As the country observes the first anniversary since the inception of the Covid-19 lockdown, burnout is likely if we do not heed the advice of professionals. Picture: Alex Green from Pexels
As the country observes the first anniversary since the inception of the Covid-19 lockdown, burnout is likely if we do not heed the advice of professionals. Picture: Alex Green from Pexels

A year into Covid-19 in SA: Lockdown burnout is real so how do we keep functioning?

By Jehran Naidoo Time of article published Mar 5, 2021

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DURBAN - At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, when South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country would be entering a 21-day lockdown from March 27, 2020, we all thought, ’Yay! We're going to work from home!"

“Yay! We’re gonna save on fuel!”

Almost a year later, as the country observes the first anniversary since the inception of the Covid-19 lockdown, working from home seems like the most tedious task one could ever undertake.

Throughout the working world, both employees and management had to quickly become accustomed to what is now being called the “new norm”, which is: avoid human contact as far as possible.

Official working hours have also gone out the window, rounding up our weekly working hours to God knows what.

This digital paradigm shift, like many other things in life, has come with both pros and cons, and some of the cons are now beginning to surface as the weight of dealing with the pandemic reaches a tipping point.

With unprecedented financial, emotional and physical strain being forced onto us, the question of burnout doesn't seem like an “if” but rather a “when”.

Many psychologists and mental health experts have reported seeing spikes in stress and anxiety levels in both their old and new patients.

According to a Pharma Dynamics study published in October last year, which polled 1,200 individuals, 56% of adults in the study reported higher stress and anxiety levels than before the pandemic.

Thirty-eight percent felt tired and complained of low energy levels, and 22% resorted to some form of anti-anxiety drugs to help them cope with the stress.

Six percent contemplated suicide.

This was reiterated by the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last year.

““The impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health is already extremely concerning. Social isolation, fear of contagion, and loss of family members is compounded by the distress caused by loss of income and often employment,” Tedros said.

So how, then, do we stay at the height of productivity while dealing with all this stress?

How do we keep the wheels of capitalism turning even though we are being crushed under the weight of the Covid-19 pandemic?

According to Professor Renata Schoeman of the South African Society of Psychiatrists, burnout manifests as emotional exhaustion, severe fatigue and a detachment from your work.

Schoeman believes self-care is of paramount importance during times like these, as it helps build resilience, Eyewitness News reported. This self-care can be further divided into four groups: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual care.

On the physical spectrum, Schoeman said that ample exercise can help you stay focused as well as maintain a regulated blood flow, which is vital given that a deadly virus is on the loose.

The importance of a healthy diet cannot be stressed enough. Maintaining a healthy diet also keeps the body and mind razor-sharp. It also reduces your risk of contracting the virus, which has been known to attack weaker immune systems.

On the mental side of things, the lockdown has forced people indoors, which has in turn, given us a lot more free time. Schoeman says that reading books can keep your brain occupied. This could also help you add more weapons to your arsenal in this information age.

Lastly, depending on whether or not you’re one of those agnostic individuals, Schoeman says that working on your spirituality can significantly help increase your mental strength.

In the cloudy haze of our minds, somewhere along the line we are bound to fall off the rungs of productivity, which is the last thing we need with the current massacre that is South Africa’s unemployment rate.

Lockdown burnout can only add to your plate if you are struggling to maintain a high level of productivity at the workplace, and according to Durban counselling psychologist Rakhi Beekrum, many individuals confuse being busy with productivity.

“Traditionally, being busy was applauded and regarded as a sign of success. However, the prevailing opinion is that busyness is not a badge of honour,” Beekrum said in an interview with the African News Agency (ANA) last month.

“Being busy is not a sign of success. It’s crucial to find a healthy balance between productivity and rest. Both are crucial to your success,” she added.

Beekrum believes that being in a constant state of busyness without enough rest could negatively affect our mental health and productivity levels.

“We are able to do more and produce better-quality outcomes when we are well rested. With working from home being a new normal for many, most employees report working even longer hours. It is important to realise that just because we can work longer hours, it does not mean that we should,” said Beekrum.

In order to stay on top of your game at home and in the workplace, Beekrum says these eight tips should help ease some of the pressure:

1. Create a list of tasks for the day.

2. Create your own daily routine – and stick to it.

3. Take breaks – away from your desk.

4. Prioritise basic self-care – rest, adequate sleep, nutrition and physical activity. These will increase productivity.

5. Recognise your distractions and minimise them, for example social media or checking emails regularly.

6. Do the hardest task first – everything else will seem like a breeze in comparison.

7. Switch off at the end of your workday and have a little activity that helps you transition into “home mode”, such as a mindful cup of tea or a shower. This would replace your commute.

8. Turn off your phone and emails when you are done with work so you are not tempted to work after hours.

- African News Agency (ANA); Editing by Yaron Blecher

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