19 Jan A different kind of New Year
Happy New Year. I had a dull start to 2022. It felt very ho-hum to me. Normally, the New Year causes me to feel refreshed and invigorated. I am an annoying resolution setter, but not this year.
Now that it’s mid-month, I find that I am not alone in the New Year blues. Fatigue and malaise appear to be as rampant as Omicron. It’s getting harder to lift up and out of emotional burnout. Dealing with constant uncertainty is exhausting.
Recently, a friend remarked to me that she just wasn’t planning anything new at work because every 10th day she’s back home with one of her kids due to a COVID exposure at school.
A recent New York Times article surveyed over 1,000 therapists about why they are worried about America’s mental health right now. Consistently, therapists across the United States are seeing an overwhelming amount of grief, malaise, and fatigue due to the pandemic and political landscape. I concur wholeheartedly.
Gabriela Sehinkman, LISW-S, an Ohio therapist, was quoted as saying, “The pandemic has functioned like a magnifying glass for vulnerabilities.”
I have found this to be true throughout the pandemic. Many clients, who had worked through depression or anxiety issues, experienced old behaviors and fears returning. This is defeating when so much work was spent on changing behaviors.
I believe we all experienced regression of problematic behaviors to varying degrees. The constant recalibration of expectation and plans while feeling vulnerable is a perfect breeding ground for emotional burnout.
Emotional burnout is the feeling of mental exhaustion from accumulated and ongoing stress. The stress may come from issues like a demanding work environment, financial hardship, relationship conflict, care-giving, chronic illness/pain, loss, and life transitions. Sound like 2020, 2021, and 2022 so far?
Stress hormones are released when we detect a threat. The hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, help us take action when we are in danger or need to just get motivated to do things like meet an important deadline or get a child to the emergency room. Normally, when the stressful incident is resolved, we go back to a state of calm.
This doesn’t happen when we are constantly under stress. Right now, that may come from being constantly around a toxic partner due to quarantine or having to go from in-person school to remote while balancing a dynamic work schedule.
A consistent release of stress hormones has a negative impact on health. Our bodies experience an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and overall exertion of energy.
Over time, too much cortisol reduces our immune system’s ability to protect us from illness. Not good when fighting a virus or trying to stay virus-free. Emotional burnout disrupts self-esteem, focus, patience, mood, weight, and sleep. It’s hard to have empathy for others when we are emotionally burned out.
New Year’s tips to decrease emotional burnout and increase well-being:
- Connection – we are social creature, albeit some more than others, so connect in the ways that work for you; expand out a bit more instead of isolating in. Laugh.
- Sleep – enough sleep is key to focus, memory retention, patience, and so much more.
- Enough food – you need fuel, enough said.
- Movement – 15 to 20 minutes a day unless you enjoy more.
- Cry – when the tears well up in your throat, just cry.
- Write – writing brings clarity to overwhelming experiences and provides relief.
- Therapy or support group – a place to process trauma and plan for the future; support groups offer a sense of shared humanity and are often free of charge.
- Less optimism, more realism – too much optimism can bring defeat when things don’t happen as planned; optimistic example, “2022 is going to turn around for me by June!” vs. realistic example, “there may be another variant and I know how to deal with it now.”
- Get a physical – have a blood work done to ensure you don’t have any health issues or low vitamin levels that may cause things like fatigue or depression.
And most importantly, be intentional about offering yourself grace and self-compassion. Without even knowing you, I firmly believe that you have been through a lot.
Wishing you a safe, healthy, happy-ish New Year!
Burnout: The secret to unlocking the stress cycle by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA
Kate Murphy, LCSW
Kate Murphy, a therapist in Chamblee, GA, specializes in helping you decrease stress and anxiety. You can live a more balanced, connected, and meaningful life. Kate works with individuals and couples over the age of 18 to support healing, communicating, and experiencing joy more often.