Avoiding Burnout

  • Published
  • By Greg Chadwick, Air Force Materiel Command Health & Wellness Team

The tank is running on empty.

Over the past year, many of us have had to learn new ways of working, of caring for our families, and trying to remain connected with others.

The COVID-19 pandemic may make you feel like you’re just waiting – life on hold – feeling frustrated that there’s no end in sight. Pandemic fatigue is a very real feeling of exhaustion as a result of COVID-19’s impact on our lives – from financial stress, to loneliness, to the fears of getting sick. All of these play into the fatigue many of us are feeling and how we are reacting as a result.

Continual exposure to this unrelenting stress can cause us to burnout.

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. The negative effects of burnout can zap the joy out of your career, friendships, and family interactions. Much worse than ordinary fatigue, burnout makes it challenging for people to cope with stress and handle day-to-day responsibilities. People who are struggling with burnout typically experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally depleted
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • General ‘brain fog’
  • Loss of motivation
  • Disconnecting from others
  • Frequent illnesses
  • Not enjoying things you once loved

Burnout doesn’t go away on its own and, if left untreated, it can lead to serious physical and psychological illnesses like depression, heart disease, and diabetes. 

Stress may be unavoidable, but burnout is preventable. At a time when it feels like so much is out of our control, it’s important to recognize what you can change and control in your own life.

If working from home, it is important to create boundaries and a routine for work. Work-from-home-burnout can occur when people have a hard time separating their work life and their home life, especially when they’re working and living in one space. Tips for a better work-life balance could include:

  • Only working during designated hours
  • Creating a separate work environment at home (not on the couch or in bed)
  • Not responding to emails outside of your working hours (this will help prevent the feeling of constantly being “on” and connected to work)
  • Taking a lunch break away from your computer

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is essential to coping with stress and preventing burnout. Participating in regular physical activity, eating a balanced diet, and getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night will help replenish your energy and emotional reserves.

Also, it’s important to schedule “me time” every day. Set aside time for yourself to do things you enjoy, whether that’s listening to music, pursuing a hobby, or having dedicated alone time. Hobbies can decrease stress by taking your mind off work or news about the coronavirus.

If stress and/or burnout is getting in the way of you properly caring for yourself and others, professional counseling services are available for the AFMC workforce and their families.

Military members can contact their local mental health clinic for services. Military OneSource is another option for military and their families. For more information, call (800) 342-9647 or visit militaryonesource.mil.

Civilian employees and their family members may contact the Employee Assistance Program for free, confidential counseling services at (866) 580-9078 or visit the EAP website at AFPC.af.mil/EAP.

For more information on avoiding burnout education materials, visit USAFwellness.com or contact your local Civilian Health Promotion Services team. Comprehensive information on how to cope with job stress during the Covid-19 pandemic can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at: CDC.gov