The signs are creeping in. You’re quick to snap at your spouse. You’re sarcastic with your co-workers. You’re more tired than usual. Your motivation and enthusiasm are starting to sink.
You feel stuck and maybe restless. The quality of your work is slipping. You find yourself reading the same line of the same email over and over. And over.
A lot of things—and people—are starting to grate on your nerves. You’re easily triggered. Life is feeling too loud. Your perspective is becoming pessimistic. And you just want to be left alone.
You’re nearing burnout, and you know it. Maybe you aren’t showing all these signs. Maybe you’re showing several.
But either way, you’re frustrated and feeling depleted. And it doesn’t help that you’re unable to take a vacation or even a few days off. Maybe you also work from home where work/life boundaries are especially blurry. And maybe you’re also a parent to a kid or two, shrinking your free time.
So, what can you do (besides sulk and be passive aggressive)?
For starters, here’s what doesn’t work: When most of us get busy and feel overwhelmed, we focus on attacking our to-do list—and we “pull away from stress-reducing activities [that] we love to do,” said Mark DeFee, a coach, speaker, and therapist with 15 years of experience in corporate mental health helping organizations develop their employees and create cultures of wellness.
After all, that’s the productive thing to do. The less we have on our lists, the better we’ll feel, right? So, you skip your yoga practice to catch up on email. You go into the office an hour earlier. You work through lunch. You cancel date night.
However, this only exacerbates your exhaustion. Because instead of putting gas in your tank and changing the oil, you’re running on fumes.
But how can you feel replenished when you’re still pressed for time?
Below, you’ll find nine strategies to help.
Wake up mindfully. According to Laura Torres, LPC, a holistic mental health counselor in Asheville, N.C, you can begin your day with just 1 minute of breathing or stretching and noticing your sensations.
DeFee does a 3-minute breathing exercise on the myStrength app. If he doesn’t have 3 minutes, he takes “slow, deep breaths visualizing my breathing with the air coming in my nostrils, down to my toes, and back out again.”
Shonda Moralis, LCSW, a psychotherapist and women’s mindful empowerment coach, noted that simply “taking a few breaths counteracts fight-or-flight, our body’s reaction to stress and perceived danger.”
Take small pauses. Carve out a few minutes throughout the day to identify your feelings, thoughts, and sensations, and what you need, Torres said. Consider: “How am I doing? What’s happening for me right now?”
For instance, you realize your hands are hurting, so you give yourself a quick massage. You realize that you’re feeling restless, so you take a walk on your lunch break. You realize you’re ruminating about a challenging project, so you listen to a 2-minute guided meditation.
You can even set reminder bells on your phone, or pair your brief check-in with answering the phone, going to the bathroom, or getting in the car, Torres said.
Buddy up. When we’re doing something for ourselves only, it’s all-too easy to skip it and do everything else (like tackle that sink full of dishes). Torres suggested engaging in self-care activities with someone else. For example, she said, commit to meeting a friend for yoga class, or taking a walk together.
The key is to do things you actually want to do. In other words, don’t promise to meet your friend at the gym because you hate that place and need them to be accountable. There’s nothing replenishing about that.
Enlist loved ones. When it comes to others, it’s also helpful to share your individual signs for nearing burnout, along with ways they can support you when you’re getting there, Torres said.
For instance, ask loved ones to encourage you and share some of your responsibilities, said Moralis, author of several books, including the forthcoming Breathe, Empower, Achieve: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Women Who Do It All. “Our loved ones cannot read our minds and may not realize we are struggling.”
Be mindful about mindless resting. When we’re nearing burnout, we tend to reach for mindless activities—and over-do it. That is, before you know it, you’ve spent an hour scrolling, or 3 hours watching something you don’t even care to watch.
Torres suggested creating concrete boundaries, such as setting a timer for 30 minutes to scroll social media. When your timer dings, get up, and move around. Then ask yourself if you’d still like to keep scrolling, she said. This helps you be more intentional about how you spend your time, so it’s genuinely relaxing and rejuvenating.
Create a serene space. Attending to your physical space can be a great concrete reset when the rest of your schedule feels out of control, Torres said. “[I]n my experience, it’s difficult for our nervous system to settle in a disorganized cluttered space,” she said.
It’s helpful to make your home conducive to recharging by “setting up a cozy meditation or yoga space, lighting candles, putting essential oils in a diffuser, turning on relaxing music, buying some house plants, [and lightly cleaning up].”
Prioritize what’s most pressing. Moralis suggested focusing on the area of your life that currently feels neglected. What’s missing? Is it time with your kids, your partner, or yourself?
Then identify one “micro-action step” you can take. For instance, you might wake up 10 minutes early to read or meditate and schedule a weekly phone call with a close friend, Moralis said.
Incorporate restorative habits. According to DeFee, it’s important to have “longer-term habits that will help keep your burnout level at the lower end.” For example, as someone who works from home, he structures his day to include walking his dogs. “I do it strategically to decompress after long meetings or completing a difficult task.”
DeFee and his wife also do an activity they call “three best things” every night. That is, they share their three best moments of the day. “It requires us to have a deeper conversation than just getting the chores done and taking care of our 1 year old. The sharing also allows us to look back on our day through a positive filter as we try to pick out the best moments.”
DeFee added that it’s helpful to find an activity that gives your mind a rest from anxious thoughts, and you do at the same time every day. “That helps make it a consistent part of your schedule.”
Identify contributing factors. Get to the root cause (or causes) that led you to feel (almost) burnt out. According to Moralis, “Are your expectations too high for how much you believe you should accomplish? Are you operating out of guilt? Fear? The idea that you should be able to handle it all without burning out?”
Once you can identify what created this situation, you can identify how to resolve it, and prevent it from happening in the future.
“Pushing ourselves past healthy limits—whether with hours worked, sleep deprivation, or robbing ourselves of fun and time to rest—is not a badge of honor, despite society’s persuasive messages to the contrary,” Moralis said.
Rather, “burnout can have real physical, emotional, behavioral, relational, and career consequences. We are in no way the best version of ourselves if we are at all nearing the point of burnout,” she said.
So, make time for restorative activities, whether you have 45 minutes or 5 minutes. You, your loved ones, and your work will be better for it.