An Ode to Burnout: How I Came to Terms with the COVID-19 Pandemic
Published on Apr 4, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.
Burnout is a phenomenon familiar to most people in everyday life—but what does it look like during a pandemic? In this article, Osmosis Community Manager Victoria Cumberbatch recounts an experience where the fear of Coronavirus turned a vacation from a period of relaxation to news cycle burnout—and discusses the surprising benefits that can come from being overwhelmed.
Feeling exhausted, negative, cynical, along with a downturn in personal capability is “burnout.” Whether professionally related (as it’s most often attributed) or not, burnout is genuine, and it needs to be watched carefully lest it creep up like an A Nightmare on Elm Street fog and addle your senses. This moment we’re in—this mass panic, fear, and uncertainty—is a recipe for burnout as a result of:
Endless posts on social media about the pandemic
A constantly-updated and at-times terrifying news cycle
Friends, family, and loved ones having only one topic of conversation: COVID-19
Countless other reasons!
There’s nothing about this time that screams easy, but we can certainly work within its confines. Allow me to tell you a small story...
When burnout followed me to Florida
March 11 started out wonderfully; a perfect 2.5 hour flight to Florida from New Jersey, and we were in heaven. My mom and I decided to take a quick sojourn to the southern Floridian coastline for a break from the pre-pandemic pandemonium of NY/NJ as well as enjoy some much needed Vitamin D. We stayed at a different hotel than our usual this time. It was one that primarily served cruise-goers, and thus, the hotel pool shared the same topiary with a major thoroughfare on the opposite side. Not the best, but not the worst.
We’d heard about "Coronavirus", of course, but at this point, we were under the impression it was an elongated flu that only really affected the elderly. So we did our best to not get too swept up in the gossip of the lobby and later, the hotel bar. Besides, it wasn’t our first rodeo. We’d been in Egypt and Jordan (accidentally, but thrillingly) during Arab Spring 2011, and I’d been rerouted on Semester at Sea multiple times due to Somali pirates surreptitiously navigating the waters off the East African coast. The flu? It would pass.
Except, it didn’t. By day three, half the staff at the hotel had been let go (as was relayed to us by a chagrined staff member). We had breakfast every morning—albeit the buffet had indefinitely closed—right next to the 24/7 news cycle of CNN. It was on volume 15, and I do believe that it seeped into my soul by being so. Very. ON. Nothing else whatsoever was making the news except COVID-19, which now seemed to be taking over the world in a way that hearkens to any Dan Brown novel. My mom and I caught each other's eyes; this time, they were shielded in concern.
Droves of people from cancelled cruises poured into the lobby, following the massive hotel layoffs. The hotel was overrun, yet no one was allowed to be within a certain distance of each other. Face masks, eye masks, rubber gloves, antibacterial this-and-that, and a miasma of fear and uncertainty swelled in the hotel. I admit, I started to get nervous.
My mom is in the age bracket that COVID-19 can take down with relative ease. She’s a cancer survivor and a long-time smoker. On top of that, Florida’s first case had been traced back to a flight on the same airline we had traveled on, from the same region the case had originated. The constant news cycle combined with whispers about only this virus were getting to me. We’d sit at the pool, and others were cutting eyes at anyone that truncated a cough or dared to sneeze. It felt claustrophobic in a way that was entirely new to me.
So by Day 5, we were met with zero lines at the airport to return to Newark International. I felt exhausted from a travel stint that I’d hoped would revive and uplift me. My mental state was shot, and now I was a little mentally hectic: forcefully suggesting that my mom wear a scarf and travel with my Purell and clean under her nails too and quit smoking already! And and and...and then I had enough with myself.
The surprising beauty of burnout
Burnout—something I’m pretty familiar with as a person handling levels 7–10 of anxiety regularly—happened upon me with an unexpected disguise, and thus, I didn’t take the precautions I typically do. Once I got away from the constant news cycle of TV / podcasts / Twitter / Instagram, I felt about 100 pounds lighter.
What burnout does well is pull you into a space where you have to take stock of your perspective and prioritize. In a way, it can assist you in breaking a pattern [or more, if you’re lucky] by pinning you up against a wall. There’s always a way out, and the beauty (yes, I said it!) of burnout is that it provides you with no other option.
If you’re experiencing a sudden onset of burnout like I did, consider giving yourself a break and engaging in some self care. It takes nearly nothing but provides everything to send a joyful eCard, to dance to a music video you grew up to, to call an old homie, to see how your parents/family are, to color, to play video games with friends globally, to write/read/draw, to do yoga, to study, to redecorate that spot in your living space you’ve been avoiding!, to do a home deep-clean... you see where I’m going.
Burnout gets a bad rap, but all it takes is a change in perspective. What do you plan on doing differently today?
About VictoriaViki Cumberbatch manages the Osmosis Medical Education Fellowship program. When she's not organizing OMEF events or updating sprawling spreadsheets you can find her writing, sipping coffee, acquiring tattoos, reading historical fiction/true crime/spirituality, playing volleyball, and of course, traveling often. Viki is also the host of Anderson Street, a web series that invites everyday people to participate in provocative and empathetic conversation around seemingly taboo and/or controversial topics.
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