If you feel constantly drained by work, you’re not alone.
Always “feeling on” is a common experience. Burnout can feel like a never-ending experience, where there is never a long enough break to let you really recover from burnout.
In fact, the World Health Organization in 2019 acknowledged burnout as a work-related syndrome caused by “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” How to recover from burnout is, of course, the million dollar question. It’s not always easy to just take an extended vacation or find a new job.
Christina Maslach, a psychology professor and a researcher at the Healthy Workplaces Center at the University of California, Berkeley, studies burnout and says it’s “rampant.” She even helped develop a tool that measures the extent and patterns of burnout.
One survey found that 77% of 1,000 people surveyed said they experienced symptoms of burnout because of work, and the overwhelming majority of respondents said they didn’t feel their employers were doing enough to address those feelings.
The good news is that psychologists have studied the phenomenon enough that they have some solid advice on how to recover.
Signs you’re experiencing burnout might include:
- Changed sleep habits: Feeling exhausted or lacking energy.
- Trouble concentrating: Having issues with focusing on normal tasks or leaving tasks unfinished.
- Physical ailments: Migraines, body aches, and even having an upset stomach can be associated with long-term stress.
- Feeling extra cynical: Losing interest in your work, feeling a lack of passion.
There are lots of ways burnout may be presenting itself in your life, but getting through it is possible! It’s not just about taking some time to relax, it’s actually about finding solutions for burnout recovery that help in the short term and the long term.
Find a burnout buddy
Oftentimes, burnout can feel really isolating, either because we don’t have enough energy to ask for help or because we don’t want to feel like a burden to people around us (especially when they may also be stressed or busy).
But communicating to a friend or a trusted coworker can be the first step to climbing out of the pit.
Even if it’s just to say that you’re struggling to keep up with the daily grind, telling somebody how you feel can put it all in perspective and help you acknowledge your own feelings, which can be hard to do when you’re in the thick of burnout. If you’re doubting what you're feeling or that it’s valid, it can help to talk it out.
Think about it this way: If your best friend or colleague was feeling the same way you are, would you want to be there for them? If so, consider speaking up when you need help too. They may only be able to lend an ear, but sometimes that can make all the difference.
Create time for yourself
There’s some research that suggests just five minutes of daily meditation can alleviate the feelings of burnout. It’s all about replenishment, write University of Washington researchers Kira Schabram and Yu Tse Heng.
Five minutes a day - easy, right? Anyone who's ever tried to start a daily meditation routine knows finding those few minutes every day can actually feel rather difficult.
The trick, however, is to create sustainable routines. One five-minute meditation won’t solve your problems. Whatever you can make work — meditating before bed, box breathing between tasks or a longer evening walk — can help you create some time for yourself, which is often what people experiencing burnout lack most.
The time you do create for yourself — and make sure to put it on your schedule so you actually do it —is best spent for yourself only. Don’t make work calls during your walks, or read emails while taking a relaxing bath.
Creating boundaries for yourself can be difficult, but they’ll help you and your work in the long run. Like diet or exercise, recovering from burnout happens best over a longer period of time; not overnight.
Unplug from everything (or as much as possible)
Burnout often stems from feeling overworked for a long time. If your work email or Slack notification sounds send a chill down your spine, it’s maybe time to think about the best ways to unplug. Spend some time disconnected from the thing that has you feeling this way.
Easier said than done? Sometimes. But it’s also easy to make excuses to ourselves about why we shouldn’t disconnect.
If deleting your email app from your phone feels too uncomfortable, set ‘sleep’ hours so notifications are silent after a designated time. Try turning your phone on airplane mode for an hour or two, or leaving your phone at home while you go for a walk or out to lunch.
A whole weekend off-the-grid can serve as a bolder reset, and breaking that seal can help you to make more regular acts of unplugging much easier.
Remember that non-work activities can also contribute to feelings of burnout. If you're exhausted from work, you might not be in a great headspace to browse the day's headlines or scroll through Twitter. Skip it, and watch a funny movie or go for a walk instead.
Avoiding your phone first thing in the morning and just before bed are a good idea — out of sight, out of mind.
Offload where you can
If you consider yourself a perfectionist, you may be suffering from burnout. Perfectionists tend to take on way too much work because they want everything done a certain way. Having high standards isn’t a bad attribute, but when it starts affecting you and your work, it’s time to find a solution.
Offloading tasks is the best way to really take aim at burnout. It takes some of the load off immediately and, over time, helps you learn how to better delegate and rely on others — both great skills to have in the workplace. If the thought of doing less feels a little overwhelming, start with the Eisenhower Matrix. It’s all about smart planning.
Remember that offloading tasks can be temporary. Giving something up for now doesn't have to mean giving it up forever. When there is more room, you can always bring back in more things.
Acknowledge that there will always be some bad days
We all have them. Even when we do the work, bad burnout days are bound to happen. When they do, let yourself do the bare minimum.
If you can’t take a mental health day, then only do what you’re able to manage and accept that you’re doing your best under difficult circumstances. Taking a day to give into it can really help, even if it’s just to hold onto a little bit of energy to keep going.
Start the day by making a list of “musts” — be thoughtful — and anything that you can put off until tomorrow or next week should not be a priority. Making a plan so you can take it as easy as possible is the way to go.