Burnout, the Freeze Response, and How to Cope

Photo by Sarah Pflug

As I write this, we are more than thirteen months into pandemic life. Even as more and more people are getting vaccinated, and society is showing signs of opening back up, many of us feel more exhausted and more depleted now than we have from the start.

The term ‘burnout’ has been popping up often in conversations, commentary, and social media posts. The World Health Organization defines burnout as an occupational hazard that is characterized by three dimensions:

  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job

Managing COVID-19 Trauma Anniversary Reactions

Photo by Ibrahim Boran on Unsplash

I spent the first few days of March 2020 in Manhattan at a grant meeting. I came across photos from that trip last night and was jolted by seeing packed streets and full faces — so many noses and mouths.

My throat started to close up. My chest felt tight. My thoughts raced and I began, inexplicably, to tear up. I met those sensations with curiosity and realized: my body had marked the anniversary and was making sure I knew.

Trauma anniversary reactions are annual reminders of trauma or sudden loss that occurred. If the…

The stress is real. Here are some ways to manage it.

Photo by Melanie Wasser on Unsplash

For months now, organizations, groups and movements across the country have worked to encourage every eligible American to create and implement a voting plan amid COVID-19 complications. Text messages, mailers pile up on digital and physical surfaces: are you registered? Will you vote by mail? In person? Early? On Election Day?

Smart things to consider, as we tend to manage stress better when we have a plan and we know what to expect.

Once our votes are cast, though . . . then what?

In swing states, like the one in which I am sitting, there are fears about the

Decision Fatigue is real. And it’s making everything harder.

I am a chronically indecisive person. As a teenager in a middle-class community, I watched friends open college acceptance letters and immediately declare where they’d be attending. Me? My parents had to lock me in the house on the day of the commitment deadline, telling me I couldn’t leave until I decided on a school. Highly privileged, easy, breezy teenage me just crumbled under that “pressure” (picture those as air quotes accompanied by an eyeroll).

Fast forward to 2020. What used to feel small now looms large, and what was already…

Part 4: Stop Scrolling

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

What day is it?

Seriously. Without looking at a calendar, or the lock screen on a phone, do you know, with 100% certainty, what day it is?

A few friends and I have been doing a weekly “vibe check” (staying connected!): a text-based exchange to check-in about how we’re feeling. That typically happens on Wednesdays, but Wednesdays now feel like Thursdays, which sometimes feel like Sundays so who even knows anymore.

In the pre-COVID world, schedules were set and adhered to with great care. I relied heavily (I mean really heavily) on my weekly Google calendar. Recently, though, time has…

Part 3: Stay Connected

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

I am 7.5 months into the wild ride that is pandemic pregnancy. At my most recent OB appointment, my doc sent me home with a loaned blood pressure cuff and a fetal Doppler machine. Out of COVID-19 precaution, my next several appointments will be held over the phone; I will monitor my own blood pressure and use the hand-held ultrasound device to monitor baby’s heartbeat.

If you’re reading this and have ever carried a baby or been close with someone who has, you can perhaps imagine just how distracting it is to have constant access to a fetal heartbeat monitor.

Part 2: Get Regulated

Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

Raise your hand if the term ‘self-care’ makes your skin crawl.

I know. Me too. I don’t have time for it. I am not a person for whom the images conjured by the term ‘self-care’ are comforting. I’m not getting hot stone massages. I’m not doing yoga on the beach. I am typing at a dining room table, half covered by “work stuff” (my kids’ term) and half covered by toys, in what I refer to as my work-from-home mullet: professional attire from the shoulders up, who knows what from the shoulders down.

I was actually supposed to write this…

Part 1: This is Your Brain on Stress

Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

Between apocalyptic dreams, random tearful outbursts, and a rather mortifying search history, I am a bit of a mess.

And I’m not alone.

We are not our best selves at this moment. The global pandemic we are living in and through, the mass uncertainty it is bringing, the grief we are sloppily navigating, the strong faces we are putting on for others, it is taking a toll. Many tolls. We are bearing witness to suffering all day, every day, whether or not we are actively seeking out this information. We are trying to keep working, or studying, or care giving…

Jennifer A. King

Mother. Social Work Educator. Therapist. Trauma-Informed.

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