If you’ve ever worked for long hours in a stressful environment, you’ve likely experienced some degree of burnout — a type of physical and emotional exhaustion that’s linked to overwhelming, extreme work.
Although burnout itself isn’t a recognized mental disorder, it shares several common symptoms with mental illnesses such as depression and certain anxiety disorders. Curious about the difference between burnout vs depression? Read more about the signs and symptoms of each in our blog.
Burnout can take a serious toll on your mental and physical wellbeing, but the good news is that it’s a treatable issue. With the right approach, you can recover from burnout and make work less of a liability for your health.
Below, we’ve shared nine tactics that you can use to recover when you’re feeling burned out as a result of work, study or a demanding home environment, as well as reduce your risk of feeling burned out again in the future.
First things first, it’s important to clear up what burnout actually is. Burnout isn’t a mental health disorder or a medical condition, meaning it isn’t something that you can be medically diagnosed with if you visit a psychiatrist or other mental health professional.
Instead, burnout is defined in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a type of occupational phenomenon — a syndrome that results from chronic, poorly managed workplace stress.
Burnout can also develop outside the workplace. It’s viewed as the dark side of self-sacrifice — giving up something that’s valuable to you, such as your time, attention and energy, in order to help someone else, such as an employer or other person.
When you’re burned out due to a stressful workplace or lifestyle, you may develop the following symptoms:
Feeling physically drained and low in energy
Difficulty coping with certain aspects of life
Feeling emotionally and mentally exhausted
Pain, digestive problems and other physical symptoms
Feelings of stress and frustration at work
A sense of numbness and emotional distance at work
Difficulty concentrating on tasks or being creative
A lower level of care and increased negativity about work
Reduced performance at work, at home or around other people
While it’s normal to occasionally experience some of these issues, when you’re burned out, they may feel overwhelming, persistent and intense. Our guide to the signs of burnout provides more information about the ways that burnout can affect you, as well as what to look out for.
Burnout can potentially affect anyone. You may start to feel burned out if you’re overworked (for example, you work for very long hours), if you have conflicts with your coworkers or if you work in an environment that places you under a significant amount of pressure.
Not all reasons for burnout are linked to time pressures or an excessive workload. Sometimes, burnout can even develop if you feel under-challenged by work that doesn’t make effective use of your abilities.
The good news is that when burnout starts to develop, it’s usually treatable. If you’re starting to feel burned out, try one or several of the techniques below to clear your mind, deal with fatigue and restore your sense of drive, purpose and focus.
One of the simplest ways to reduce the severity of burnout is to spend your time outside of work enjoying relaxing, fulfilling activities.
While going on vacation for several days can help to treat burnout (something we’ve covered in more detail below), research suggests that daily recovery efforts — acts or processes involved in recuperating — are also helpful for reducing burnout.
Put simply, this means that doing fun, relaxing or otherwise enjoyable things after work can help you to avoid feeling burned out and exhausted.
Whether this means spending time on your hobbies, going out for dinner with your partner or a group of friends, visiting a museum or art gallery, taking part in a group activity or just chilling at home with a good book or TV series, it’s important to enjoy some leisure time.
Not only can this add some fun to your life, but it’s a great way to clear your mind and return to work the next day feeling more focused.
In addition to enjoying some leisure time outside of your work or other duties, it can help to add mindfulness meditation to your daily routine.
Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation that involves turning your attention to the present, focusing entirely on what’s happening here and now. It also involves accepting the feelings and sensations you experience without any reaction or response.
Research shows that meditation helps with stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. It’s also linked to improvements in some physical health problems, including medical issues that may worsen as a result of chronic work stress.
You can practice meditation at home in 10 to 15 minutes a day, making this a quick way to deal with workplace stress and burnout. You can also find mindfulness classes and groups in clinics, yoga centers, community centers and elsewhere, allowing you to meditate with others.
Sleep has a huge impact on your health and wellbeing, and maintaining good sleep habits may help to reduce your risk of becoming burned out at work or at home.
Getting enough sleep can reduce your stress levels and improve your mood. Good sleep is also associated with clearer thinking, better decision-making skills and a lower risk of serious health issues, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep per night. If you usually get less sleep than this, improving your sleep habits and spending more time under the covers each night could help you to feel healthier and recover from burnout.
For better sleep, try creating a bedtime routine by going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at a consistent time every morning. Simple things such as switching off your phone or computer an hour before bed and keeping your bedroom quiet can make this process easier.
If you occasionally struggle to fall asleep, products such as our Sleep Gummy Vitamins can help with restless nights by increasing levels of melatonin — a naturally-occurring hormone that plays a key role in regulating your sleep-wake cycle.
Exercise has numerous benefits, from improving your body composition and increasing strength to reducing your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some types of cancer.
Being physically active can also offer benefits for your mental health by promoting the release of natural chemicals called endorphins, which improve your mood, help you feel relaxed and make it easier to deal with issues such as chronic stress.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to get that much physical activity to notice mental and physical health benefits.
According to the CDC, any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical exercise offers benefits for your health. Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, as well as at least two muscle-strengthening workouts.
This could mean walking or biking around your neighborhood, playing tennis, or even pushing a lawnmower around your yard. When it comes to muscle-strengthening exercises, simple things like lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises can have a big positive impact.
Above all, choose a form of exercise that you enjoy. Fun activities like hiking or mountain biking can provide a double benefit of physical activity and time in nature, which is also linked to better mental wellbeing and reduced fatigue.
Spending time with other people is essential for good mental health. In fact, social isolation — a lack of meaningful interaction with other people — is associated with issues such as depression, poor sleep quality, impaired mental function and even poor cardiovascular health.
These issues can potentially make the symptoms of burnout more severe, making it important to spend time with your friends and family members to relax and unwind.
Not only can friends and family members give you an opportunity to socialize outside of work — they can also provide emotional support to help you cope with any stress and exhaustion that’s caused by your work environment.
Try to set aside time for socializing every week, even if it’s just lunch with a friend, a dinner with your family or, if you live far away from your loved ones, a video call to catch up and chat about whatever’s on your mind.
Sometimes, the best way to deal with burnout from work is to spend time as far away from your workplace as possible on vacation.
Going on vacation offers numerous benefits, from letting you enjoy new experiences to helping you clear your mind and relax. Research suggests that even a short vacation away from home can have a positive effect on perceived stress, strain and wellbeing. You can even take a staycation and use a mental health day off as a way to have a relaxing day at home or exploring your town.
With this said, going on vacation isn’t necessarily a panacea for burnout. Survey data from the American Psychological Association suggests that 40 percent of people claim that the benefits of a vacation wane after a few days back at work.
Still, if you’re feeling stressed and burned out as the result of a temporary crunch to meet a tight deadline or other one-off workplace issues, taking some vacation leave could be a good way to clear your mind and come back feeling refreshed and full of energy.
Simple things such as spending more time on relaxing activities, going on vacation or making changes to your sleep habits can go a long way towards relieving burnout symptoms and job stress.
However, if you work in a high-pressure environment or experience a lot of stress in your daily life, it’s easy to end up back on the road to burnout even after making changes.
If you often feel burned out, or if you find that the techniques above aren’t totally effective, you might want to consider making other changes to your work habits to reduce the risk of burnout becoming a long-term issue.
If your work environment, colleagues or the demands of your job are the main sources of your stress, try discussing your concerns with your employer.
Many employers are aware that their employees deal with feelings of burnout from time to time, especially during busy times of the year. By discussing your situation openly, you might be able to make compromises and changes that improve your mental wellbeing.
As a piece in the Harvard Business Review suggests, it’s best to avoid assigning blame to your boss or anyone else. Instead, try to make it clear that you want to reach a solution that works for both of you, whether it’s a more flexible work arrangement or extra resources.
While it can feel daunting to talk to your employer about a topic like burnout, try to keep in mind that they also want you to feel mentally healthy and may be more willing to make compromises than you’d initially think.
Many public sector employers and mid-sized and large businesses have employee assistance programs, or EAPs. These are voluntary programs that offer counseling and other services for people dealing with stress and other issues that affect mental and emotional wellbeing.
If you’ve been dealing with severe burnout that doesn’t improve on its own, try reaching out to your HR department about the availability of any employee assistance programs like mental health day off that you can use to access mental health support.
If your employer is unwilling to make the changes you need to feel your best, or if the nature of your job is the source of your burnout (for example, it requires long hours or stressful situations that are unavoidable), you may want to consider changing jobs or careers.
Sometimes, burnout can develop as the result of a bad work environment. If you enjoy your job but feel burned out because you don’t like your particular employer, you might want to consider looking into other opportunities within the same industry.
Finally, if your job is the problem rather than your employer, it might be worth thinking seriously about a career change. This is a major step, and it can be good to seek out professional advice to learn more about your options before making any significant decisions.
Burnout is a common, treatable issue. However, when the symptoms of job burnout are severe or persistent, or when you don’t experience recovery from burnout even with major changes to your life, it may be a sign that you have a more serious mental health disorder.
Many signs of burnout are similar to the symptoms of clinical depression. If you have symptoms that don’t get better or become more severe over time, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional.
You can get help by asking your primary care provider for a mental health referral, scheduling a consultation with a psychiatrist or other mental health specialist in your area, or from home with our online mental health services.
We offer the ability to talk to a licensed provider from the privacy of your own home and receive personalized care, including an online psychiatric evaluation with ongoing follow-ups.
There’s no shame in seeking help. In fact, doing so can help you to improve your mental health, gain more control over your feelings and enhance many aspects of your quality of life.
Our list of self-care tips for mental health shares proven techniques that you can use to keep in sync with your mental health needs. You can also find out more about how to successfully deal with common mental health concerns using our free online mental health resources.
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