It feels like everyone is exhausted and mindfulness is not enough


This is an excerpt from CNBC’s weekly Make It newsletter, written by Argentinian journalist Alicia Adamczyk. Subscribe here.

Everyone I know is exhausted.

Exhausted from the lack of separation between work and home life, or because they have to commute to work every day with few measures in place to ensure their safety. Exhausted by the seemingly endless bad news. Burnt from burnout.

Burnout is not unique to the coronavirus pandemic, especially in the United States, where productivity has become a kind of religious identity for many. But “it’s more of a problem now than it ever was,” Dr. Marra Ackerman, a psychiatrist at NYU Langone Health, tells me.

The causes have changed over the past year. Now, burnout doesn’t necessarily have to do with forced productivity or not feeling a purpose in a day job, Ackerman says. In fact, many people are doing work that they consider more important than ever. Rather, for the past 14 months, there has been nothing but work. Many of us have been cut off from the people and activities that made sense of our lives before, she says.

This was made worse by the general stress and anxiety of the pandemic, and potentially the grief of losing a loved one.

My colleague Jennifer Liu explained in detail the reasons why so many people are feeling exhausted right now.

“I am partially exhausted because I have no other obligations and all my life [revolves] around work, “says Kristin Moss, a 29-year-old public relations worker in Toronto.” Being isolated and alone is not a good combination for productivity and has had a negative impact on my overall mental health.

Mindfulness will not cure burnout

The consequences of burnout can be dire: Depression, anxiety, and alcohol and substance abuse are on the rise, Ackerman says, and burnout plays a role.

The problem is that there is a few measures we can all take it individually to help reduce burnout to some extent, a vacation or practicing mindfulness on its own will not necessarily cure the fear, anxiety, and the effects of isolation that many of us have experienced over the past year. Employers who care about their workers also have a role to play, Ackerman says.

One step employers can take is to make mental health resources more readily available and accessible. Even with insurance, mental health care can be too expensive for many, as it is often difficult to find therapists in the network. (Here are some tips for finding free mental health resources.)

Ackerman says that NYU Langone, for example, is partnering with companies to provide affordable, networked behavioral health services to their employees. Innovating in the way that employees can access care can go a long way in improving their long-term mental health. That should be reason enough in itself, but it can also help with productivity and retention, Ackerman says.

That said, not everyone will participate in mental health care, no matter how accessible it is. A second step would be to have open conversations with employees and ask them for their opinion on upcoming transitions that can cause stress and anxiety, such as returning to the office or relaxing a mask tenure, Ackerman said.

She also hopes companies start to be more flexible about when and where employees can do their jobs, which can significantly ease the mental burden.

“Rigidity will only increase burnout,” she says.

How do you think employees and employers should deal with burnout? Email reporter Alicia Adamczyk at [email protected].

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