A recent study found that Indian cities like Delhi and Mumbai are amongst the most stressed cities in the world. This finding was part of the 2017 Global Least and Most Stressful Cities Ranking that evaluated cities on factors like mental health, pollution and unemployment. The conclusion about India is hardly surprising – between our hectic work hours, the terrible traffic and chores at home, it’s no secret that we’re citizens of a stressed-out country.

And now, with the global health crisis affecting different parts of India – and the world – people are living with even more stress than before. The changes that have been caused in our life by the ongoing pandemic are stressful to adapt to. Working from home, being around family 24/7, and not being able to go out – all of these factors can exacerbate stress and make life more challenging. This, in turn, can make burnout more likely. 

Burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that is the result of prolonged exposure to high levels of stress. It is characterised by feeling demotivated, hopeless, and even indifferent. A person who is burnt out might feel tired all the time and may withdraw from work and people. If you are finding it hard to manage stress and are feeling burnt out or overwhelmed, here are a few things you can try to feel better. 

1. Get back to the basics: Engage in activities you used to enjoy

When stress rides high, it can become very difficult for you to focus on hobbies or leisure. If you have too much to do and are experiencing burnout, you might have given up on hobbies or activities that you once enjoyed. From reading a book to listening to music or even taking a nap, try reintroducing these activities into your schedule. This should be slightly easier now, since you might be working from home and might have more time on your hands.

Why? Research has shown that the positive emotions you experience from engaging in activities you enjoy combat the negative effect of prolonged stress and/or burnout. In fact, positive emotions can also make you more likely to seek resources to cope better with stress.

2. Ask for help

If you feel like things are getting out of hand and are feeling overwhelmed, you might want to consider reaching out for help. Identify people you can reach out to for tangible support (asking someone to bring you groceries, babysit your kids, or take your puppy for a walk) and intangible support (talking to someone you trust, venting about your problems).

Why? Research shows that support from people you trust is good for your emotional well-being. Having social support and feeling connected to people can boost your immunity and make you happier. Discussing your problems with a loved one can help you cope better and can even improve your self-esteem.

3. Start working out

Amidst the global lockdown, the WHO has recommended working out for 20-30 minutes every day to stay fit, improve your mood and boost your immunity. Since you may not be able to go to the gym, try simple at-home exercises or activities that are easier to slip into your routine. For example, work out using a skipping rope.

Why? Physical activity releases ‘feel-good’ chemicals or hormones such as dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. These chemicals act as pain relievers. They can also help you feel calmer and boost feelings of happiness. Regularly working out also strengthens the immune system and keeps you physically healthy.

4. Build assertiveness

If you find yourself getting burdened with responsibilities, you might need to focus on being more assertive. There is a lot of pressure to be productive, especially in the work-from-home setting. If something is not your responsibility or feels too much for you, know that you don’t have to always say yes. As far as possible, try to set boundaries for yourself and communicate them with the concerned people.

Why? Being assertive allows you to convey your concerns without disrespecting the other person or hurting yourself. If you are able to communicate your needs with a sense of respect for the other person, you are likely to enable healthy communication, especially in times of conflict.

5. Watch out for the signs

You may be able to manage your stress effectively, but it’s still important to be aware of the warning signs that could indicate eventual burnout. Are you feeling tired more often? Are you feeling unproductive? Have you been sleeping poorly? Check-in with yourself regularly so you are aware of how you are coping.

Why? If you are recovering from burnout, it’s easy to fall back into similar patterns. Being vigilant about the possible indicators – for example, headaches, exhaustion, frustration or irritability – can help you take action in order to prevent another episode of burnout.

6. Start being more thankful

Keep a track of things you are thankful for every day. For example, you could feel really thankful for a loved one, an exciting project about to start at work or a delicious meal that your partner made. You could even start noting down 3 good things about your day in a journal or diary.

Why? Research has shown that gratitude is strongly linked to happiness. In fact, building a habit of thankfulness can make you more optimistic in general, which in turn can help you live longer! In other words, gratitude can create positive emotions that counter the negative effects of stress.

7. Seek help from a professional

Counselling doesn’t have to be your last option when trying to get better. You can reach out to a therapist to discuss the stress you’ve been experiencing. If you’re unable to visit a therapist in-person, you can even schedule a session online. Counselling is a safe space for you to discuss your concerns and identify strengths and resources to manage your life better. 

Why? There could be a number of factors like difficult life circumstances, negative thoughts or unhealthy behaviour patterns that cause you to feel stressed. Structured therapy with a trained professional can help you identify these factors and work to bring about change.

Dealing with burnout can be hard. The road to recovery can seem long and complex, but remember that recovery is possible.  Start by making small changes in your life. Take each day as it comes and go easy on yourself. With time and the right strategies in place, you will be able to manage your stress levels in a healthier manner and will eventually end up feeling better.