7 Ways to Recover from Burnout

When you're experiencing burnout, the resultant fatigue, cynicism, and detachment can distort reality so much that peace of mind seems lightyears away. That's because burnout runs deeper than typical stress; it's usually the result of dealing with challenging responsibilities or situations on a chronic basis. The impact of these stressors can accumulate and permeate virtually all areas of your life, leaving you feeling fizzled out across the board.

But as overwhelming and infiltrated as burnout can feel, recovering is possible. Below are seven tips to help you recover if you’re experiencing burnout.

1. Cultivate a practice of self-compassion

Studies indicate that actively cultivating self-compassion and empathy can mitigate the impact of burnout [1]. With practice, you can start cultivate self-compassion in your everyday life to alleviate existing burnout symptoms and prevent further ones.

Here are two tips to get you started:

Recognize and replace negative self-talk

We often fall into patterns of self berating during stressful days or weeks. But knocking yourself down in the midst an already-stressful period won't exactly move you forward! So instead, try replacing your negative self-talk with more supportive, nurturing language. Here are tips for getting started:

Grant yourself permission to be an imperfect human

If you consistently hold yourself to high standards without wiggle room, anything less than perfect can feel like a failure. Grant yourself permission to act imperfectly, while recognizing that no single action defines you.

Here are a few ways to speak back to perfectionism, if it is detrimentally affecting you:

2. Take time to actively reflect on your efforts and accomplishments

In the go-go-go of today's lifestyle, it's easy to tackle one project and leap to the next without taking a breath to acknowledge your victories. But if you view success as getting all the work done in an environment that has never-ending work, you're bound to hit burnout sooner or later.

That's why it's crucial to acknowledge both your accomplishments and your efforts. You don't have to tally up everything you do (after all, if you're burnt out, the last thing you need is another item on your to-do list!). But taking the time to actively reflect can remind you the value of what you do.

Here are two low-effort, high-impact ways to reflect on your progress:

Spend 5-10 minutes at the end of each work day jotting down what you learned, noticed, and achieved  

You can do this in a designated journal (aka work diary) or app, or even type it onto the "notes" section for each calendar day in your iCal or Google calendar.

Memorize these mindful questions for a daily reflection meditation

Studies have shown mindfulness is a powerful deterrent against burnout [3,4]. Taking just 5 minutes to reflect mindfully grants yourself space to acknowledge your achievements and assess struggles without judgement.

Try some version of the following questions:

You can ask yourself these anywhere, like on your commute home, while eating dinner, or doing the dishes.

3. Adopt an "ownership mindset"

One of the mainstays of burnout is the feeling that things are happening to you, rather than you having control over your own life. Intentionally adopting an "ownership mindset" is a way to remind yourself that while others may have contributed to your current situation, you still have the power to make your own choices.

Small ways to adopt this mentality might be:

With this outlook, you may find that you're more readily poised see the opportunities and choices you can make to improve your present and future.

4. Create action items for systemic changes

Action items that fit your schedule and demands can help make lasting systemic changes in your daily life. Here are some everyday ways to effect change in your work life, preventing further burnout:

Set work boundaries

When you notice yourself being unproductive, take a short break. If you work from home, set up a work space and a play space so you associate home with more than just work. Similarly, set a schedule so that you know you can “turn off” at a specific time.

Create a stress-reduction list

Make a list of some of the things that stress you out, as well as a list of things that re-energize you. Jot down a couple of actions to reduce your stress every few days or every week.

Make meaning

Give yourself time to reflect and reconnect with your values, goals, and priorities. You might be in this demanding job because you want to help people, you might also be working hard to provide financial security for your family.

When we remember and connect with why we’re doing something that is difficult, it makes it easier to do the task. If you notice that your values or goals are shifting, that’s okay – you can come up with a plan to help you address this shift proactively.

5. Develop daily strategies to prevent further burnout

Recognizing and replacing habits that may be fueling the burnout is a great way to prevent it from controlling your life. Take some time to check in and reflect with the following everyday exercises:

Give your body what it needs to stay healthy

When you're recovering from burnout, it is especially important to nurture your body. Grant yourself whatever your physical self needs to heal and stay happy. Get adequate exercise for your lifestyle, eat nourishing meals when you're hungry, and go to bed when you're tired.

When you're in recovery, it's particularly important to not push past your limits.

Unwind before bed

Set aside time – a full hour, if you're able – before falling asleep to intentionally unwind.

Listen to music, read something relaxing or meaningful, or reflect on the important moments of your day.

Disconnect from screens

Technology makes us more accessible, which can be an incredible yet demanding thing. Find realistic small ways to get some separation from screens, like:

6. Consider taking time off to hit your "reset" button

If your burnout is severe to the point where you're struggling to function, you may benefit from taking time off so that you can reset and refresh. Taking a trip away, or even setting aside a few days to relax at home, can help.  

Remember to turn off work emails or other contacts, since even small notifications can remind you of stressors and impede your relaxation efforts.

If you're not able to take time off, consider taking breaks at work. Bouncing between demanding projects or assignments can perpetuate burnout, so try to remember to go for a walk or practice breathing exercises between tasks.

7. Seek professional support through therapy

Therapy is a wonderful space to assess what burnout looks for you, what components of burnout are particularly challenging for you, and what factors are contributing to your experience of burnout.

For example, if you notice that your detachment is impacting how you show up for work or home, you can work on strategies to improve interpersonal concerns.

These strategies may include steps protect your energy, for example, delegation of tasks if possible, as well as working on communication, such as setting boundaries with respect rather than with irritation.

A therapist can also help you sort through and address the factors impacting burnout, since each factor might need a different approach.

When looking for a therapist for burnout, look for a therapist who:


The experience of burnout feels pretty awful – but burnout is treatable, and the recovery process can be deeply empowering!

Through recovery, you can become more in touch with your values and goals, feel more confident in your ability to manage stress, and learn to implement practices that will help you play the long game well.

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Ready to tackle burnout recovery with a therapist? Get started at Zencare.co.

In NYC? Dr. Snehal Kumar can help you manage stress and recover from burnout.

Resources:
1: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02340/full
2: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5821438/
3: https://bit.ly/2LhWM8W
4: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.2190/PM.43.2.b