Resilience and burnout during COVID-19 lockdowns

Level 4 lockdown is here again and this time around we know what to expect – but it doesn't make it any easier, especially when juggling home life. Leadership coach Kathryn Jackson says resilience is our secret weapon when it comes to significant or unexpected stress. She offers some simple tips on how to recharge our batteries and avoid burnout.

Kathryn Jackson

Kathryn Jackson

How are people feeling this lockdown?

As usual, it's mixed. 

As humans, we have an incredibly personal response to sudden and unexpected stress. Some people find stress terrifying, draining, overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. Others find stress exhilarating, exciting and motivating. Your response will depend on complicated things like the job you're in, the support you get from work, your family environment, your mental health and your previous experience last time. As usual, the media is focussing on the drama and the negative, which is unhelpful and plays into the natural negative bias of our focus. For many of us, we’re starting from a more tired place than last time - it's been a big year, globally absorbing the COVID experience of other countries. Still, we are more prepared this time, and many of us have adapted more quickly.

Check out the work of Dr Sarb Johal and Dr Jacquie McGuire for the psych lowdown and great tips.

What is resilience? 

Resilience helps us navigate the ups and downs that happen all the time, even when we're not in a national lockdown! 

If you took a moment to think about the ups and downs of the 18 months before COVID, I bet you would notice there have been a lot. It's just part of life. 

We all have resilience. Think of it as the secret weapon in our ability to adapt when we experience significant or unexpected stress. Some of us will find it easier than others (kind of like the old glass half empty/full debate), but it's something that all of us can grow and become better at. 

However, it takes knowledge about what to do, and it also takes time and a deliberate, conscious choice. 

Resilience is more than just seeing things through the lens of optimism; however, that is one part of it. It's knowing what we can do every single day to recharge our battery so we're ready for whatever life throws at us. This is often called 'adaptive resilience' – the bit we can grow stronger at. 

What can we do to be more resilient?

Resilience battery

It can be helpful to think of your resilience levels as being like a battery. When your battery is green or fully charged, then that's you at your best. 

You feel good and function well. During our day, things happen that deplete our battery (big and little things), so noticing this is step one. 

Then we can consciously decide to recharge. The way we recharge our battery is to invest in our wellbeing. It's that simple – if we don't invest in our wellbeing our battery will get flatter and flatter and we will begin overreacting to little things, our sleep will start to change etc. 

Wellbeing doesn't just mean going for a run or having a nice hot bubble bath. It means making our own personal plan that incorporates five very specific types of wellbeing: mental, physical, spiritual, social and intellectual. Plugging in our battery by investing in these things every single day is what recharges us and builds our resilience. 

For me, I know that if I make time every day to move and stretch, eat wisely and breathe deeply (all physical wellbeing choices), then I have a better day. If I also choose to notice and enjoy the sunshine, call a friend who makes me laugh (like really call them – not just message or email) and do a work task that I really enjoy, then my day will go even better again. And these are all things that I can control. It can be a five to ten-minute top-up, or it can be a bit longer if I want to, and if I don't have time today, then I must expect my battery not to feel quite so green tonight or when I start out tomorrow.

Of course, we can recharge all we like and find ourselves working for leaders that aren't very nice or doing jobs that drain rather than energise us - but that's a different conversation, but right here at this moment, I can choose to recharge my battery.

Other tips are things like stop reading the news, or limit your time on social media. Notice whether you're jumping between tasks or working in chunks. Using a minimum of 30 minutes can be helpful, especially for those of us who are homeschooling too – if you can, make a rule that the kids leave you for 30 mins while you accomplish one thing and you'll feel more productive.

We're experiencing huge burnout as a sector at the moment due to the skills shortage. What are your tips for managing burnout? 

Sadly there are a great many professions around the world facing a similar challenge, which is just one reason why it's even more important that we notice our battery and do something to recharge regularly. It's often the one thing we can control. 

Another thing we can control is to find the courage to talk to our managers/leaders/teams and ask for their guidance and support to manage the workload we have accumulated – helping us consider what could be postponed, revised or removed. This sort of conversation can be challenging and confronting, but without it, there is often no real knowledge of the impact that these resourcing issues are having on our teams. Often when we talk about our workload concerns, we can find a way to revise our workload (and if not, perhaps there are some hard decisions ahead for the industry about valuing people!).

Sometimes we’ll have to do things differently to achieve our projects (for example collaboration) and sometimes we'll need to do things differently for ourselves (like saying no or choosing to not do the long hours – this is a hard choice and has consequences, but is often more possible than we believe).

Choosing to ask for support by connecting with EAP programmes or the team at 1737 can also be hugely helpful if you believe that you're on the road to burnout. Because it's an environmental problem, there are many things we can to do support ourselves – and others – facing this. 

During my 25+yr career, I've seen the many faces of burnout – high performers who are passionate about their work but not their wellbeing, professionals who are in roles that don't align with their strengths (causing them to have to extend or suppress their natural gifts – and that leads to big pressures), leaders who demand too much of their teams without taking time to understand the impact.

The first step can be to notice if it really is burnout, or whether it's something else, for example you need to recharge, take a break, slow down or consider asking for professional clinical support) Dr Lucy Hone wrote a great article on this.

Any recommendations for further reading on resilience and burnout?

My book Resilience at Work: Practical Tools for Career Success is an essential guide to maintaining resilience whether you are working in a turbulent field, navigating the job market or simply trying to realise your career ambitions.

Register for my online workshop 21 September with ACE New Zealand Let's Talk Resilience at Work

I also wrote Kite Support which is a wellbeing app for anybody that likes to use technology to help them to make small daily changes, and I'm about to launch a Stronger Life bracelet that can help us make better choices too.

As well as this, there are some fantastic resources like: 

About Kathryn

Kathryn Jackson is a leadership coach, facilitator and author who enjoys exploring and influencing change in a positive way. With significant qualifications in behavioural science, fellowship of the CIPD (UK) and over 15years of leadership coaching experience, she is hugely committed to creating a global legacy about how to thrive in a stressful world. She also has the personal experience of having to walk her talk after losing not only her home but also her office and job security as a direct result of the Christchurch earthquakes. She understands only too well how knowledge and choice can create confidence and strength, even when the world seems unimaginable. 

Over the years, Kathryn has designed a toolbox of globally available resources to build stronger lives and workplaces, including: 

  • Resilience at Work: Practical Tools for Career Success, an essential book for anybody who wants to better navigate stressors at work. It was a finalist for Best International Business Book at the Business Book Awards (London) and Australian Career Book Awards in 2019. 
  • Essential Questions to GROW Your Team is a workbook of Conversation Guides that is used by businesses around the world to support leaders who are learning to coach. It simply and effectively guides users to enable them to build better and more meaningful relationships with their team. It is supported by a Leadership Development Programme in New Zealand. 
  • The Crafted Career Programme - this self-directed online learning programme combines the science of wellbeing with practical, easy to use resources that help users find hope, strength, and a more positive career. Carefully written to help you take more notice of the skills, connections and moments that make your work meaningful and your life brighter.
  • The Kite Support app – a daily reminder of everyday choices that will help us to build our resilience within work and life

For more information visit

Connect with Kathryn on LinkedIn