How to Recover From Burnout: 10 ways to reset your work life for the better
What is burnout?
You’re woken by the piercing sound of your 7:00 am alarm clock. You groan and roll over, hitting snooze just one more time. Your first thought is - “Oh no, I have to do it again today.”
You finally manage to get dressed, inhale a quick on-the-go breakfast, and make it to the office. But when you sit down at your desk, every task seems like it’s a treacherous hike up a never-ending mountain. You struggle to concentrate, are easily agitated, frustrated, and oh so moody. You tell yourself, “This is normal work stress, there’s nothing to worry about because everyone feels this way.”
If you can picture yourself in this scene, you’re likely experiencing burnout - a mental state stemming from chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been successfully managed. But it’s not your fault because in today’s standard, the ‘hustle culture’ is the norm. There’s no longer a clear distinction between over-working and success, and we’re awarded medals for being productive and staying busy.
So how can you tell if you’re burnt out? And if you are, what are your next steps to recover and prevent future burnouts? In this blog, we’ll cover those questions and so much more.
Burnout symptoms: what are the telltale signs of burnout?
Burnout is a special type of stress - it’s the state of mental exhaustion that involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity. You might start to think that you’re terrible at your job, that your work is insignificant, or just feel insecure about your position in general. Watch out, these thoughts are all signs of burnout! Read on to learn more about the symptoms of burnout.
💤 Mental exhaustion - Mental exhaustion has been defined by WebMD as “physical tiredness, but in your mind instead of your muscles.” It feels like there is a foggy glass between your thoughts and the task at hand. Mental exhaustion tends to sneak up on you while focusing on a tolling assignment for too long or when you’re constantly stressed out.
👿 Bad moods - Burnouts tend to make you undeniably angry and short-tempered. When you feel stressed, small things that wouldn’t usually bother you can make you feel more annoyed or agitated. The tension makes it more difficult to regulate emotions, causing you to become more sensitive in certain situations.
😨 More worries - Being mentally exhausted also affects your sympathetic nervous system which is your fight or flight mode. When triggered, it sends an alarm that tells your body that something is wrong. If you’re always burnt out, you may start to feel panicked or worried about other things that would normally be no big deal.
🦥 Low productivity - There’s no doubt that everyone’s productivity fluctuates, it’s totally normal. However, during a burnout, it can be harder to concentrate. You might be easily distracted, miss deadlines, forget important dates, etc. Even small tasks might seem daunting at this moment.
🍗 Unhealthy eating habits - Burnout can change your appetite in different ways. You might snack more often, not pay attention to what you eat, or opt for more unhealthy options. Stress also causes the body to crave sugary, salty, and fatty foods. In other cases, some people lose their appetite altogether.
😥 Feelings of sadness - You may start to feel less energetic or like you’re moving in slow motion. Some people describe this feeling as ‘numbness,’ and find it hard to finish things at work or even do daily activities.
A never-ending cycle: the 5 stages of burnout
When left unregulated, burnout follows a pattern: First, you’re in the honeymoon phase, where you’re feeling motivated and happy with your job. You enjoy your work and feel confident in your abilities. Second, there is an onset of stress and you begin to notice that work is a little less enjoyable. Third, the stress has heightened and begins to affect the way you work, see situations, and interact with people. After this phase, you’re fully burnt out. You’re mentally exhausted, you feel a sense of reduced accomplishment and you’ll start to think you’re slacking at work or that you’re not a key asset to the team.
While these feelings might feel overwhelming, they’re only temporary and don’t reflect you or your work ethic. You just need a break and a little more balance.
The next section will cover 10 ways to recover from burnout. If you are consistent with these habits, you can break the cycle of burnout so you won’t experience it again.
Your comeback: How to recover from burnout
In most cases, burnout stems from stress. So to recover from burnout, and to prevent it in the future, it’s important to know how to manage this feeling. It’s important to remember that the perception of stress is highly individualized. What stresses you out may not phase your friend and vise-versa. Essentially, what matters most is not what happens to you, but how you react to what happens to you. Here is some advice on how to recover and manage your stress.
1. Track your stress levels
Workplace stress is a part of everyday life. We can avoid some of the unnecessary stress through our actions and choices, but we all will experience it at some point. Whether this stress motivates you or discourages you, all depends on how you manage stress in general.
One modern way to manage stress levels is with technology: smartwatches, monitors, etc. They usually track your heart rates and provide feedback. These devices are helpful because they make us more aware of the types of scenarios that cause stress, which encourages us to change our behavior.
If you’d rather opt for the more old-fashioned way, tracking your stress through journaling is another option. Writing a short entry talking about your day, certain events, and how you’re feeling can be extremely helpful in detecting where your stress originates.
2. Create healthy habits
A large part of managing stress levels is creating healthy habits that balance your work and personal life. One of the most common excuses for poor balancing habits is convenience. You’ve probably heard friends and family say, “I work 40 hours a week, I don’t have the time to exercise, eat nourishing meals, socialize, and focus on my mental health.” But that sounds a bit silly, right? To use working as a justification for toxic habits?
There are some ways to create an equilibrium between work and life. It will look different for every person, but here are some ideas which can help you recover from burnout:
- Have set work hours and stick to them
- Only check work emails during working hours
- Pause notifications when out of the office
- Take your full lunch break
- Enjoy your vacation time
3. Seek professional help
If your burnout becomes unmanageable, it is always a good idea to get help from a professional. They can help you better understand and handle the wide array of thoughts and emotions that can arise from workplace stress. Explore the different types of mental health services, ranging from hypnosis, talk therapy, and biofeedback (just to name a few!).
The key to your head is your heart! Aerobic exercises are a great way to decrease stress levels. Activities like swimming, running, cycling, dancing, skiing, and skating are just some examples. Aerobic-heavy exercise reduces the level of the body’s stress hormones. It stimulates the production of feel-good endorphins that are proven mood elevators. Nearly every type of exercise can assist with stress regulation, even if they aren’t cardio-based. Yoga, walking, and weight lifting are some excellent options.
If you’re not the sporty type, you can also ‘exercise’ your mind by meditating. There are a ton of free resources online that can guide you through a meditation practice. Meditation can reduce anxiety, chronic pain, depression, and can help alleviate the symptoms of burnout
5. Do what you enjoy
Having a hobby or finding something that you enjoy doing minimizes the impact of workplace burnout. Fun activities act as an outlet for stress and are something to look forward to after a hard day at work.
6. Read about stress management
Knowledge is power! If you know the symptoms to look for, you can better understand the situations that put your body under stress. There are so many resources available on this topic, from books and blog guides to youtube videos and even classes.
7. Reduce your caffeine intake
What does stress have to do with caffeine? Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, tea, energy drinks, and even sodas. High levels of caffeine can increase stress and anxiety. If you’re feeling particularly stressed, try and cut down on these sorts of drinks so your body can recover from burnout naturally.
8. Eat a healthy diet
When you experience ongoing stress, your body releases hormones that increase junk food cravings. If this stress continues for a while, these hormones remain elevated and your body simultaneously increases the amount of leptin in your system. Leptin is the hormone that tells your brain that you’re full of food and that you’ve had enough to eat.
Luckily, knowing which foods to munch on when you’re feeling stressed can help get these hormones under control. Try to fill up on warm and soothing foods, dark chocolate, whole-grain carbs, fish, nuts, and vitamin-rich fruits and veggies.
9. Get enough sleep
Stress and sleeping patterns are very closely intertwined. Workplace burnout can affect the quality of your sleep, leading to lasting physical and mental problems that translate into your everyday life. Try to stick to a sleeping schedule where you get at least 8 hours of solid shut-eye. Setting a reminder to get to bed, abstaining from caffeinated beverages in the afternoon, and reading before bed are ways to make this transition a little easier.
10. Go on a vacation or a staycation
Taking a few days to fully recover from your burnout is a perfect way to recharge and find inspiration again. Plan to go somewhere new, whether that’s another location or even a different spot somewhere in your own town. Taking time to relax and enjoy yourself will benefit your overall stress levels.