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John Woodruff
John Woodruff

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at johnbwoodruff.com

Combatting Burnout During COVID

I'll be completely honest, I'm feeling tired just thinking about writing this post. But that's not surprising, given the topic I'm writing about. Burnout. I've written about burnout before, whether it be comments on posts, or the chapter I wrote for Your First Year in Code. I'm writing about it again because I'm currently feeling quite burned out. This, however, is a different kind of burnout than I've felt before. I've been burned out by too much coding, too little vacation, and other typical burnout reasons. This time there's no work-related reason for my burnout. This time, it's 2020 that is taking its toll on me, as I'm sure it's doing the same to many of you.

COVID-19 has been bigger, longer, and crazier than I think most of us ever thought it would be. In the early days of COVID many thought it was a quick solution. Stay home for a few weeks, maybe a month or two, and it would fizzle out. Well, as history has shown us, it hasn't fizzled, it has exploded. Most tech companies have said they'll be full remote until January at least, at which point they'll "reevaluate", which likely means set another arbitrary date because there won't yet be a vaccine widely available. Many of us have been stuck inside without much social interaction since March. Even for the staunchest of introverts, that can be exceptionally taxing on one's mental health. I'm an extrovert and I feel exhausted not being able to fully charge that social battery.

In short, I'm burned out. Not just from work, but from 2020. I also recognize that I have it better than many people. I've got a fantastic home office setup which I feel productive in, and I've got a wonderful supportive wife and son, and work for a company that was very well prepared for remote work. Many people are in a far worse situation than me, so I recognize that my burnout may be nothing compared to what others are feeling. Nevertheless it's very real for me and I wanted to write about what I'm doing to attempt to combat it.

Hobbies

I'm of the opinion that it's important to have hobbies outside of work. That being said I completely understand that many people enjoy programming as a hobby. (I'm definitely one of those people, and I've got a side project graveyard to prove it) I have, in recent years, tried to find hobbies that aren't programming that I could indulge in. That has been super helpful during times of burnout, because when I get burned out it affects my hobby coding in addition to my professional coding.

For myself personally I've had a variety of hobbies over the years. In addition to some of the typical ones (such as video games) I've enjoyed other hobbies that were less technical and more physical. One of my favorites is woodworking. My wife and I have built a variety of pieces I am proud of. My favorite was a dining table.

Handmade Dining Room Table

We had many family dinners around that table, and I felt very accomplished and greatly enjoyed working hard on this beautiful piece. It contributed greatly to me feeling fulfilled and definitely helped to hold off periods of burnout. There is something about working with physical objects and tools that breaks up the constant mental stress of working on a screen and with software. Perhaps something like that that would work for you to help fight off burnout.

Exercise

This is one of the most commonly recommended things to help with burnout. (among many other ailments) I'm sure you, like me, are tired of hearing that exercise is good. It's one of those things where we all know it's something we're supposed to do, but despite that I personally tend to brush it off as something other people need to do. It is, however, a very important part of keeping your mind and body healthy, something that directly affects your burnout.

I've lately been in a better habit of exercise. Part of it is that I got a new puppy about 2 months ago! She's adorable, but she requires a lot of exercise to keep her healthy and happy, which means a lot of exercise for me. I take her on multiple walks every day to help her expend some energy, and she usually loves to run during the long stretches of grass, which I run with her.

Puppy outside in the backyard

Another easy way to start getting into exercising is through VR if you're able to own something like an Oculus Quest. While most games you don't move around much, there are plenty of games that can actually get your heart rate going decently well such as Beat Saber. On the Oculus Quest specifically there is a game called Supernatural that is a fitness game. You pay for a membership and you get new workouts daily that tailor themselves to your fitness level. I tried it on a friend's headset before I got the Quest and it was a great workout. So there are plenty of ways to get exercise without needing to go to a gym or have lots of equipment at home.

Video Games

I really enjoy video games as I'm sure many of you reading this article do as well. On the one hand playing video games keeps you staring at screens, so for some people it might not help with burnout. Also playing video games for huge periods of time can lend itself to not feeling great mentally. However I really enjoy playing video games for reasonable periods of time, especially with friends and family.

Due to COVID most of us can't do close contact with friends and loved ones at the moment. I'm particularly close with my siblings, and pre-COVID we would get together regularly to hang out and enjoy each others' company. Since we can't do that right now, we decided to do a once-a-week video game night where we all play a video game together over voice chat. Our favorite to do is Age of Empires II, since that was one we played together frequently while growing up. It's really fun because we get to chat while playing, and we usually do a Zoom call afterwards to chat and reminisce.

Age of Empires 2

I also enjoy streaming on Twitch while I play video games. I'm by no means a streamer like many of you might be. I mostly stream just because it's fun when the occasional person hops on the stream and interacts with me. I only stream twice a week, usually to play Sea of Thieves on Tuesdays, and Rocket League on Fridays, with a variety of friends. Those are really fun to do. We play a couple hours and just have a fun time together, whether anybody watches or not. I definitely don't stream to do anything other than just have a good time.

Keep in Touch with Friends & Family

It's hard being apart from those you care about. That really starts to wear on you. So while we can't do much right now in terms of being together with groups of loved ones, we can find alternative ways to be together and enjoy each others' company. My family, for example, does a scheduled Zoom call once a week to stay updated with each others' lives. We share memories, talk about our week, and just have a nice time together.

Another thing my family has started doing is sending weekly emails to each other on Sunday with photos and details of our lives and goings on during the week. It's been incredibly fun reading through what people are doing despite being restricted in what they normally do, and it's always enjoyable seeing photos of nieces and nephews and pets. In fact I've started saving those emails, and I'd love one day to compile a book of them for our family to look back on this crazy time and remember.

If you live near family you can also do socially distanced visits. My parents live about 10 minutes from me so we like to go over every now and again and hang out in their backyard. We let our puppy run around and play, my son jumps on their trampoline, and my wife and I sit and chat with my parents, about 10 feet apart, on their back patio. While we can't give hugs or be physically closer than across the patio, it's really nice being able to be in somewhat close proximity with loved ones. I recognize that many people don't have the same luxury as I do of living close to family, but for those that do this can be incredibly helpful in trying to push away the burnout of being alone and separated from people, and we can still do it safely.


Those are just a few of the things I've been doing to try to fend off the burnout that's been persistent during all the shutdown and restrictions of COVID. As with everything else in life this is by no means a one size fit all kind of thing. Obviously what works for me isn't necessarily going to work for you. I do hope, however, that by detailing some of the things that work for me, you'll at least find some ideas that work for you too. COVID has been rough for all of us in a million different ways, but frankly it's good to talk about when we're not feeling great. I'd love to hear what all of you are doing to combat the burnout many of us are feeling during COVID, maybe some of your ideas could work for me too.

Discussion (4)

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Olivia Vahsen 🥑 🦄

Came here from Twitter! This is a great realistic, refreshing take on a Monday morning -- we all need breaks, and we all have a hard time taking them sometimes! Nice job!

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John Woodruff Author

Thank you Olivia! I appreciate the kind words! 😊

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Isaac Lyman

Your dog is so good. Give her a pat for me.

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John Woodruff Author

She is the goodest of dogs. I will absolutely do so! 😄