The Pandemic burnout is real. For all of us. With lockdowns being extended and strict border closures, fear and uncertainty have become all too constant. Globally, this is taking a huge toll on our mental health. Suicide rates are rising, feelings of despair and hopelessness are seeping into even the most positive of people, financial instability because of job loss is rampant and there’s an air of all-round frustration at the position we find ourselves in.
For some, it means being in a foreign land away from family. For others, being trapped in their house, and everything in between. So how can we cope?
1) Focus on what we CAN control:
Unfortunately, we cannot control the speed of the vaccine roll-out. Or the borders. Or the flights. Or other people who seem dead set on breaking rules. So, let’s focus on what we CAN control. Got a course you’ve been meaning to do or a skill you've always wanted to develop? Now’s the time! Coursera allows anyone to undertake university modules and courses online for free. There are millions of YouTube tutorials on everything from cooking to car maintenance. Maybe there’s a step challenge or a couch to 5K you want to take part in?
If all that sounds too hard and a bit ambitious for right now, that’s okay! There’s always the concept of ‘dumb tasks’. These are basically all the things we never get round to because it’s boring as hell and never usually worthy of our day off. Things like cleaning your walls and windows, organizing your closet, clearing out and cleaning all your kitchen cupboards etc. Basically, anything that keeps your mind and hands occupied, and stops you from doom scrolling on the couch. It's impossible to fail at these tasks, which gives you the bonus of a nice sense of accomplishment. Pop on some music and spend a couple of hours getting something done, and it’s guaranteed to lift your mood.
2) Reach out to family and friends:
Everyone is feeling bursts of loneliness, fear and stress. Thankfully, we have the technology that allows us to communicate with anyone around the world. I’ve taken to doing ‘walk and talks’ with my friends at home in Ireland. It means we’re getting some fresh air and exercise and we have a chance to catch up.
My best pal and I also recently started a virtual book club. It’s very informal, we just read the same book at the same time (if you haven’t read ‘Thursday Murder Club’, do. It’s brilliant!). We agree to read set passages or chapters by a certain date, and we text constantly about what's happening in the book, and how we're progressing. It gives us something to talk about and there’s nothing like a good book!
If you’re in the lucky position to be able to safely see friends and family, it’s important to make the effort, whether it’s a walk, a coffee, a drink. Seeing our loved ones in person and giving them a big hug does the world of good.
3) Let go of the guilt:
Honestly, we’re under enough emotional pressure right now without feeling constantly guilty. Many of my expat friends here in Sydney don't want to tell their families that they feel lonely or homesick, because 'life here is so good', or they don't want to 'show off' the fact that we can go to bars and restaurants.
I’ve also heard people at home saying they feel guilty complaining to expat friends who haven’t seen family in 2-3 years, that they’re missing their Mam after 2 months. Or guilty for sharing photos of family occasions when restrictions were lifted.
EVERYONE is struggling in different ways. As an expat, I haven’t seen my family in almost 2 years, and I don’t know when I’ll get to see them, which is cripplingly heartbreaking. So, if a source of joy for me is going out for dinner with some friends, I’m going to enjoy it and talk about it. In the same way, people at home who haven't been allowed to go to work, see friends, or go for a beer in almost a full year deserve to talk about the joys in their lives. I want to hear about it, and I want to see pictures. Because really, we all deserve whatever happiness we can get right now.
Let’s ditch the guilt. Tell people what you’re up to, tell them you miss them. It leaves the door open for them to tell you what’s going on for them and that they miss you too.
4) Find the Silver Linings:
Some days are harder than others, but there is something good in every day. A friend of mine is an expat in Scotland. She’s living in lockdown, in winter, and hasn’t been able to see her family since 2019. She went through furlough, a pregnancy, emergency C-section and a new baby all in 2020. And do you know what she said? The homesickness and uncertainty are heartbreaking, and she misses her friends and family terribly. However, it also gave her family quality time, and a chance to adjust and be alone with the new arrival. Furlough also meant that her husband was home a lot more than he otherwise would have been, so he's getting more time with his children. Silver Lining number 1.
Myself and my husband had to cancel our wedding in June 2020. And again, for June 2021 (here’s hoping for December!). Given some legal complications with waiting to get married in Ireland, we decided to go ahead with the legal side in June 2020. I didn’t even have my dress. We had four people in the registry office and went for lunch. We spent the night in Circular Quay drinking champagne, and do you know what? It was brilliant!! And we’ll still have our wedding when we can, so we get to have an elopement AND a wedding. Silver Lining number 2.
An effective way to start finding the good is to start a gratitude journal. Get a notepad or a sheet of paper and write down 1-5 things every day that you’re grateful for. More time to study? More time with a loved one? Hitting a steps goal? Painting the house? Whatever it is, it’s worth focusing on.
5) Set a routine:
This sounds basic but can actually be quite tough. If you’re lucky enough to be working right now, it will at least give some sense of routine. But not everyone is so fortunate. This means all semblance of a routine is out the window and it’s very easy to find yourself waking late, staying up late, and eating at random times. Which is not brilliant for mental or physical health.
Routine is one thing we can control. Even on the weekend, if all normal activities are off limits, we can plan our days around what we want to do. Get up at a reasonable time, go to bed at a reasonable time and try to have some kind of structure to the day. This really helps prevent us from feeling lost and out of control, which does wonders for our mental health.
6) Be kind to yourself:
We are all grieving for the life we should have had this year. As with any grief it comes in waves and some days are better than others. Trying not to focus on any long timeline (I don’t think more than 6 weeks ahead right now) along with limiting news sources (I had to stay off Facebook for a while there) can be ways to be kind to ourselves. I’ve also found, muting/unfollowing social media accounts that make us feel jealous/sad/angry/anxious, and simply allowing ourselves to feel sad can be helpful in our self-compassion.
Sometimes being kind to ourselves looks like practising healthy coping mechanisms (like those listed above) and trying to achieve something new or improving on an existing skill.
Sometimes being kind to ourselves also looks like a duvet day and a whole packet of biscuits. Or a Zoom party with far too much wine. It doesn’t make us a failure if we’re not constantly #fitfam and achieving. It’s okay to sit in your PJs all day and watch tele, once we don’t decide to unpack and live there for the duration of the pandemic.
If your mental health is really suffering and you’re not sure how to cope, I would highly recommend reaching out to a professional. They are wonderful people who will be able to work one-on-one with you to make a detailed you-specific plan to help you cope.
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