Feeling Burned Out? Here’s How To Prevent and Heal from Burnout
Updated: Feb 26
When you’re feeling burned out, it’s easy to feel stuck, with no way out of your situation. But in reality that is far from the truth: burnout is a temporary state, and there are solutions to both prevent burnout and recover from it. Healing from burnout requires you to develop self-awareness and to hit the pause button so that you can allow yourself time to destress and recharge, whereas preventing burnout is all about cultivating new ways of living that are conducive to a healthy work-life balance and promote sustainable wellbeing.
6 Steps to Recover from Burnout
Healing from burnout can be a long journey and it definitely requires effort and consistency. This is not to deter you or overwhelm you further, but rather to help you manage your expectations in what it truly takes to banish burnout for good. Think of burnout recovery and treatment as recharging and restoring balance. Here are 6 steps to help you recover from burnout:
1. Acknowledge that you’re experiencing burnout
So, you have reached the point of burnout: you’re exhausted and no longer feel motivated to work, or perhaps you have even gotten to the stage where you are having difficulty carrying out day-to-day tasks. The first step to recovering from burnout syndrome is to acknowledge how you’re feeling. Once you have recognized that you have reached burnout, it is easier for you to take the steps you need to overcome it.
Pro Tip: Be gentle with yourself during this initial step by bringing self-compassion to your situation. It can feel like you have "failed" or weren't "strong" enough to deal with life's stressors, but that isn't necessarily true. Thoughts are not facts, so watch out for any negative self-talk and compassionately reframe your thinking. It takes great courage and strength to ask for help, and besides, you didn't choose or wish to be burned out.
2. Pull back and prioritize
Burnout often arises from neglecting our personal needs and putting work first. Although work is important and a big part of our lives, we need to realize that it is not our entire lives. Take a step back to re-evaluate how much time and energy you are devoting to various aspects of your life. Ask yourself, "Is there something I am missing or craving in my life?" "What would I rather be doing with my time?" "Is my job getting in the way of my personal life?"
As well, from a basic stress management perspective, you may want to consider delegating tasks or limiting the amount of overtime you put in each week. If your burnout is really severe, a stress leave might be warranted to really give yourself enough time to recharge and develop a sustainable routine and effective coping skills.
3. Self-care is the secret
The secret to recovering from burnout is self-care. You need to carve out time for yourself to implement a self-care routine. Remember that you set the rules for yourself, not your boss, not your partner, and not your children. Take some time to do what you want to do, preferably something you find enjoyable and relaxing. It is also good to incorporate activities that give you a sense of accomplishment to help find value and fulfilment in life (this is an empirically supported technique to help mood). The time you invest in yourself is time spent wisely. And remember, it is not selfish to preserve your health; you need that strength in order to help others.
Ideas for self-care:
Reading a good book
Having dinner with friends
Playing with your dog/pet
Taking a vacation day
Watching your favourite show on Netflix
Going for a walk
Pro Tip: Think of "self-care" more like "self-preservation" - what things in your daily/weekly/monthly/yearly routine can you do to help preserve your wellbeing? Self-care doesn't have to be extravagant or elaborate...it is usually the small, "trivial" things we do in our lives that make the world of a difference.
4. Practice saying “No”
One of the most critical skills for avoiding burnout is to practice setting boundaries. If someone is pressuring you to take on a task, ask yourself: “Is this something I really want to do?” If not, do yourself a favour and politely decline. It can be especially hard to say no in the workplace if your supervisor asks you to do extra work or to stay late. It’s okay to stay late every so often or to offer help when your workplace is shorthanded. But if you say “yes” every time you are asked, people will expect you to always agree to doing them favours, and you will end up feeling drained and burnt out.
Setting appropriate boundaries in the workplace is one way of avoiding burnout, but being able to say no to social plans when you're exhausted is just as important. Don’t push yourself to accommodate others’ plans just because you are afraid of disappointing them. And if saying no to others continues to be difficult for you, try working on assertiveness with a counsellor.
5. Talk with your supervisor
If you’re experiencing workplace burnout, consider discussing the matter with your supervisor. It may be challenging to share with someone else how stressed you are, but it is essential. If you don’t feel comfortable telling a supervisor you are feeling burnt out, try going to HR instead. Burnout syndrome is pervasive, and it is more than likely you are not the first person at your workplace to need help addressing it.
6. See a counsellor
Bottling up your emotions just adds to the amount of stress you experience. Speaking with a counsellor can be beneficial for many reasons, including the fact that the counsellor can teach you stress management techniques that will help you recover from burnout. Therapy can also help you to problem-solve, develop coping skills, and to discover what led to the burnout you are experiencing. It is crucial to speak with a therapist if you are experiencing feelings of hopelessness and depression, which can be the result of prolonged burnout.
Many of the strategies for recovering from burnout also apply to preventing it. Creating sustainability and engaging in actions that encourage self-preservation are key when it comes to preventing burnout. Here are 5 strategies to help prevent burnout:
1. Stick to a routine
Sticking to a regular daily schedule can help you feel more in control of your life and better manage your stress. Research has consistently shown benefits to keeping a daily schedule that contains a balance of work and restorative activities. The benefits of a regular routine include lowered stress and better health, and it will also help you be more productive at work. For some tips on how to break old bad habits and create new healthier ones, check out our blog here.
2. Take care of your physical health
You often hear about the importance of diet and exercise: these are for good reasons and backed by research. Exercise is a mood booster, which is extremely important for maintaining mental health and coping with stress. In addition, exercise sharpens mental focus, improves mental and physical stamina, and also helps improve sleep which can be impacted when you are burned out.
Pro Tip: It is recommended that adults receive approximately 150 minutes of physical activity each week, or roughly 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. This sounds like a lot, and it is if you have little to no exercise as part of your current routine. Start small and manageable, slowly working your way up to more physical activity. Perhaps 15 minutes, 3 days a week feels more comfortable to you right now- some activity is better than no activity. Get creative and incorporate added activity and movement into your daily tasks, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking farther away or doing jumping jacks when you get out of bed or off the couch. You could even do some stretching or light yoga while watching TV!
3. Don’t be afraid to take a mental health day
While it’s widely acknowledged that people should stay home from work when they are physically sick, mental health days don’t always have the same acceptability. We often forget that mental health is just as important as physical health. If your mental health is struggling, so will your work performance. It can then be a vicious cycle where reduced work performance can make us feel bad about ourselves, thereby increasing stress and negatively feeding the cycle. Taking a day off, whether scheduled ahead of time or even calling off work, is sometimes necessary to prevent burnout.
4. Reduce exposure to job stress
Chronic and prolonged stress is what led to burnout in the first place (along with other contributing factors), so it only makes sense that preventing burnout involves reducing the amount of stress in our lives. Here are some tips to prevent burnout surrounding the most common workplace stressors:
Interpersonal conflict – Try to steer clear of coworkers who create drama. And don’t participate in workplace gossip; avoiding it will help ensure you don’t become someone’s enemy or spread unfounded rumours. This is also important for leaving work at work and not blurring social/personal boundaries.
Disorganization – Being disorganized can make work difficult. Still, there are various strategies that can help you, such as colour-coding files, using post-it notes, and organizing your desk at the end of the day. Check out our blog post for more tips to help you boost productivity and ultimately manage your stress better to prevent burnout.
Multitasking – Despite what you might think, people aren't meant to multitask. Trying to do too many things at the same leads to decreased efficiency, overwhelm, disorganization, and unnecessary stress. In fact, multitasking has been shown to increase emotional strain and exhaustion as well as burnout. Slow down, focus on one thing at a time; you will be more efficient and productive, and therefore, less stressed.
Physical discomfort – Simply sitting at work too long can lead to physical discomfort. Stand up every so often to stretch your legs, or better yet, take a short walk, using the stairs if possible. Moving your body throughout the day is a great stress management tip to help reset and clear your mind so that you aren't as drained by the end of the day.
5. Social support
To prevent or cope with burnout, maintain your social connections and don't be afraid to lean on them for support (you are not a burden!). The Covid-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for people to carry on much of a social life, but doing so is imperative. If you cannot meet with a friend or family member in person, talk to them over the phone or by Facetime or Zoom. Feeling lonely only makes burnout worse. If you struggle to meet friends, try out a new hobby such as an art or exercise class or there are even Apps designed to help people find new connections and make friends.
The Bottom Line
Burnout syndrome can develop over periods of prolonged stress and can be difficult to manage. But with these tips you can overcome burnout and prevent it from happening again in the future. Focus on implementing a good self-care routine in your life; and maintain healthy boundaries with supervisors, friends, and families. Sometimes you have to put yourself first, and that is perfectly okay. Ongoing counselling support can also help you maintain your mental health and ultimately prevent burnout. If you'd like to speak to a one of our Barrie therapists or online counsellors to help you overcome burnout, book online today to get started.
Our team of online and in-person Barrie counsellors provide quality and effective counselling services in Barrie and virtually across Ontario to individuals (6+), couples and families. We also offer an Affordable Therapy Program that provides counselling services in Barrie to individuals (12+) who are facing financial challenges that need mental health support.