How to protect yourself from the pandemic burnout

First, let’s define emotional firewalls. What are these wide range of feelings which drive people’s behaviour, bias and perception?

“In psychology, emotion is often defined as a complex state of feeling that results in physical and psychological changes that influence thought and behavior. Emotionality is associated with a range of psychological phenomena, including temperament, personality, mood, and motivation. According to author David G. Myers, human emotion involves “…physiological arousal, expressive behaviors, and conscious“.

A few years ago, when I myself succumbed to burnout, I referred to it as the silent killer of the workplace. Already before the pandemic, the World Health Organization declared burnout as an international disease due to chronic workplace stress. Over 256 million people suffered from mental health, chronic stress and depression emanating from the workplace. 

A few years later, burnout continues to be on the rise and has been magnified because of COVID-2019. Forbes refers to it as “A silent crisis in global health“.  The longer hours, high workload, emotional pressure from working with family or alone, worry and anxiety about what’s next, and fear for losing financial stability. The external factors are triggers are different for different groups of people, but most people will resonate that pandemic fatigue is reaching its peak. 

How do we keep moving forward in an environment where the light at the end of the tunnel keeps shining at a distance?

When can we pick up our lives again, whether it is back to what was familiar to us or start anew and fresh? 

People ready to move forward and feel their levels of well-being are increasing. 

The solution in reducing and mitigating pandemic burnout lies at a systemic level. Organisations and leaders all over the globe need to step up and tackle this silent phenomenon at its root cause. A few years ago I wrote an article about some ideas on how to go about this.  At the same time, there are also coping mechanisms people can develop to navigate remote the perks of remote working. An important part of navigating adversity and challenging situations is to build what I call emotional firewalls. 

Let’s start by explaining what firewalls are. 

A firewall is a network security device that monitors incoming and outgoing network traffic and permits or blocks data packets based on a set of security rules. Its purpose is to establish a barrier between your internal network and incoming traffic from external sources (such as the internet) in order to block malicious traffic like viruses and hackers.”

Thus what I refer to as emotional firewalls is your ability to become aware of your emotional triggers and decide what you let in your perimeter of self-protection. Your emotions are always triggered by a thought in your mind, which is activated by an event, a thing, a memory, an experience or a person.

You can train yourself to become aware and decide how you respond to the activation process and ensure your emotional firewall is activated. This will yield long term and sustainable health benefits to your body, mind and soul.

How do you start building your emotional firewalls? 

Focus on cultivating a newer, and healthier image of your self.

 

How your self-image is formed early on

 

Between the age of 0-7 years old, a child’s subconscious mind is developed and imprinted by her or his perception of their environment. So everything their parents, their caregivers and whoever they were the most around during childhood will influence the formation of a child’s belief system. These belief systems become a foundational layer for the subconscious mind which drives 95% of our behaviour without us being aware of it. These belief systems are filled with external opinions, expectations and demands throughout your formative years as a child, in school, as a student and in your business environment. We have on average around 70,000 thoughts a day and only 5% are new. This basically means that many people keep tapping into the subconscious beliefs which were formed early on in life. Beliefs which became the foundation of people’s self-image. 

Let’s take an example of how this translates into your work area. 

Remote working during the pandemic

 

Meet Maria. Maria is a 33 years old professional who has been working remotely from home ever since COVID-2019 broke out. She lives with her husband and her two young children. Maria grew up in a conservative italian family in the south of Italy. Family core values such as community, social responsibility and making sure the family always comes first was all she ever knew growing up. At the same time, she had big dreams and always wanted to become a chemical engineer. A brilliant mind she had indeed! 

She left her familiar environment and went on to study abroad where she met her husband, Tony, a fellow engineer. They fell in love during their university years and have been together ever since. Their work requires a lot of focus and in-depth analysis of complex subjects. Working from home during the pandemic, trying to balance between both their schedules and caring for their children felt challenging to say the least. Maria, always compromised. She took up for herself the bigger part of the household, taking care of the children and tried to finish her work at night. Tony offered many times to help and pitch in, but Maria always had it together and never allowed him to pitch in. Somehow, that felt very uncomfortable. She never learnt how to express her emotions and needs as it was seen as taboo. 

Be strong, be fearless, be passionate about your family are words which still ring in every neuron of her brain. 

Soon, she broke down and could not handle all the pressure. Tony never saw this coming and they had to make some serious decisions and change. Finally Maria became aware of her subconscious beliefs she learned as a young child and how those beliefs carried her far into her adult life. Those beliefs who drained her mental and emotional energy as every thought that was activated, was linked to emotional memories of the past. 

She learned to overcome those emotions from the past through emotional intelligence dissociation techniques and applying new filters of the past. She no longer was that young child, but a grown up woman who could practice new thought processes, new beliefs about herself and how she wanted to show up in her life. Working from home during a pandemic is difficult for a lot of people and asking for help from her husband, from her family and from her colleagues did not make her weak. That’s what she was telling herself because she felt she always had to show up as the strong woman in the house, at work and in all areas of her life. 

Soon Tony and herself came up with a new routine which gave Maria some breathing room. They hired a babysitter who took care of the children and Marie stopped feeling guilty about not spending enough time with her children. She finally understood the difference between just being present in the body and the exchange of energy when she was with them as she learned to be fully present. Guilt served no one, the least her. 

Within a few months, Maria and Tony still struggled at several fronts. However, their levels of well-being, productivity and focus have increased significantly at the same time. Once they learned how emotions are triggered subconsciously by beliefs that no longer serve them, they focused on cultivating healthy ways of thinking. They paid attention to their thoughts, they were curious instead of judging themselves and others and they freed themselves from negative energy and chronic stress. 

Some may resonate with Maria’s stories, and others may become aware of different thought processes which create unhealthy emotional states at work and beyond. Now you can begin to become aware of your self-image, develop healthy levels of thinking and increase your well-being. It won’t be easy, and requires a commitment to your future self. Your future self who will thank you that you invested in your personal leadership skills and stepped into a healthier version of yourself, in all areas of your life. 

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