Updated on 9/15/2022
Unfortunately, burnout has become a common issue in our society and is often experienced by all kinds of people at all levels of organizations. Burnout is typically associated with feelings of being unmotivated, exhausted, or overworked with long hours and can stem from unsupportive management, conflict, or low pay. It’s worth noting that burnout isn’t solely related to work environments. People can burn out in any aspect of life dealing with chronic stress and pressure.
Whether it’s familial or job burnout, severe burnout can affect a person’s mental health, work life balance, and well-being. Burnout hurts productivity, but the effects go much deeper than just a lack of efficiency. It can also have lasting health impacts, increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease, depression, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
Because burnout can creep up on you and become the new normal, it’s important to become aware of the signs. Then you can identify the issue, make adjustments, and plan to recover. If you don’t act early on, burnout generally gets worse. Learn some of the common signs and how to recover from burnout so you can properly heal.
Recognize the Signs
First and foremost, you must recognize the signs of burnout. The most common burnout signs people experience include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irritability and frustration
- Difficulty maintaining personal and professional relationships
- Physical problems such as muscle pain or headaches
- Lack of pride in your work
- Lack of motivation
Once you’re aware of what to look for, learning how to recover from burnout becomes much easier.
1. Find the Source
After you know the common signs of burnout, you can then work on identifying the source or sources. Burnout recovery will only work if you first recognize and address the root causes.
Burnout often occurs from triggers in the workplace, but it can also affect anyone with ongoing relationship problems, caregivers, or students with a rigorous, demanding schedule. Regardless of the cause, you can learn how to heal from burnout.
While the possible sources of burnout take many different forms, a general theme is that the person suffering is expected — either by others or through the pressure they put on themselves — to give more than they can, causing internal conflict. You might be spread too thin across different projects, have deadlines that aren’t realistic, or be unrealistic about what you can and can’t accomplish.
Everyone’s source will differ, but identifying it is a critical first step to recovery.
2. Seek Immediate Changes
Once you find the primary source(s) of your burnout, you should do everything you can to make immediate changes to reduce your stress.
Accepting that you can’t do it all is challenging, especially if you’re a people pleaser or a driven go-getter. However, asking for help when you’re feeling overwhelmed is an important part of recovering from burnout.
For example, if your workload and work hours are causing prolonged stress and making you feel overwhelmed, you could ask your manager to reassign some projects or tasks. Hopefully, by asking for help, you will garner some immediate relief.
3. Engage in Physical Activities
Any form of physical activity can reduce any type of stress. It doesn’t have to mean vigorous exercise, either. It can be simple ways to get yourself moving.
- Try stretching, even at your desk or from your chair.
- Take a short stroll outside. Getting outdoors and fresh air can do wonders to reset your energy. Most people with burnout find that the harmful effects of chronic stress are significantly reduced with any exercise, regardless of how strenuous.
- You could also try group exercise, which helps foster social relationships and encourages better sleeping habits — another essential part of burnout recovery.
4. Connect With Your Social Circle
Another way to counteract burnout is by giving yourself a break and spending time with friends and family. Taking time to be social helps recharge your batteries so you can be more resilient to the stressors in your life.
- You can plan social activities, which are a great way to improve your sense of well-being and de-stress. When you’re social and surround yourself with people you care about, you have a support system that offers an outlet to vent about stress in a safe space.
5. Make a Larger Change
Burnout can cause you to feel powerless, especially if the root causes are deadlines, managers or customers, or expectations that feel outside your control. You experience physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion from the weight of your responsibilities. It might seem easier or tempting just to try accepting that you’re stuck in your situation. The reality is that your life can be significantly improved when you make strides for change.
- You might change your workload, prioritizing what needs to be done and what can be set aside. Then delegate any extra tasks that need immediate attention.
- You can also change your work-life balance. Once you leave work or school, focus on spending time with your family or friends and create boundaries for work emails or calls. Work-life balance is imperative for burnout recovery.
- If your burnout comes from home responsibilities, make me-time a priority. Give yourself dedicated time each day or week for self-care. Do something you love — read a book, take a bath, work out, or meet up with friends.
“Taking both a prevention and intervention approach, to both prevent burnout and intervene if you’re feeling burned out, is encouraged. Ask yourself what are your top 3 favorite healthy stress management practices? For example, if you like guided meditations and don’t have much time, you can try taking 1 minute to take 5 deep belly breaths every day, as deep breathing helps activate our parasympathetic nervous system response, bringing our bodies out of ‘fight or flight’ and into more of a ‘rest, digest, and relax’ mode. Give it a try now and see how you feel.”
6. Set Boundaries
As mentioned above, setting boundaries is a powerful and necessary way to prevent or recover from burnout. While you can always delegate extra tasks to others, setting limits ahead of time is better to keep your life and responsibilities more manageable.
Before you agree to take on a project, take a moment to review the assignment and assess what you currently have on your plate. Decide whether you have the time to dedicate to the task before accepting it.
This only works if you’re comfortable saying no, so it’s important to work on your confidence in turning things down. Remember, someone else’s needs are never more important than yours, and you should always put yourself first, especially if you’re dealing with burnout.
7. Talk to a Therapist
When burnout has already affected your quality of life, it can be hard to confront it head-on. However, a mental health professional will help you identify the causes and learn how to recover from burnout.
If left untreated, burnout can develop into depression, so it’s especially vital to talk to a therapist if you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide, feelings of hopelessness, or a persistently low mood. A therapist can help you distinguish the differences between burnout vs depression and talking to one is a significant step in burnout recovery. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common, effective way to manage burnout.
“When I work with clients who are noticing signs of burnout such as feeling unmotivated or irritable, we use a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach to looking at any automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) that are contributing to burnout. For example, if someone struggles with people-pleasing or perfectionism, working with a therapist to understand where this came from and what can be done about it can be one way to manage burnout symptoms.”
Recovering from Burnout Through Therapy
Burnout runs deeper than typical stress, so its impact can permeate almost all areas of your life. For this reason, recovery can feel impossible for many people.
However, it is possible to overcome burnout, especially if you start therapy. Not only is this a treatable condition, but you can learn how to heal from burnout and make changes in your life so that you don’t fall into the same patterns in the future.
How can therapy help with the effects of burnout?
Therapy may help you identify the most challenging aspects of burnout and determine the root causes. Then you can focus on reducing the negative burnout symptoms and find coping tools to use moving forward.
Many types of therapies are available for people with burnout, but some might work better than others for different people.
According to research, some of the types of therapies used to treat burnout include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Adjuvant pharmacotherapy
- Holistic therapies like music or body-mind therapy
A licensed therapist can help you manage burnout symptoms by helping you first understand the cause of your burnout (work, personal, or social). Once you understand this, you can work towards recognizing any red flags for burnout, so you make healthier choices. An experienced therapist can also help you understand the importance of self-care and give you ways to implement them in your daily life.
Talkspace offers one-on-one online therapy for individuals with burnout. Treatment is not only affordable and convenient, but it’s accessible to anyone — all you need is an internet connection. We’ll help you with coping strategies and teach you how to avoid burnout in the future. Learn more about how Talkspace can help you as you begin recovering from burnout today.
1. Melamed S, Shirom A, Toker S, Berliner S, Shapira I. Burnout and risk of cardiovascular disease: Evidence, possible causal paths, and promising research directions. Psychol Bull. 2006;132(3):327-353. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.132.3.327. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16719565/. Accessed August 17, 2022.
2. Koutsimani P, Montgomery A, Georganta K. The Relationship Between Burnout, Depression, and Anxiety: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Front Psychol. 2019;10. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00284. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00284/full?fbclid=IwAR2a7Cpq9sEcWK6z-Pv7QZzox3fUAp5vsLo_fLTKzMKEfAOEn_1s-1K28uQ. Accessed August 17, 2022.
3. May R, Seibert G, Sanchez-Gonzalez M, Fincham F. School burnout and heart rate variability: risk of cardiovascular disease and hypertension in young adult females. Stress. 2018;21(3):211-216. doi:10.1080/10253890.2018.1433161. https://fincham.info/papers/2018-stress-hrv.pdf. Accessed August 17, 2022.
4. Melamed S, Shirom A, Toker S, Shapira I. Burnout and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Prospective Study of Apparently Healthy Employed Persons. Psychosom Med. 2006;68(6):863-869. doi:10.1097/01.psy.0000242860.24009.f0. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Sharon-Toker/publication/6665508_Burnout_and_Risk_of_Type_2_Diabetes_A_Prospective_Study_of_Apparently_Healthy_Employed_Persons/links/5ef1dcfd458515814a7760a1/Burnout-and-Risk-of-Type-2-Diabetes-A-Prospective-Study-of-Apparently-Healthy-Employed-Persons.pdf. Accessed August 17, 2022.
5. Korczak D, Wastian M, Schneider M. Therapy of the burnout syndrome. GMS Health Technol Assess. 2012;8(5). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3434360. Accessed August 17, 2022.