The Impact of Isolation: Emotional Burnout and the Backfire of Online Communication

Written By Dexter Burgess

On July 27, 2020

The following article is about the complexities of relying on online communication during this pandemic and the emotional burnout so many of us are currently facing. It was originally published on Dr. Delligatti’s website and has been republished with her permission. We hope you find this piece to be as impactful and eye-opening as we do!

Dr. Andrea Delligatti is a licensed psychologist, executive coach, and mediator. For more from her on this topic, check out our collaborative webinar where she and our Managing Director, Rajat Kapur, discuss mental health, remote work challenges, being a leader during this time. 

This pandemic continues to alter the fabric of our society. As we make daily adjustments to what our routines, interactions, and safety precautions should look like to keep both ourselves and our communities safe, the impact of isolation continues to take its toll in new ways. Many of us continue to work remotely, limit contact with others, and shift the bulk of our interactions to online forums and video calls.  

The CDC recommends communication, in both personal and professional circles, as the first step in coping and building resilience during this time. We’re encouraged to talk about our struggles with mental health, our feelings of loneliness, our overwhelm, and our general detachment from society and one another. But for many, talking about these struggles can feel just as (if not even more) exhausting as experiencing them. We feel isolated and crave human connection, so you would think communication would be the ideal antidote to these ailments. But the effort required to engage in these kinds of interactions can have the opposite effect, creating a continuous cycle that’s damaging our mental health. Trauma, technology, and emotional burnout are all contributors to this cyclical impact of isolation. 


Trauma is often associated with something overtly violent, such as domestic abuse, a car crash, or a school shooting. But Dutch philosopher Ciano Aydin describes a situation as traumatic when it, “violates” familiar expectations about someone’s everyday life and surroundings, sending them into a “state of extreme confusion and uncertainty.” We are certainly living through a traumatic situation during this pandemic. This trauma has triggered our instincts to switch us into survival mode. As a result, our brains are saturated with survival and we lose cognitive function. Little energy is left over for focus and concentration.

Technology and Isolation

In order to stay connected, many of us are relying on video conferencing platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams to achieve a semblance of in-person interaction, whether it be professionally or personally. While this may have been a temporary band-aid to cover the wound of isolation, Zoom fatigue has begun to set in, leaving us even more exhausted than we would be running from conference room to conference room for back-to-back in person meetings. 

At first glance, we might assume Zoom meetings provide the best of both worlds. We can see the faces of our families and colleagues all from the safety of our own home. But studies are showing that video calls are much more draining than in-person and phone interactions. There are a few reasons why:

  • Video calls demand more of our full attention due to our constant search for social cues in an environment in which we are unaccustomed.
  • Being able to see yourself during video calls adds an extra layer of discomfort similar to stage-fright.  This may serve as more of a reminder of what we’ve lost during this time rather than a sense of comfort.
  • Properly working technology and the right physical space (finding a professional looking setting, making sure it’s quiet, ensuring working internet, etc) enhances our feeling of tension. 
  • Sound and visual delays and the tendency for talking overlap causes elevated anxiety when interacting.

Emotional Burnout

The decrease in cognitive energy we’re experiencing from existing in survival mode for prolonged periods affects our emotional health, triggering burnout. We feel as if we must be the best possible version of ourselves 24/7, which is an impossible task while our professional and personal worlds collide and bleed into one another. 

Single individuals living alone face the combination of being increasingly isolated and feeling the pressure of needing to be “on” or available all the time. Because of this pressure, many of them suffer silently, discouraged from sharing their struggles due to assumptions that their daily life must be easier without these extra responsibilities. They have trouble leaving work at work since their jobs are at home and other duties are not vying for their attention when 5:00PM rolls around. 

Parents are feeling overwhelmed with the overlap of their jobs, taking care of their children, and their new role as part-time educators.  They are reporting stress due to working multiple full time jobs at the same time. Switching from Zoom calls to snack time and diaper changes to emails to private time have working parents everywhere paralyzed by a lack of routine or boundaries between careers and family responsibilities. Stepfamilies (or other non-traditional arrangements) are faced with the added layer of complexity surrounding both consistency in their routines along with safety concerns over their kids living in different environments. The guilt and shame often associated with striving for parenting perfection and work life balance prevents these moms and dads from speaking out and sharing their struggles.

As this pandemic rages on, we are withdrawing even more because we’re depleted.  This increases our tendency to isolate ourselves even further, creating a vicious cycle. Patience with one another, patience with ourselves, and removing the stigma associated with these social struggles are keys to supporting one another dealing with these impacts of isolation together in a way that can energize rather than drain us. 

Help is Available

If you or others in your organization are struggling during this time, please consider professional assistance. Reducing distress and caring for the mental health of your team starts with the recognition of a need and a commitment to do something to help.

For more than three decades, I’ve helped individuals and teams solve their Gordian Knots, the most challenging situations that require a mix of professional therapy, executive coaching, and Human Resources. I will take the time to understand your needs, provide suggestions for potential assistance, and craft a tailored plan to remotely deliver services to individuals or groups of employees who may be in need. Please contact me to schedule a complimentary consultation

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