In 30 seconds
Burnout is a state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by high levels of prolonged stress. It’s usually the result of working too much or too hard, and can make you feel emotionally overwhelmed or drained. But how to recover from burnout? Exercising, eating and sleeping well, journaling, and simply doing things you enjoy can all help. If you need it, talking to a therapist can be useful too.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a form of chronic stress, usually associated with overworking. It can have a range of physical, psychological, and emotional symptoms, affecting the way that you work, relate to others, and even see yourself.
According to a recent survey, 79% of UK employees have experienced burnout – with 35% of respondents reporting high or extreme levels of stress.
It’s a problem that can affect us all – even though studies show that men tend to experience lower levels of workplace stress than women. Yet burnout is not forever. There are many things you can do to make yourself feel better.
So, how to recover from burnout? Here we’re sharing some expert advice.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Burnout?
While it affects so many of us, burnout is still not yet a condition that is well understood. As the WHO outlines, it is not yet seen as a medical condition. As such, you may not be able to go to a doctor and receive an official medical diagnosis of “burnout”.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The signs of stress, anxiety, and fatigue associated with the condition are still very real.
Here are some of the signs of burnout you should look out for.
- Emotional exhaustion. Work takes it out of you – and being constantly around others does too. This can cause feelings such as a low mood, irritability, and not having mental space for others. Exhaustion is a common symptom of burnout.
- Physical symptoms. Burnout affects the body as much as the mind. If you’re chronically stressed or overworked, you may experience headaches, high blood pressure, sore muscles, or digestive problems.
- Low productivity. You shouldn’t feel obliged to be productive if you’re going through a period of job burnout. But if you’re noticing that you can’t concentrate or get things done, then it might be a sign that you are struggling.
- Low self-esteem. Studies have shown that the symptoms of burnout often go hand-in-hand with feelings of low self-worth and low levels of personal satisfaction.
- Loneliness. Research has revealed that burnout and job stress are often linked to feelings of loneliness. This is quite an urgent health problem, because loneliness has been found to be more damaging to your long-term health than obesity and alcohol abuse.
How to Recover from Burnout
Burnout recovery starts and ends with self-care. Rather than focusing on your work or the demands of others, refocus on your own needs – i.e. those of your body and mental health.
In practice, what does that mean? Here are strategies to follow to feel yourself again.
- Understand your stressors. Everyone has specific triggers that make your stress worse – whether that’s something work-related, or even just a late night. Knowing what effect different actions have on your mood will be the first step in making yourself feel better.
The end game here will be to avoid your stressors. But if you can put steps in place to reduce them to begin with, that’s great.
- Take time out. Work can make us unwell. As a result, taking some time away from it all may give us the capacity to recover. But a holiday won’t help your burnout all by itself. As one study from 2009 showed, unless you change your work habits, you’ll just return to stress and exhaustion afterwards.
Instead, work real off-time into your every day. Set boundaries, switch off emails, and stay away from the things that overwhelm you, during the evening, at weekends, or throughout the week.
- Focus on what you like. Doing the things we like rejuvenates us. That can mean things outside of work – such as cycling, cooking, or watching movies. But it can also mean tasks related to work too. You do have the power to ask your boss if you can focus on parts of your work you enjoy more.
- Exercise. Physical activity holds a lot of power for our well-being. It has been found to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. And it is also known to improve low self-esteem and social withdrawal. Working regular exercise into your daily routine will help. Doctors recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.
- Optimise your sleep. It should come as no surprise that working late nights – or lying in bed worrying about work – will have a big impact on your wellbeing. Sleep is one of the most important things we can do, for both our mental and physical health, and getting enough sleep will be crucial to your burnout recovery. Aim for 7-9 hours a day.
Find out more: How to Sleep Better: 20 Essential Tips
- Put work in its place. You may have had the expression “work-life balance”. While it’s very much a buzzword, there’s an important idea behind it: work shouldn’t take over your life. Now, studies have shown that the boundaries between work and not-work became a little blurred for many during the pandemic. But setting a clear distinction in your workday is essential. It’s just not healthy to work all the time.
- Improve your diet. According to one study, poor diets are responsible for more deaths than smoking. It also found, unsurprisingly, that fruit and whole grains are absolutely fundamental for our overall health.
Don’t rush over your meal times. Instead, try to carve out time in your day to really enjoy the things you eat.
- Try stress management strategies. There are many techniques out there that can be helpful in boosting your mental health. Try meditation or mindfulness – or simply breathing exercises or writing your thoughts down.
Journaling, for example, can help. Find out more here: Will Journaling Help Reduce My Stress Levels?
- Reach out to others. Talk to others – friends, family members, or colleagues. One of the important symptoms of burnout is the feeling of isolation. Coming out into the world and reconnecting with people will make a difference.
- Talk to a professional. Finally, there should be no stigma around seeking medical help for your mental health. Your GP or a mental health charity like Mind will help.
Research shows that burnout affects the majority of employees. But there are ways to recover from burnout if it affects you. Changing your lifestyle to include more sleep, exercise, and social connections will be your starting point. But professionals are always there to help if you need them.
Can You Fully Recover from Burnout?
Yes, you can fully recover from burnout. While it is a time characterised by severe emotional exhaustion, it will pass.