If you find it challenging to focus at work, notice changes in sleep patterns, and dread going to work, you might be experiencing work burnout. But there are ways to cope and recover.

If you’re employed full-time, you spend many of your waking hours at work. Unless you work from home, you also spend time getting ready to commute each day, only to spend more time coming home after each shift.

How you spend those hours can impact your quality of life. If you feel connected to your job and enjoy going to work each day, this can support your mental health.

But if you’re feeling stressed, unhappy, or overwhelmed at your place of employment, this may lead to work burnout.

Simply put, burnout is exhaustion.

Burnout results from elevated and prolonged stress which can affect you emotionally, cognitively, and physically. It can impact your ability to function at work or in your private life.

Work burnout can occur because of factors like an unrealistic workload, or regularly long hours that interfere with your work-life balance.

There are a few signs that you may be experiencing work burnout:

  • suspicion, negativity, cynicism, or a critical attitude toward work
  • attendance, punctuality, or productivity issues
  • forgetfulness and difficulty focusing
  • irritability or impatience with others, including coworkers, clients, and customers
  • apathy, fatigue, and hopelessness
  • social withdrawal
  • physical signs like headaches or body aches
  • insomnia or changes in sleep patterns
  • appetite changes
  • self-medication with alcohol or drugs

It may be worth consulting with a doctor since work burnout shares some symptoms with other conditions, like depression, thyroid issues, or vitamin deficiency.

Burnout occurs from chronic stress combined with other factors that work against your physical and mental health.

Causes of workplace stress can include:

What happens outside of work also matters.

Burnout can result if your job interferes with:

  • time with friends and family
  • consistent and sufficient sleep
  • regular exercise
  • meal planning and proper nutrition
  • personal interests and hobbies

A job that encroaches on your personal time can contribute to burnout because of the impact on your work-life balance and self-care.

Burnout doesn’t have to be ongoing. There are ways to reduce your stress and reconnect with your energy and motivation.

1. Take mental health days

There’s a difference between taking pride in your work attendance versus rigidly denying yourself a day off when you need one. The latter may contribute to work burnout.

Symptoms of burnout may indicate that you need some time off work. This could be in the form of a sick day because of physical stress symptoms. Or, you could opt for a mental health day, to put some space between yourself and your work stress.

2. Speak with HR about work benefits

Asking to meet with a human resources representative gives you an opportunity to learn about your company’s benefits in more detail. There may be workplace mental health support available that you can access.

Examples include:

  • stress leave
  • coverage for therapy or counseling
  • job share arrangements

It’s OK to use the benefits available to you. Benefits are part of your compensation in exchange for the work that you do. In addition, when you take care of yourself you’re better able to contribute in positive ways at work.

3. Prioritize your sleep schedule

Regular, restorative sleep is crucial for cognitive and physical health. Sleep disruption can contribute to work burnout.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, insufficient sleep can lead to issues like:

  • mental health effects like depression
  • careless errors and injury
  • chronic health issues like heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes

Like the concrete base that stabilizes and supports a building, sleep is the foundation of your wellness.

To improve your sleep, prioritize a consistent sleep schedule, and practice sleep hygiene.

This might mean saying no to overtime or extra shifts, or even stepping down from a big project or high-ranking corporate team. Or you can try rescheduling your personal time to allow for more sleep.

4. Disconnect from technology

Screen cut-offs at least 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime are a helpful part of sleep hygiene, but unplugging is beneficial in other ways too.

Setting boundaries between work time and your personal time can give you a chance to recover from work burnout.

Unless your job requires that you be available for contact outside of office hours, you can limit your availability.

  • Log out of workplace platforms and programs.
  • Turn off mobile notifications.
  • Resist the urge to check work emails.
  • Notify colleagues of your unavailable times so they know not to expect immediate replies to workplace correspondence.

Reducing your device use also limits your exposure to potentially stressful social media.

A 2020 study found a link between social media use and job burnout. The study listed social comparison from social media as a factor that contributes to burnout at work.

5. Get regular exercise

Exercise results in numerous mental health benefits:

  • increased production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin
  • better brain blood flow, resulting in improved functioning and brain growth
  • social networks from fitness classes and teammates
  • increased self-esteem and self-efficacy
  • distraction from negative thoughts
  • boosted production of endorphins and other brain chemicals that help you relax
  • reduced cortisol, stress hormone, levels

If you’re experiencing work burnout fatigue you might not feel like being active, but that physical activity may help you feel better.

6. Try mindfulness

Mindfulness is the relaxing practice of tuning into the present moment with a mindset of acceptance. As you shift your attention to sensory input from your environment, the stressful chatter in your brain becomes less overwhelming.

Meditation is one way to practice mindfulness, but you can also try simple exercises like breathing and body scanning.

Imagine your workplace stress as chaos and noise in a room. Mindfulness allows you to leave the room, quietly close the door, and step away for a few minutes of peace.

7. Connect with nature

Exposure to nature can reduce stress, according to a review from 2022.

Even the simple act of caring for indoor plants can stabilize your autonomic nervous system and induce parasympathetic activity, like rest and digestion.

If you can’t add greenery or natural materials like wood to your workspace, try spending time in nature outside of working hours.

8. Seek mental health support

Depression can feel like work burnout, and vice versa. A mental health professional can help you sort out the difference between the two.

It’s important to identify the root cause of your experience. Depression and work burnout are both something you can manage, but it helps to have a correct diagnosis.

9. Change your career

Sometimes burnout can result if a person’s career isn’t the right fit for their strengths and temperament.

For example, if you’re an introvert working in sales, you might live with chronic stress. Finding a better-fit job might be all you need to recover from work burnout.

If you’re exhausted and unmotivated at work, you may be experiencing work burnout.

Prolonged, excessive stress causes burnout. A heavy workload, toxic workplace culture, and unsafe work environment are some examples of factors that lead to job stress.

You can recover from work burnout with strategies like taking time off work, self-care practices like sleep hygiene, and seeking mental health support.