EMCR Agony Aunt

EMCR Forum
 
 

Q  

Dear Agony Aunt,  

It seems like everyone has ‘gotten over’ the pandemic and is gearing up to smash out papers, write grants, travel to conferences, or talk about their research on TV. But I feel like I haven’t recovered from the past two years of disruptions, and to me many of the disruptions are constant and ongoing! How do I find my feet when everyone else seems to have moved on? 

Yours, 

Burnt Out. 

Dear Burnt Out, 

The first thing you should know is that you are absolutely not alone. Your feelings and fatigue are real and completely understandable. Everyone has experienced the isolation and anxiety of the pandemic in their own way, and some people (including those with caring responsibilities, those with chronic illness and/or disability, those living far away from friends and family, and/or those in insecure employment etc.) will be hit harder! 

Secondly, let’s acknowledge that trying to push past the fatigue and working yourself to burnout stage is not good. We all need to deal with fatigue and mental health pressures in different ways. Knowing this, there are a couple of things that you might be able to do to alleviate some of the pressures you’re feeling right now: 

  1. Peer support groups: Lots of people are roaming around, putting on a brave face while they are experiencing a very similar inner turmoil to you. It might be comforting to get together with others who are feeling the same way, and to understand that your feelings are common. Don’t feel that you have to use these support groups to find solutions to all your troubles, even just having a coffee with a supportive pal can be enough to lift your spirits and get you through the week. 
  2. Support from mental health professionals: There is absolutely no shame in acknowledging that stress and fatigue can cause major mental health problems that can only be addressed by speaking with a mental health professional. It may be that psychologists in your local area are completely full-up with patients and have very long wait lists, one way around this is to make full use of your organisation’s employee assistance program to access psychologists relatively quickly and for free. 
  3. Advice from senior mentors: It’s definitely more than OK to say no to things when you are feeling overwhelmed, but when you’re busy juggling balls it can hard to know which ones can be dropped and which need to be kept afloat! Finding a supporting senior mentor who can advise on which aspects of work should be prioritised might be helpful to sort the ‘rubber balls’ (that can bounce back) from the ‘glass balls’ (that should not be dropped – one of these being your health and wellbeing!)

Importantly, you don’t have to feel like you have to completely go back to ‘the way things were before’, if there were aspects of ‘the new normal’ that worked for you during the pandemic. Many institutions have become much more accepting of flexible working hours (and working at home) by providing means for employees to build more flexibility in their professional lives. If this helps you to cope with workload and work–life–family–self care balance, then it might be worth chatting with your employer or line manager on ways to make it work.

Lastly, if in the past couple years you haven’t published as many papers or written as many grants as you would like, there might have been other things that you have achieved that don’t fit the conventional mould of ‘success’. Perhaps you’ve mentored students through tough times to graduate, worked on committees that generated positive social impact, or supported research in a (perhaps less visible yet still critical) manner that allowed it to continue through all the disruptions. Don’t lose sight of all your achievements!

Above all, be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and we will get through this together.  

Love,  
Agony Aunt 

PS: Below are a few resources that you might find useful: 

If you are a manager/team leader wanting to support team members who are troubled by pandemic fatigue, here is some reading that you might find relevant: 

 

© 2022 Australian Academy of Science

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