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Burnout Reset - How to Get Back on Your Feet Quickly

Whether you’re a hard-working professional, a struggling parent, or a chronic busybody, you’re all too familiar with high levels of stress and the physical and mental exhaustion that follows. Some of us learn to balance stress by finding meaning and fulfillment in other areas of our lives. Many others are not so lucky, and we end up feeling overwhelmed and exhausted for so long that these feelings become part of our daily lives. Enter burnout.

What is burnout?

Burnout can be tricky, as people often realize they’re burnt out when they’re already feeling too tired to function or even think about change. The Dictionary of Psychology defines burnout as “physical, emotional or mental exhaustion, accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance and negative attitudes towards oneself and others.”
For many, working hard and staying busy is a way of life. Such people may not realize when their work-life balance gets upset or they start doing too much.
Burnout Recovery man covering head
Although it’s not technically considered a medical condition in the US, burnout can have a serious and far-reaching impact on one’s life. Apart from affecting your work and how much you enjoy your free time and hobbies, burnout can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, and other health concerns.

Burnout is often discussed in the context of professional life. However, other aspects of daily life, such as education, relationships, or just doing too much overall, can lead to it too.

If the definition of burnout resonates with your experiences, read on. Here we discuss recovery from burnout and ways to restore your motivation and energy levels post-burnout.

Identify the signs of burnout

This is the first step to recovery. Pay close attention to the following symptoms:

1. It’s difficult for you to enjoy and look forward to things

Have you forgotten the last time you felt proud and accomplished with your work, or looked forward to the weekend? A lack of motivation is a big sign of burnout. If it drags on, you may even lose sight of long-term goals and a sense of self.

2. You feel mentally drained

In some people, this manifests through difficulties being present in conversations with loved ones and coworkers, whereas in others, it may look like irritability and frustration. You may also get tired of doing activities that usually give you joy, such as hobbies.

Burnout Recovery

3. You are physically exhausted

Burnout can impact you physically, not only mentally. It all begins with feeling more exhausted and sleepy than usual. Then it grows into unexplained physical symptoms, such as muscle pain and tension, chronic fatigue, or even insomnia.

4. You’re not as alert and productive as you used to be

You may have issues keeping up with your schedule at work and in life in general. You may also feel like you’ve been rather forgetful, and catching up on missed tasks feels overwhelming.

5. You feel lonely

When you’re in a constant battle of catching up with tasks and constant exhaustion, you may lose sight of more pleasant activities, including socializing with friends and family. This can make you feel very isolated and misunderstood.

Learn more about the symptoms of burnout here - How to Know If You're Headed For Burnout.

Burnout Recovery 101 - what can you do?

Burnout Recovery woman confused at work

Burnout can make you feel helpless and hopeless, but remember one key fact: It's never too late to change. Many people have successfully overcome burnout, and so can you. 

Recovering from burnout takes mental work and mindfulness. According to psychologist and researcher Diane Bernier, recovery from severe burnout is a slow journey; it can take as long as 1-3 years. Hence, it’s beneficial to catch it at an earlier stage in order to shorten the recovery time to mere weeks or months.

According to Bernier, every burnout recovery journey is divided into six steps:

1. Recognize that you’re burned out.
2. Identify the stressors and distance yourself from them if possible.
3. Catch up on beneficial habits, such as sleep, healthy eating, socializing, and exercise.
4. Define your value system and identify what makes you feel alive and happy.
5. Align your habits with your interests. 
6. Embrace change with a new mindset.

With all of these steps in mind, here are a few practical tips for you to consider:

Find out the cause of your burnout 

Burnout Recovery stressed woman

Most commonly, burnout is related to your occupation. However, a demanding or stressful job isn’t the only possible cause. Relationship issues, an academic career, caring for loved ones with special needs, or just trying to do too much at the same time can all lead to burnout.

For example, many people are juggling work, education, and parenting at the same time, and when the delicate balance between these tasks gets upset, things can become overwhelming. Try and identify the triggers of your stress, even if they're vague, as your further work will target those areas in your life.

Identify what you can change right away

Take a few tasks off your plate. You may already know how you can do that. For example, you can ask your supervisor to assign one of your tasks to someone else.

However, some may feel too overwhelmed to identify those areas, so here’s a list of ways to clear your schedule:

  • Prioritize tasks: identify what needs to be done right away, and which tasks can wait for a few days or even weeks. Also, avoid making new optional commitments until you feel better.
  • Set boundaries. Learn to leave work at work, and home tasks and conversations at home.
  • Delegate tasks to others, e.g. passing some chores to someone else in the family.

Reach out to friends and loved ones

Burnout Recovery friends talking

Sometimes, you’re too stressed out and tired to even begin addressing burnout. That’s part of the story for many people, and the reason why many resist seeking recovery. This is a good time to reach out for a helping hand, be it from a family member, your best friend, or a neighbor. Anyone you really trust is fit for the job.

So what should they do? Brainstorm ways to help you get back on your feet and feel less overwhelmed. This takes courage and vulnerability, but the advantage of talking to someone who knows you is that they will help you find solutions that work for you.

Learn to pause and relax

This is easier said than done – especially if you’re a busybody. However, this skill is paramount for your recovery from burnout, as well as prevention in the future. If you’re acutely burned out and need a break, take a few days off work if possible. You can also meditate, spend more time with your hobbies, and just do nothing for at least a few minutes every day.

However, a luxury like that isn’t available to everyone. If you don’t have much free time in the day, you can practice a bit of self-compassion and self-care. At the base level, this means maintaining a healthy routine: getting enough sleep, eating healthy, moving or exercising, and talking to friends and family. Over time, your routine will bring some much-needed reliability and ease to your life.

Keep a journal

Burnout Recovery woman writing

Few people truly enjoy keeping a journal, and we get it – it’s just another task that devours your free time. However, journaling has proven to be especially beneficial for people who experience burnout and find it difficult to identify its causes. Journaling is also an effective way to track your growth.

Write down a little bit about your day and how it makes you feel. Read your journal every month or week – this can bring you closer to finding the cause of your burnout.

Remember what brings you joy

People experiencing severe burnout can feel so exhausted and joyless that it becomes difficult for them to remember what used to make them happy. When you’re pursuing a joyless career path every day for decades, it’s easy to see how that happens.

To gain back an interest in life, try and recall activities that spark joy in your life. For some, it will be an abandoned hobby or even a meeting with friends you keep postponing. Even small things like relaxing in a bubble bath can be part of this list.


Burnout Recovery therapy

Severe burnout can trigger a lot of negative feelings, such as sadness, helplessness, and a loss of a sense of self. These are hard feelings to process on your own, and it’s always a smart idea to address them systematically and intelligently with a professional therapist or counselor.

If you can’t shake the negative feelings related to burnout, it is also possible that you’re experiencing something more than just burnout, e.g. anxiety or depression. A therapist will be able to identify these conditions and get you the treatment you require.

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