Lately, you’ve been feeling fatigued and frustrated. Emotionally and physically. You’re wondering where the heck your energy and motivation went.
Work feels like one big slog. You feel like you can’t meet the demands and deadlines. In fact, you dread even walking through the office doors. When you do get home, all you want to do is sit on the couch and veg out.
In other words, you’re likely burned out.
And you’re certainly not alone. A 2018 Gallup study of 7,500 full-time employees found that 23 percent experienced burnout very often or always, and 44 percent experienced it sometimes. According to a 2018 review, over one-half of physicians and one-third of nurses experience symptoms of burnout, too.
Experts define burnout in different ways and note different causes. So what might tip you over the edge at work may differ from what pushes someone else into emotional and physical exhaustion. This is why it’s important to reflect on the root of your burnout.
For instance, The World Health Organization calls burnout a “syndrome,” and defines it as “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”
“Burnout is a physiological consequence of pushing yourself beyond your physical and emotional limits—sustained stress/fight or flight response—for too long,” said Brandon Santan, PhD, LPC-MHSP, a therapist who specializes in anxiety, stress, and burnout in Chattanooga, Tenn.
He noted that this is similar to a car running out of gas: “The engine won’t run and you can’t go any further until you refuel.”
According to business coach and author David Neagle, “burnout is confusion. It’s a sign of conflicting values within a person. It is doing too much…but doing too much of the wrong things and not enough of the right things.”
Sometimes, Santan said, lifestyle and personality traits play a role in burnout. For example, an introvert who spends too much time in an extrovert’s role will experience burnout if they don’t recharge with alone time, he said.
Burnout also may be caused by repetitive work or too much work, tight deadlines, small margins for error, and lack of rest and good sleep, said Olga Mykhoparkina, chief marketing officer at Chanty, who experienced severe burnout earlier in the year.
Thankfully, even though burnout can feel insurmountable, it isn’t. There are many things you can do. The key is to find strategies that resonate with you. Here are six lesser-known tips to try.
Focus on the physiological. According to Santan, because burnout is more of a physiological process than an emotional one, in order to heal burnout, we need to focus on healing the body. In other words, it’s important “to focus on healing the body’s cortisol and adrenaline regulating systems.” Santan suggested getting quality sleep, incorporating nutrient-rich foods into your diet, and engaging in physical activities that you enjoy. (Healing the body might involve taking supplements and medication, as well, he added.)
This also goes along with knowing yourself and knowing exactly what your body needs, said Neagle. For example, some people are fine with six hours of sleep, while others require eight, he said. Do you know the right number for you? What else does your body need?
Get clear on your values and priorities. “Many folks who struggle with burnout spend time on things that they don’t particularly value,” such as saying yes to social events, while neglecting alone time, said Jamie Long, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. When your priories are clear, however, you’re less likely to take on tasks that aren’t truly urgent and important to you, she said.
Carve out some time to reflect on your values and priorities—and practice saying no. Because often, it’s declining an invitation or a request that’s the hardest part.
Avoid numbing strategies. Many people turn to anything that’ll numb them, so they can disconnect from the stressful experience of burnout, Long said. They turn to everything from alcohol to caffeine to social media.
Not only are these strategies unhealthy in excess, they’re also ineffective. As Long noted, you don’t need countless cups of caffeine to plow through your packed day. You need boundaries. Again, think about what will resolve the root of your burnout. For instance, can you request certain changes be made at work?
Also, “instead of ‘junk-coping,’ focus on truly healthy habits that you can add to downtime, such as meditation, yoga, getting outside, or just taking a nap,” Long said.
Feed your soul. Mental health counselor and life coach Jessica Martin, LMHC, suggested reflecting on what nourishes your emotional and spiritual health. This might be anything from reading a great book to spending an afternoon cooking, she said.
Similarly, executive coach Shereen Thor helps her clients reverse burnout by supporting them in their creative endeavors and refocusing on fun and play. “We often get so bogged down by results and what will be productive in our overly dutiful lives. We forget how healing and replenishing the energy of play can be. We encourage children to learn through playing, but we become adults and become so serious that we forget our essence.”
What feeds your soul? What feels like play?
Take a sabbatical. Mykhoparkina took a month-long sabbatical to deal with her burnout. “I went away from work to have time to focus on myself, my family and my hobbies. It was difficult at first not to think about work, but I realized how much stress I was under, just a week after starting my sabbatical. I came back refreshed, with new strength to do the work I dreaded just a month ago.”
Of course, whether you can take a sabbatical will depend on your company’s policies (and your finances). If you can’t take one, maybe you can take a vacation. Even a few days off to relax and recharge can be significant.
Seek therapy. We often think that we need to be in a deep depression unable to get out of bed in order to warrant seeking professional help. But therapy can be invaluable in any stage of our lives. Even if you find yourself with mild symptoms of burnout, consider working with a therapist to make sure you don’t get worse. You can start your search for a therapist here on Psych Central.
Burnout can range in severity, which means that some techniques may not work. The key is to really examine how you’re feeling and try a variety of strategies—and don’t hesitate to seek professional support. Even a few sessions with a therapist can help you identity the cause of your burnout and find effective solutions.