This year has disrupted a lot of our routines, with a staggering 42% of the US workforce now foregoing the office in favor of working from home, and tons more facing job uncertainty or dealing with juggling the impossible demands of work and childcare simultaneously. For many Americans, it feels like our lives flipped upside down in a matter of days, and though we expected the changes to be short-lived, they’re proving to have a good deal of staying power. 

While the initial shock has worn off, it’s clear that those of us who experienced profound routine change this year are beginning to show signs of burnout. Our relationship dynamics are intensifying, our lack of personal space is taking a toll, and any sense of “balance” we had is flying right out the window. With all the added stressors in our lives accumulating, the need for self-care is more critical now than ever before. 

We could all use a break or two. That’s where self-care comes in.

Before we dive into how self-care can help mitigate the effects of work-from-home burnout, it’s critical to understand what self-care really is. Some could argue that sitting on the couch watching Netflix for hours on end is a form of self-care, but really, it’s probably not the most effective way to tend to your needs. Others say that a day at the spa is all it takes, but unplugging for an entire day amidst a global pandemic doesn’t seem too realistic, either. Plus, there are some more sustainable and approachable ways to help reduce stress and burnout.

In general, self-care is any activity deliberately taken to preserve or improve one’s health and wellness. That means when you intentionally take action to eat more vegetables, ask for support, tell someone how you’re feeling, go for a walk, take care of your skin, and go to the dentist regularly, you’re practicing self-care. Seems easy enough, right?

The practice of self-care can fall into three different categories:

  1. Spiritual
  2. Physical
  3. Emotional

Most people tend to think of physical forms of self-caring when they think of the term. That could mean getting a massage, going for a run, going to bed early, or eating a lunch that’s balanced and nourishing. It’s important to note that while physical self-care is an essential component of a holistic self-care practice, it’s not the only way to care for yourself. It’s important to also incorporate emotional and interpersonal elements into your wellness practices. 

So, how is fitting in a bunch of new activities going to prevent you from burning out at work? Well, it’s all about creating awareness around your behavior and shifting your actions as needed, in ways both large and small. The more you become aware of your negative feelings and thoughts in their nascent stages, the less chance you’ll have of experiencing burnout.

Here are five tips you can use to avoid work from home burnout with the help of self-care.

‌‌‌‌1. Create Dedicated Work/Life Zones (Both Physically And Mentally)

Having dedicated space to your work and home life can help make a distinction between when you’re working and when you’re off the clock. When these two areas blend together day after day, one can experience feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Hello, lack of boundaries!

To create more precise boundaries while working from home, start by setting “working hours.” Of course, these hours can change as needed based on you and your family’s unique needs, but having a good baseline of working hours vs. non-working hours is an excellent place to start.

When you’re in the non-working hours, try your best to limit checking emails, finishing up that spreadsheet, or even talking about work. It’s also a great idea to tidy up your work area when you’re done for the day. Doing so helps compartmentalize work versus home life.

While setting boundaries can feel awkward and uncomfortable at first, the more you work to create them, the more second-nature they’ll become.

Hint: Setting boundaries could also look like saying “No” to a project or partnership that isn’t typically in your wheelhouse. Taking on more than you’re capable of can quickly lead to feeling burned out.

‌‌‌‌2. Take Micro-Breaks As Needed

The convenience of working from home can also cause you to work more than you already do. With virtually no commuting and lunch being a few strolls away, it’s easier to log more hours than ever without really noticing the clock ticking by.

It’s important to schedule in micro-breaks throughout the day. Take a break from the computer and do something just for fun. Falling into the mindset that you must remain productive at all hours because you’re not in the office can lend to burnout if you’re not careful. Try setting the alarm every few hours to give yourself the nudge to disconnect for a bit and focus on a moment of self-care.

Some great ideas for micro-breaks include:

  • Go for a short walk or run outside
  • Do a yoga or stretching sequence
  • Make a cup of coffee and enjoy without screens nearby
  • Play with the dog in the yard
  • Do a workout you enjoy
  • Take your supplements for optimal nutrition and immune support

While it can feel challenging to step away from your computer at times, micro-breaks can help you refocus and feel more taken care of throughout the day. Every small moment counts!

‌‌‌‌3. Create A Morning Self-Care Routine

Having a reliable morning self-care routine can help you feel more prepared for the day. When you tend to your needs first, you’re better able to focus on other things that come up throughout the coming hours. It’s when you wake up and dive into work right away that you can begin to feel burned out and overwhelmed.

A morning routine could be as simple as making your bed, brushing your teeth, taking care of your skin, getting dressed, and eating a nourishing breakfast. It can also include not checking your texts, email, or social media first thing in the morning (this principle goes back to creating work/life boundaries.) If you’re up to it and your schedule allows, try to get in a 20-30 minute workout before diving into work. The burst of endorphins can boost your mood and energy levels and actually make you more productive during the time you’re logged on.

‌‌‌‌4. Have A Dependable Bedtime Self-Care Routine

The more you focus on getting a good night’s rest, the better (and less burned out!) you’ll feel. Having a dependable self-care routine after the workday ends will help you close out the workday and transition into family life and bedtime. 

Start by disconnecting from work as much as possible before eating dinner, and then as you get closer to bedtime, refrain from screen use for at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Getting adequate quality sleep is critical to avoiding burn out. Try to aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night, if possible.

Your nighttime self-care routine can also include a short meditation, a mug of soothing bedtime tea, a hot bath with Epsom salts, or a hydrating face mask. No matter how you choose to wind down for bed, the most essential aspect to consider is unplugging at a certain time and allowing yourself to rest and recover from the day.

‌‌‌‌5. Practice Self-Compassion As Needed

Life as we once knew it has flipped upside down, we’re forced to adapt to new work and travel schedules, and our social calendars are virtually non-existent. For many, the roles within family life have changed, too. We’re expected to take on more responsibility around the house, especially if you’re working from home.

With all of this newness comes a lot of learning and adjusting. We will inevitably feel overwhelmed and make mistakes, so it’s critical that we practice self-compassion in the moments we need it most. When we practice self-compassion, we show ourselves kindness, patience, and understanding in times that could usually leave us feeling flustered. This change of perspective is a powerful form of self-care and can help mitigate negative effects before they occur.

‌‌‌‌Final Thoughts On Avoiding Work From Home Burnout

It’s critical to remember that even if you implement the above five tips to avoid burnout while working from home, you still may find yourself feeling overwhelmed and stressed. At some point, those feelings are simply the nature of the world we’re in right now, but they’re only temporary. 

Now that you’re armed with these new tools, you can be better prepared to care for yourself physically and mentally. When you do find yourself feeling stressed out, try to remember to take a pause and re-evaluate your surroundings. 

Try asking yourself these simple questions to pinpoint your best course of action to feel supported and grounded: 

  • What do I need in this moment?
  • What’s one step I can take to help myself feel better?
  • How can I better navigate this the next time around?

Above all, be patient with yourself, your friends, family, and co-workers. We are all under an immense amount of stress, some of which you might not even be aware of outright. Focus on caring for yourself daily and see how you begin to show up in the world. Remember that there are countless lessons to learn during this time, and learning how to navigate burnout better is one of them.