All but one or two of my clients have transferred our work to zoom since the beginning of the pandemic. I’ve really appreciated the comparatively low-effort it takes to work from a home office set up to meet my needs (and ideally my wants) – I’m annoyingly picky about having a lavender air diffuser, ice water on hand, and so on. I’ve talked to colleagues and, almost without exception, they have talked about feeling utterly exhausted on returning to in-person work. Even my extravert buddies, the ones who thrive on social engagement, have reported being washed-out in a way they never used to be.
So when I came across this interesting article in the New Statesman, the notion of covid-social-burnout made a lot of sense. “It’s not just you – the pandemic has changed our brain psychology” says Eleanor Peake. While I encourage its short read, essentially, she quotes research referencing something Emma Kavanagh, a psychologist specialising in how people deal with the aftermath of disasters, calls “psychological hibernation.” The working-from-home ethos has allowed many of us to relax in to ourselves in a way we can’t in the commute to and from work, the relentless social contact many of us have there, the pressures of engagement. The relatively low stimulation afforded us at home allows the self to adapt, so that when we are thrust back in to the energy of re-engagement, the self needs time to ramp up again.
“When we go back out, it’s quite a shock to the system,” Kavanagh explained. “Because our brains are used to processing at a different speed, this can make us a lot more tired than we may have been before the pandemic.”
The article suggests socialising outside of work has a similar effect – we’ve become accustomed to a slower pace and even though we want to be with our friends again, perhaps even make up for lost time and overdo it, the body needs time to adjust. In addition, we are not re-entering the world we left. There’s still a focus on vaccinations, restrictions and masks, so we step in to a world changed and somehow feeling less “safe” than before.
Slow and steady is the advice, staying intentional about how much to engage and how much to rest and replenish. And I know from my work that “slow and steady” can be enormously tricky. If you need support with this, please do get in touch.