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'I am constantly on the verge of a panic attack' — Americans are burned out working from home. Here's how to cope

Belinda Howell

It turns out that ditching the commute and working from home in your sweats is not all it's cracked up to be. 

Juggling your work and home life, Zoom calls instead of in-person meetings and possibly parenting and home schooling kids, it's no wonder Americans are exhausted.

In fact, in a recent Monster survey, 51% of respondents admitted to experiencing burnout while working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Their home, which is normally a sanctuary and place to rest and relax with family, has instantly morphed into their office," said Vicki Salemi, a Monster career expert.

That's despite taking breaks for self-care throughout the day: 71% of those surveyed said they were stepping away from work for things like walks or spending time with family.

When you are always on, your system gets overwhelmed and exhausted.
Melissa L. Whitson
Psychologist

The culprit: a lack of structure and routine to your work day, Salemi said.

On top of that, we are isolated from those outside our immediate family, facing uncertainty about our health and the status of the virus, and parents are parenting all the time, added licensed psychologist Melissa L. Whitson, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.

There is also financial anxiety. While those working remotely still have a job, as opposed to the more than 30 million Americans who have filed unemployment claims since March, there is the threat that they, too, could lose their paycheck or have their salary cut at some point if the recession continues, she said.

"There is still that, 'I need to work while I'm making money now and also to show that I am a good employee so they keep me on,'" Whitson said. "There is that added pressure onto it."

'Constantly on the verge of a panic attack'

Alana Acosta-Lahullier is working from home full-time while helping her two children with remote learning.
Source: Alana Acosta-Lahullier

Alana Acosta-Lahullier, 41, understands that feeling of burnout. With two children and a full-time job, she is exhausted all the time.

She helps with the schooling of her 7-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son while she works from home full-time for an electrical contractor. Her son has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and is on the autism spectrum, so he needs some extra help. Her husband works out of the home as a police officer.

"I am constantly on the verge of a panic attack," said Acosta-Lahullier, who lives in Parsippany, New Jersey.

While her employer is very understanding, she feels the need to get everything done correctly.

"I find myself working all the time, even when I should be getting ready for bed," Acosta-Lahullier said. "I feel an obligation to get everything done, even if it's to the detriment of my own mental health."

On top of that she has "mother's guilt."

"I need to make sure that everybody I have to take care of has everything they need," she said. "I put this constant pressure on myself."

'Depressing monotony'

David Hoffman finds himself during work after his three kids go to bed.
Source: David Hoffman

For 45-year-old David Hoffman, who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and leads operations for a business unit of a large multinational company, the stress sometimes causes him to get "really short and snap."

As the primary caregiver during the day to his three children, who are in first, third and sixth grade, he spends the day giving guidance on their various school assignments. He's also trying to get his work done. 

"Eight weeks of constant abnormal working and this heavy support and kids stuck in the house is stressful," said Hoffman, whose wife has a full-time job in health-care administration at a local hospital.

He finds himself starting work earlier than he did while in the office, working later and doing more work at night after the kids have gone to bed in order to catch up.

"It's just this monotony, this depressing monotony," he said.

"It seems like it never ends. You go to sleep and you are right back at it."

How to cope

VIDEO1:3501:35
Common cause of financial stress and anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic

The first thing you should do is to be kind to yourself and know that the stress manifests itself differently in different people, Whitson said.

You may be more angry or irritable, or you may appear to be more depressed or withdrawn. Recognize and accept that you may be experiencing any of these symptoms.

To help alleviate the stress, try to implement a routine and structure in your day-to-day life.

"When you are always on, your system gets overwhelmed and exhausted," Whitson said.

Monster's Salemi recommends waking up each morning as you would if you were commuting to your job. Get dressed and have breakfast. Put it on your calendar and create a routine around it, she said.

More from Invest in You:
Expert tips on coping with coronavirus-related money stressors
These Gen Xers share their personal concerns about an uncertain future
Op-Ed: We're in the middle of a mental-health crisis 

At the end of your normal workday, stop working and put your laptop out of sight.

If you are juggling kids' school work and parenting, build that into your routine, as well. If you are able, work in a different room to do your job so that you can focus better. Trade off parenting duties with your partner, if possible.

Building a sense of community can also help, Whitson said. Make a point to have virtual meetings to connect with colleagues and online social gatherings with friends.

Not only can it increase your well-being, it can have "profound effects" on productivity and satisfaction in the workplace, she said.

Lastly, don't be afraid to reach out for help from counselors or other support networks if you need it.

"We are all in this together," Whitson said. "It is helpful to know that other people are in the same boat.

"Just find out what works for you and, if it's not working, try something new," she added. "It is not a one-size-fits-all."

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