Burnout Recovery and Prevention

What to Do If You're Feeling Burned Out

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What Is Burnout?

Burnout is defined as a psychological response to prolonged interpersonal stressors. While it isn't recognized as a distinct mental health condition, it is viewed as an occupational hazard, particularly for those who work in people- and service-oriented fields, including health care, education, and human services.

Burnout

Burnout happens when people become depleted, cynical, and unmotivated in response to ongoing work-related stress. It is a problem that may contribute to feelings of fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

The strain of constant stress can wear you down, and there is only so much that your mind and body can take before you reach your breaking point. Fortunately, there are strategies that you can use for burnout recovery and prevention that can minimize the detrimental impact that burnout can have on your well-being.

This article explores how to recognize the signs of burnout, steps you can take to prevent it, and tips for how to recover if you are starting to feel burned out.

What Does Burnout Feel Like?

Burnout is more than just feeling stressed or tired. It is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that can leave you feeling drained, hopeless, and unmotivated. The main signs and symptoms of burnout include:

  • Feeling exhausted all the time
  • Lack of motivation or interest in things that you used to enjoy
  • Cynicism, apathy, and negativity
  • Feeling like you are not making any progress
  • Increased absenteeism or lateness
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Experiencing physical health problems like headaches, tightness in the chest, neck pain, back pain, and nausea
  • Increase alcohol and nicotine use
  • Indifference, boredom, and restlessness

If you are experiencing any of these signs, it is vital to take action to address the problem before it gets worse.

How to Recover From Burnout

If you are already feeling burned out, it is crucial to take action to address the problem. Effective burnout recovery strategies can help you figure out what is causing the problem, replenish your mental strength, and combat feelings of cynicism.

Identify the Cause

Spend some time assessing what it is about your job that contributes to burnout. Factors that often play a role include working too many hours, poor relationships with supervisors or co-workers, conflict in the workplace, poor support from management, and excessive workloads.

Once you are more aware of the cause, you can take steps to help mitigate it. Some of these might be more challenging to address, but you might start by talking to your employer about ways to help manage workplace stress and reduce interpersonal conflict.

Lightening your workload, delegating some tasks to others, changing your work location, or even switching to a partial-remote schedule might help alleviate some feelings of burnout.

Take a Break

It is also important to take time to relax and rejuvenate. This might include taking a vacation, getting a massage, or taking up a new hobby. While researchers are still exploring viable treatments for burnout to learn which are most effective, taking a break is often cited as one of the most-used approaches by people experiencing burnout symptoms.

Spend Some Time Alone

Burnout is often linked to high levels of prolonged interpersonal stress. It's why people who work in people-oriented jobs are often more likely to experience burnout.

If you've reached the point where you've developed a negative attitude about others and feel irritable and withdrawn, try to set aside some time for yourself. Spending time alone doing things you enjoy can be a great way to recharge, particularly if you tend to be more of an introvert.

Utilize Effective Coping Skills

You can't eliminate all stress, but you can develop more effective ways of coping with it. How you think about different situations can affect how you feel about them.

Cognitive reframing can be a helpful strategy that may help you change your perspective about the situations that are causing stress.For example, reframing a situation as a learning opportunity instead of a burden might help you approach challenges with less anxiety.

Get Support From Loved Ones

While a bit of solitude can be beneficial, that doesn't mean you should withdraw from loved ones. Negative social interactions often play a significant role in causing burnout, but positive and supportive social connections can be an essential buffer against it.

Leaning on your social support system can also relieve some of the pressure you are feeling. Talking to your friends and family about what you are going through can help you to feel less alone in your experience.

Care for Yourself

Taking care of yourself is essential for burnout prevention, but it can be even more vital once you've reached the point of burning out. Ensure that you are taking care of yourself physically and mentally.

This means eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly. Taking time for yourself, even when you have a lot of demands on your time, can also help you to recover from burnout.

Talk to a Professional

If you are struggling to manage burnout on your own, it is essential to seek out professional help. One study found that psychodynamic group therapy and cognitive group therapy were both effective in reducing symptoms of work-related depression. However, there are a number of additional effective type of psychotherapy which can also be very helpful.

A therapist can help you to identify the causes of your stress and develop a plan to address them. If you feel overwhelmed, don't hesitate to seek help.

Recap

Burnout is a serious problem that can significantly impact your health and well-being. However, there are things that you can do to prevent and recover from burnout. By taking care of yourself physically and mentally, setting boundaries, and practicing self-compassion, you can protect yourself from the effects of burnout.

How to Prevent Burnout

One of the best ways to deal with burnout is to try to stop it from happening in the first place. You can do several things to prevent burnout before it starts.

Take Care of Your Health

One of the most important things is to ensure that you are taking care of yourself physically and mentally. This means eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly. It is also essential to find ways to manage stress in your life in a healthy way. This might include yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises.

Set and Maintain Boundaries

It is also crucial to set boundaries in your life. This means learning to say no when you are feeling overwhelmed and taking time for yourself even when many demands are competing for your time and attention. 

Creating boundaries means learning to say no to projects that aren't a top priority and communicating your needs clearly. It also means finding a work-life balance that works for you.

Look for ways to make clear divisions between your home and work life, such as having a daily relaxation ritual to help you transition into a more relaxed state after work each day.

Manage Your Stress

Stress is a significant contributor to burnout, so it is vital to find ways to manage it in your life. Helpful stress relief techniques might include yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises. 

Fast-acting stress relievers can be helpful when you are dealing with feelings of acute stress, but it is also important to rely on long-term strategies as well. Eating a healthy diet, practicing positive self-talk, and writing in a gratitude journal are a few strategies you might want to incorporate into your routine.

Treat Yourself Kindly

Feeling restored can often come from practicing a little self-compassion. Instead of pushing yourself past your limits, learn to spot signs of feeling overwhelmed.

If you feel overwhelmed or burned out, take a step back and assess what you can do to help yourself in the moment. This might include taking a break, talking to a friend, or reaching out for professional help.

Top Burnout Prevention Strategies

One study found that some of the most commonly used tactics for burnout recovery included:

  • Taking care of one's physical well-being
  • Support from colleagues
  • Taking a transcendental perspective
  • Talking to others
  • Participating in hobbies
  • Varying work duties
  • Finding comfort in personal relationships
  • Creating boundaries
  • Taking time away from work
  • Rediscovering passion and finding meaning in work
  • Setting realistic expectations
  • Using laughter and humor

A Word From Verywell

Burnout is associated with many adverse outcomes, including poor job satisfaction, high turnover, absenteeism, decreased productivity, and lower work quality. Finding ways to prevent burnout can help minimize the impact it might have on your career and mental well-being, but it is also essential to focus on effective burnout recovery strategies if you're already feeling burned out.

If self-help strategies are not providing adequate relief, talk to your doctor or mental health professional to devise a plan to address these feelings of burnout.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.