coronavirus

It Feels Like Everyone Is Burned Out, and Mindfulness Isn't Enough to Help

Twenty/20

This is an excerpt from CNBC Make It's weekly newsletter, written by money reporter Alicia Adamczyk. Subscribe here.

Everyone I know is burned out. 

Burned out from the lack of separation between work and home life, or because they have to go into work each day with few measures in place to ensure their safety. Burned out from the seemingly never-ending bad news. Burned out from the burnout.

Burnout isn't unique to the coronavirus pandemic, especially in the U.S., where productivity has become something of a religious identity for many. But "it's more of a problem now than it's ever really been," Dr. Marra Ackerman, a psychiatrist at NYU Langone Health, tells me. 

The causes have morphed over the past year. Now, burnout isn't necessarily tied to forced productivity, or from not feeling a sense of purpose at a day job, Ackerman says. In fact, many people are doing work they consider more important than ever. Rather, it's that for the past 14 months there has been nothing but work. Many of us have been cut off from the people and activities that gave our life meaning before, she says.

That's been compounded by the general stress and anxiety of living through a pandemic, and potentially the grief of losing a loved one.

My colleague Jennifer Liu went in-depth on the reasons so many people are feeling burnt out right now.

"I am partially burnt out because I don't have other obligations and my whole life [revolves] around work," says Kristin Moss, a 29-year-old PR worker in Toronto. "Being isolated and lonely is not a good combination for productivity and has had a negative impact on my mental health overall."

Mindfulness won't cure burnout

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

The trouble is, while there are some measures we can all take individually to help lessen burnout to an extent, a vacation or mindfulness practice alone won't necessarily cure the dread, anxiety and effects of isolation so many of us have experienced over the past year. Employers concerned about their workers also have a role to play, Ackerman says. 

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

Ackerman says that NYU Langone, for example, partners with companies to provide affordable, in-network behavioral health services for their employees. Innovating how employees can access care can go a long way to helping their mental health long term. That should be reason enough on its own, but it can also help with productivity and retention, Ackerman says.

That said, not everyone will partake in mental health care no matter how easily accessible it is. A second step would be to have open conversations with employees and ask for their input about upcoming transitions that can cause stress and anxiety, like returning to the office or easing a mask mandate, Ackerman says.

She also hopes companies will start being more flexible with when and where employees can get their work done, which can ease mental burdens tremendously. 

"Rigidity is only going to enforce burnout," she says.

How do you think employees and employers should handle burnout? Email reporter Alicia Adamczyk at alicia.adamczyk@nbcuni.com.

Don't miss: 'I'm putting my entire life on hold': How workers are grappling with Covid burnout

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