Restore / Wellbeing

How To Recover from Burnout: Reset and Move Forward

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Research Based

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how to recover from burnout

Written by Mona Freund
Reviewed by Jennifer Paulino, MPH

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You hit the snooze button one more time and realize you’re already running late. By the time you make it to your desk, you’re still in your pajamas, but at least you have a hot cup of coffee for emotional support. But once you see the red notifications in your email inbox, you’re overcome with a feeling of depletion.

Maybe it’s just one of those Mondays. But if you still feel like this by Wednesday, and then also by Friday, it’s more likely that your fire is low: You’re burned out. If you’re able, now is the perfect time for you to take a step back and prioritize your mental health over your email inbox.

We’ll cover the most common symptoms of burnout, how to relight your fire, and what you can do to build resilience so you never feel this way again.

What Causes Burnout?

People’s implicit motives, or their unconscious needs, play an important part in the development of burnout icon-trusted-source Frontiers “Burnout is caused by mismatch between unconscious needs and job demands” View Source , according to researchers at the German universities of Zürich and Leipzig. 

what causes burnout

Scientists focused on two motives in their research: the power motive and the affiliation motive. The power motive applies to how you feel you’re carrying out tasks. It may carry into anything from maintaining discipline at work to feeling strong and self-efficacious. The affiliation motive is all about the need for positive personal relationships that make people feel trusted and like they belong. 

If either or both of the two motives don’t align with someone’s job characteristics, there’s a high chance that the person will eventually experience burnout. In other words, if you feel like your professional goals or your personal relationships don’t align with the work you do regularly, why should you feel motivated to keep pushing?

Common Symptoms of Burnout

We all have days that leave us feeling exhausted. But at what point does that mean we’re burned out? These are some of the most common symptoms icon-trusted-source HelpGuide “Burnout Prevention and Treatment” View Source you can watch out for to identify early onsets of burnout:

1. You’re feeling emotionally depleted

Do you feel sad, overwhelmed, or stressed by things that usually don’t bother you, or things that even brought you joy at one point? Feeling emotionally depleted is one of the most common symptoms of burnout and can apply to more than just your job.

Suddenly, things like reading books or gardening after work can feel like an extra chore and you resort to scrolling through social media until your battery runs out.

2. Your body feels tired and exhausted

If you’re burned out, your body may also feel more tired and get exhausted more easily. Getting out of bed in the morning may get harder for you, you may feel too tired to get your daily workout in. This can put you in a cycle of constantly feeling tired, but restless.

3. You’re lacking motivation

Maybe you’re trying to get work delivered on time or cooking a healthy dinner for yourself. When you’re burned out (or on the brink of burnout), these things may take so much more out of you than normal.

4. Your productivity has seen better days

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that your motivation is in the dumps. Feeling tired, exhausted, and emotionally depleted can drastically affect how productive you are at work.

Plus, once you fall behind on your tasks, catching up can feel overwhelming.

5. You feel lonely and isolated

Feeling behind on your tasks, a lack of motivation, or a constant sense of being tired or overwhelmed impacts more than your immediate chores. It could also make you more inclined to distance yourself from colleagues, friends, and family.

On top of that, you’re also more likely to snap at your loved ones, which can cause extra stressors in your personal life.

What Are The 6 Stages of Burnout Recovery?

If the symptoms above resonate with you, just know that it’s never too late to make changes. But it won’t be easy. Burnout recovery is a journey, not a streamlined program to get you back on the horse in no time.

According to burnout researcher Diane Bernier, the journey to recovery consists of six stages icon-trusted-source APA PsycNet “A study of coping: Successful recovery from severe burnout and other reactions to severe work-related stress.” View Source you’ll have to walk through one stage at a time:

  • Stage 1: Admit to yourself that you’re burned out. The first step in every recovery is always realizing that something isn’t serving you and you need to make a change. This can be hard, but it’s absolutely necessary for you to start your journey.
  • Stage 2: Distance yourself from the stressors. You can’t just keep going and expect things to change. Identify what’s stressing you out and take a break. If possible, request a leave of absence at work or take a few sick days so you can distance yourself. Of course, the ability to take a break is a huge privilege that not everyone has. But if you can take any action to minimize outside pressure in your life, that can help.
  • Stage 3: Restore your health. Do the things that will help you get back to your status quo: Catch up on sleep, exercise, nourish your body with healthy foods, socialize with the people you love—whatever it takes to get yourself out of the dump you’re currently in, do it.
  • Stage 4: Reevaluate your values. Once you feel like your brain and body are resetting a bit, take a real step back and think about what’s missing in your life. Is your job too overwhelming? Are you bored at work? Do you not have enough time with your loved ones or to yourself? Whatever it is that’s keeping you from feeling happy and alive, make sure that you’re defining and prioritizing your values.
  • Stage 5: Explore other options and possibilities. Now that you know what you’re missing and have identified what you need, explore these alternatives. For example, you could set clearer boundaries at work and close your laptop every day at 5:30 p.m. to spend time with your loved ones, regardless of whether the work got done or not. Or you could start looking for other jobs that align with your passions and interests. 
  • Stage 6: Take a break and make a change. Maybe you can return to your old job with a new mindset and things work out. Perhaps there are some changes that you can make at work (a new team, a new manager, a different project) that will help you feel better about your work-life balance. If you feel comfortable, let your manager know that what you’re dealing with is burnout. Advocating for yourself in this instance may help prevent future burnout.

9 Tips To Help You Through Burnout Recovery

Once you’ve admitted to yourself that you’re burned out and stepped away from the stressors you were able to indicate, you’ll have to find ways to restore balance to your health. 

Here are some activities and lifestyle changes you can try out to recover from burnout:

1. Keep Track of Your Stress Levels

You may be aware that you’re stressed. But we’re often not certain what exactly is causing our stress levels to shoot through the roof. Use an app like Daylio or get a bullet journal (we love the Archer & Olive notebooks) to keep track of your mood and figure out your patterns and stressors.

2. Try Journaling

Journaling can be an effective method to track your habits and mood in an analog and private way. Your journal is also a great place to think about your values and reflect on what matters to you in your career and personal life. Jot down thoughts, dreams, and plans to clear your mind.

Keeping a journal icon-trusted-source Kaiser Permanente “7 benefits of keeping a journal” View Source can help you track progress and growth (which can be super helpful on your journey to recovery), gain self-confidence, and reduce stress and anxiety.

3. Move Your Body

Exercise can improve your mental health icon-trusted-source Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing “Exercise: a neglected intervention in mental health care?” View Source . Moving your body may reduce depression and anxiety, improve your self-esteem, cognitive function, and your overall mood! 

You don’t have to buy much gear to start running or a yoga practice. Or, if you’re committed, you can set up a little home gym that fits your personal workout style.

4. Try Stress Management Techniques

Besides working out, there are other stress management techniques that you can try. Some people find that meditation and breathing exercises help them calm down icon-trusted-source UW Medicine “This Is Why Deep Breathing Makes You Feel So Chill” View Source when they’re overwhelmed.

Perhaps you can ask a partner to give you a calming massage with one of the stress relief lotions we’ve tested, or simply listen to a playlist that helps you take your mind off of things. Seeking care from a mental health professional will be a great resource to find out which stress management techniques work best for you.

5. Set Boundaries

Poor boundaries icon-trusted-source Psychology Today “Why Lack of Boundaries Can Lead To Burnout” View Source are one of the main reasons people end up with burnout. And it’s easy to see why: If you say yes to everything, you’re more likely to overwork yourself.

Talk to your manager about your workload or request to take a long weekend. Speak to your spouse or roommate about your stress levels and ask for more support with household chores. Open up to a friend so they can be your accountability buddy and help you get out of the house, exercise, or fill your fridge with healthy groceries. 

Set boundaries that protect your personal health and rely on your support system to get you through this difficult time.

6. Be Compassionate… With Yourself

Even if you’ve already admitted to yourself that you have burnout, it’s not that easy to be compassionate with yourself. After all, you trained yourself to power through and keep going no matter what. 

On your road to recovery, cut yourself some slack. It’s okay to just lounge on the couch when you’re having a rough day. It’s okay to call out of social plans you’ve made when you had more energy than you currently have. 

If you can, consider talking about it with a friend, too. You might feel like you’re the only one who feels this way, but chances are pretty good that someone close to you can relate. Starting a conversation about burnout can help normalize taking the time to recover.

7. Reset Your Sleep Schedule

Lack of sleep or an inconsistent sleep schedule can cause physical, mental, and emotional stress. When you’re constantly stressed about work, falling and staying asleep can become a real challenge.

Reset your sleep schedule by going to bed at the same time every night and engaging in a relaxing activity before bed—instead of scrolling through social media or working until midnight. When you start sleeping better, you may notice that other parts of your life become easier as well.

8. Nourish Your Body

When everything feels overwhelming, it may feel easier to DoorDash again than to cut up a healthy salad at home. (Besides, you need to actually have groceries in your fridge to cook at home in the first place.)

But nourishing meals are important to give your body and brain the fuel they need. If going to the grocery store creates an extra stressor in your life, try a meal kit (we tested the best mediterranean diet meal kits recently!) or grocery delivery instead.

9. Talk to a Professional

We already mentioned that a mental health professional can help you find stress management techniques. Besides identifying coping strategies and best ways to move forward, a life coach, counselor, or therapist will also lend an ear when you need to vent.

Keep in mind that if none of the strategies above work for you, you may be dealing with more than just burnout. A mental health professional will be able to give you expert advice and guidance.

How Long Does It Take To Recover From Burnout?

Just like how the symptoms vary for everyone and each person must find their own way of healing from burnout, the recovery length won’t be the same for everyone, either. 

If the interventions you apply work for you, you may feel better within a matter of weeks icon-trusted-source APA PsycNet “Learning how to recover from job stress: Effects of a recovery training program on recovery, recovery-related self-efficacy, and well-being.” View Source or months. Some research suggests that it can take one to three years icon-trusted-source APA PsycNet “A study of coping: Successful recovery from severe burnout and other reactions to severe work-related stress.” View Source . Either way, be kind to yourself, and just try what you can to recover—you may not be able to do everything, but in this case, your best is plenty. These small daily actions can make a big difference.

It’s important to walk through all six stages of the burnout recovery process to ensure that you’re healing your mind and body. A 2014 study found that engaging in regular social, physical, and low-cost activities will help your burnout recovery. So don’t forget to use the Ness app to collect points and reward yourself with health and wellness activities.

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