COVID-19 has made more demands on women than ever before. Unsurprisingly, therefore, recent studies report high levels of burnout among them. According to Maestro Health, more than 70 percent of female employees reported burnout at their jobs in December. A survey by TrustRadius put that number at 57 percent for women in tech. (Only 36 percent of their male colleagues reported burnout.)
How can women recover from the stressors of the pandemic?
“By taking their health in their own hands,” answered Dr. Mani Kukreja (MD, MPH, IIN), integrative nutrition health coach and founder of Livagewell. “It’s time for us women to prioritize our bodies’ needs. You know what is good for you! Trust your intuition. Have a summer of fun!”
This prescription sounded promising, so I asked Dr. Kukreja to elaborate in an interview.
Tell us more about burnout. What is it, and what causes it?
Burnout is chronic fatigue of a mental, emotional, or physical nature. You lose energy and feel exhausted mentally. You may lack motivation and feel hopeless. People who suffer from burnout may also become disengaged and feel detached from their friends, contributing to social isolation and low mood.
Burnout is caused by excessive stress – stress that lasts for a prolonged period of time. Job-related stress is the most frequent cause. The kind of job you’re doing may be to blame. For instance, people in the health care field and caregivers have stressful jobs. Many of these workers don’t have regular schedules, and they may be on-call for extended periods, which means their sleep can be disturbed.
Your job can also cause burnout if the work is overly demanding, or if you aren’t getting the recognition you deserve. These things can affect an employees’ productiveness.
Problems with your family, friends, kids, and financial status can be the second cause of burnout.
A third possible cause is due to inadequate social support. If you don’t get enough help, you may take on more responsibilities than you can handle. This may lead to an imbalanced and overwhelmed life, and you might start to neglect yourself. As a result, you may spend less time on self-care or sacrifice sleep because you have too many burdens.
This is probably why so many women got burned out during the pandemic. In March 2021, when COVID-19 hit the U.S., employees were asked to work from home. Schools closed, and students were transitioned to distance learning. Many women were suddenly put in the position of basically educating their children.
Meanwhile, studies show that American women still complete a disproportionate share of household tasks. So in addition to these unexpected childcare obligations and their usual paid employment, many mothers were expected to shoulder these responsibilities as well. All these pressures combined, and many women got overwhelmed with too much work.
How can you cure burnout, especially for women?
Strictly speaking, burnout isn’t a recognized medical condition, and there’s no “cure” for it. But you can prevent and avoid it, and if you think you may already be burned out, you can take steps to improve your life.
The solution isn’t gender-specific. If there’s a difference between men and women, it’s how they experience burnout. Men usually feel it more physically, while women tend to feel it more emotionally and mentally.
The most basic way to recover is to nourish your social connections. I mean this in three ways. First, connect with communities that are personally meaningful to you. Talk to like-minded people. Expand your social network of supportive connections.
Second, don’t withdraw. Push yourself to reach out, even if it’s scary. Try to talk things out with those people who are closest to you – your spouse, your friends. Spend more time with your loved ones.
Third, limit your contact with negative people. They can drag your mood down and change your outlook for the worse.
When it comes to avoiding burnout from your job – consider talking to people at work. Supportive colleagues can buffer your work-related stress. Take breaks with them and plan social activities with them during off-hours.
What else should women do to have a “Summer of Fun”?
Anything new that happens in your life can shake you out of a stressful pattern. Exploring exciting opportunities can reinvigorate you. This could be something as major as changing your job, but it doesn’t have to be. Travel and vacations can help. That’s why I take my husband to the beach all the time! The sunlight and water act like a cure.
Keep in mind that stress hormones affect your motivation. So if you constantly feel tired, it doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have any energy physically. It could mean that your stress hormones (like cortisol) are on fire because your current situation is stressing you out. If this is happening to you, prioritize activities that help you relax, like deep-breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga. Easy movements like walking and stretching stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, helping you calm down.
This brings us to exercise. Moving your body regularly improves your gray matter, making you smarter, happier, and more resilient. The human brain is composed of 100 billion neurons that communicate with each other through neurotransmitters. Exercise boosts your neurotransmitters, sparking attention, concentration, motivation, and mood. Exercise is often the Number One lifestyle change people can make to improve their thoughts and actions.
In addition, don’t underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep for your body to restore tissue, reinforce muscles, strengthen your bones, and support the immune system. The majority of cellular healing, repair, and detoxification occurs when you are asleep.
Any activities that shouldn’t be included?
Experiment with disconnecting from technology when you can. Buy yourself some uninterrupted time by putting your laptop away when you aren’t working. Silence your phone while you’re relaxing. Check email and social media only at designated times.
Believe me – I understand that’s a lot to ask! It’s such a compulsive habit. We worry we’re going to miss out on something, but limiting screen time is one of the ways you can make time for yourself and your family.
Time management is also key, so make sure to do this properly. This may mean eliminating tasks you’re accustomed to doing. Order groceries online if you don’t have time to go shopping. Remove low-priority activities from your calendar to make time to exercise. It might seem counterintuitive, but spending time exercising will actually improve your productiveness, even though you’re spending less time working.
Any last words of advice?
Not only can the right food increase your energy, prevent disease, boost your immunity and keep you healthy, but it can also elevate your mood and reduce stress. So it’s necessary to eat a well-balanced, whole-food diet. Prioritize protein and fill up on healthy fats (like omega 3 fatty acids). Load up on green vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds that contain micronutrients and antioxidants. Say “no” to added sugar, since it depletes you of hormones related to positive mood. Remember to hydrate adequately!
Proper diet, sleep, exercise, and relationships – these are all essential pieces of the puzzle.
Thank you, Dr. Kukreja!