. Get your heart rate up a little. Listen to music or a podcast. I'm a believer in that lunch time walk," he said.
Student-athletes staying in shape
Student-athletes have an extra challenge staying in shape during the pandemic.
"These are unprecedented times. Student-athletes have never experienced anything like this before since they were very first athletes," he said.
Hauck said something happens when athletes are unplugged for so long. Although their bodies are very adaptable, their bodies change with a lack of intense conditioning that comes with structured practices and competitive games.
"I'm going to use a term that's a bit aggressive, they regress back a little bit," he said.
He said nothing is going to prepare an athlete for the demands of competition like the actual games themselves or high level of practices.
Providence six-week at-home conditioning program
To address this challenge, Providence Sports Medicine put together a free six-week at-home performance program for athletes of all ages.
"It gradually ramps up over a six-week period. You end up in a space where your body can return to higher levels of intensity, to more strength and conditioning after being unplugged for so long, once the time comes and sports competitions being again," Hauck said.
He said the program requires no equipment and no sign up, and can be done from any home environment.
Risk of injury
He stressed conditioning is important to avoid injury later. There are lessons to be learned from what happened from a German pro sports soccer league that returned to competition after a several week layoff during the pandemic.
"They had a very short ramp-up of only two weeks," he said. " And what happened? That league observed an injury rate per game three times higher than before the COVID layoff," he said.
Hauck said the takeaway lesson is even pro athletes, who were only laid off for several weeks, not months; if they don't have a proper ramp-up to that normal level of intensity they're used to, there will be heightened levels of injury once they return to the sport.
He encouraged student-athletes, no matter their age or skill level, to keep in shape mentally and physically as much as they can from home. And he encouraged student-athletes to check out the Providence six-week conditioning program.
Grief over loss of normalcy
Acknowledging we are all in hard times is a good place to start to counter feelings of sadness and burnout.
"We are going through a unique collective grief where there's lots of loss of daily routine, of ability to be in our workplace full time, physically loss of contact with friends. First, acknowledge that and create space for those feelings of grief, and then really lean in to your support system," Dr. Manns said.
Exercise can be really helpful, she said. Journaling, knowing when you need a little extra help. She encouraged those feeling like they need help to reach out to a mental health professional.
Help is available
"Making sure, as your stressors increase and your feelings of loss increase, that you're matching that with coping strategies and the self-care you're doing. The rest and exercise you're getting. Really balance the care you are giving yourself with the feeling you're having in a compassionate way," Dr. Manns said.
Straight Talk airs Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 8:30 p.m., Sunday at 6:30 p.m., and Monday at 4:30 a.m. It's also available as a podcast.