How to recover from burnout

5 helpful stress management techniques

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You may be familiar with the classic symptoms of burnout. When colleagues feel overwhelmed each time a new request comes their way, they’re not engaged in office culture, and they’re uncharacteristically underperforming – it’s likely they're experiencing burnout.

You may even be suffering from your own symptoms of burnout. Reaching this point of chronic stress may take months or even years, but it could also come on quicker, stemming from overwhelming stress at work or in your personal life. Catching burnout early is ideal, but it’s never too late to work towards recovery. So, let’s talk about how you and your team can recover from burnout with stress management techniques.

1. Proper sleep is key to recovering from burnout

Sleep can be one of the first healthy habits neglected on the road to burnout. For many who find themselves in the drained state of burnout, chances are a lack of sleep may have amplified their emotional and physical symptoms. It’s a bit of a catch-22 since a lack of sleep will make feeling emotionally exhausted more likely and the high stress from burnout can often lead to difficulties getting the proper rest to recover.

“Less than six hours of sleep at night makes you 2.5x more likely to have serious mental distress,” says Jen Foley, Director of Clinical Partnerships at Spring Health, during Guardian’s webinar on strategies for better sleep and mental health.

When feeling like there are so many things to get done, it can seem like there’s no time for sleep. But repeatedly grinding into the late hours of the night will lead to sleep deprivation, which has some serious downsides, including impaired performance, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and poor mental health.1

Taking the time to set yourself up for sleep success can help to with burnout recovery by improving well-being. The physical symptoms of insufficient sleep include low energy levels, anxiety, exhaustion, depression, and the ability to handle stress.2 To help you perform optimally and cope with feeling physically depleted from burnout, a big part of the daily recovery when learning how to recover from burnout is prioritizing better sleep.

How to recover from burnout: Tips and tricks for better sleep

  • Timing. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day to get your body in a rhythm. Create a regular sleep routine — take a warm bath, read, or listen to relaxing music before bed to tell your body it’s time for rest.
  • Bedroom space. Keep your bedroom cool and the temperature consistent. ​Make sure your bed is comfortable and supportive for your body. ​Keep work outside of the bedroom. Make sure you can block out light from outside. Use a white noise machine if it tends to be loud.
  • Bed behaviors. Use your bed for sleep; use another room to watch TV, eat, and work. ​If you can’t fall asleep or go back to sleep in 20 minutes, get up and do something boring until you feel drowsy.​ Avoid excessive screen time before bed.
  • Consumption. Try having a light snack before bed (yogurt, banana, etc.).​ Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, and heavy, spicy, or sugary foods late in the day. ​Try to increase physical activity earlier in the day.​ Keep naps to under 30 minutes​.

2. Find ways to manage stress to recover from burnout

Having a toolkit of techniques to manage stress can help maintain an even keel when confronted with triggering moments. When battling burnout, even a task that’s a part of someone’s normal job responsibilities can cause them to feel overwhelmed. To help stop stress in its tracks and prevent burnout from getting worse, apply this easy-to-remember formula shared by Nicole Roger, Senior Manager of Clinical Partnerships at Spring Health, during Guardian’s webinar on coping strategies for burnout.

STOP stress in its tracks using this mindfulness technique.

  • S = Stop. If you get a huge assignment or stressful email and start feeling anxious, push your chair back and pause. Have a moment to yourself before deciding how to move forward with the task at hand.
  • T = Take a breath. Focus on your breathing for a minute. Take a big inhalation through your nose and exhale slowly and deeply. Repeat a couple of times to help lower your heart rate.
  • O = Observe. What are you feeling at this moment? Notice your thoughts, emotions, and physical state. Tune into yourself in a non-judgmental way to observe what’s going on.
  • P = Proceed. What’s one thing you’d like to focus on right now? When battling burnout, the to-do list for any given day can feel daunting, but it’s impossible to do them all at the same time. What’s one thing you can focus on at this moment to address the request at hand?

3. Having fun can help with burnout recovery

When someone is experiencing severe burnout, there may be many responsibilities that they’re trying to juggle — work projects, household chores, caretaking for loved ones, etc. These are things they feel like they must take care of, potentially to the point where it feels like having fun is an unnecessary luxury. However, incorporating fun activities into your life may be one of the most helpful (and most fun) burnout coping strategies.3

Fun activities provide the positive type of stress that’s called eustress.This is the kind of exhilarating rush that keeps us feeling vital and alive.5 Think of the excitement you get from riding a rollercoaster, going to a concert, or completing a challenge like running a 5K.

While incorporating these major sources of fun may only be possible a couple of times a month, finding ways to introduce regular fun into each day can spark some positive emotions. It can be as simple as watching a funny show or calling a friend to catch up. Choosing activities that promote laughter will serve as a double bonus to reduce those negative feelings that arise when experiencing burnout. Research suggests that laughter carries many health benefits, such as reducing the levels of stress hormones like cortisol and increasing the number of anti-body cells.6

4. Establish a routine to improve mental and physical health

 A daily routine can serve as an anchor that keeps us rooted during stressful times and helps the burnout recovery process. Implementing structure can introduce a sense of control during times of uncertainty and unpredictability whereas lack of structure may actually contribute to feelings of distress. The right routine is one that includes all areas of life to make sure job demands are met and self-care isn’t forgotten. It’s a great way to start incorporating positive habits into each day that can help chip away at burnout symptoms. 

Having a regular routine can help recover from burnout by:

  • Improving your health
  • Feeling more productive
  • Gaining more focused
  • Lowering stress levels

Planning out dedicated time to handle all the “need to dos” each day and will help find time for the “nice to dos” like having more fun, working on hobbies, and regular exercise. Be sure to follow a routine that supports well-being. A schedule that demands all work no play is a way to guarantee that burnout will stay.  Here are some things to consider when planning out a daily routine:

  • Focus on things you can control like wake-up and bedtimes, as well as meals and downtime.
  • Set realistic goals.
  • Start with the basics you do each day.
  • Set aside time for activities and people you enjoy.
  •  Avoid a routine turning into a work to-do list. Keep a routine at a higher level.
  • Allow yourself the ability to adjust the routine
  • Forgive yourself if the routine isn’t met each day. Like creating a habit, this will take practice and unforeseen circumstances can always throw things off course. Start fresh tomorrow.

5. Use and communicate mental health resources provided by your employer

Over the last five years, organizations have taken the initiative to expand access to mental health resources that can help with treating burnout. These can include options like counseling or therapy that’s available virtually via text message or video call. Some employer-provided mental health services are far exceeding the process of therapy with new innovative methods that focus on delivering support on-demand when it’s needed most.

Unsure if your company is offering mental health resources? There’s an increasing chance they are even if you’re not aware. The number of organizations providing benefits specifically to address mental well-being has increased from 32 percent to 64 percent.7 Using these job resources can be helpful for those who'd prefer some personalized guidance on how to recover from burnout. Using these job resources can be helpful for those who'd prefer some personalized guidance on how to recover from burnout.

As the number of workers who've experienced burnout has risen in recent years, the amount of vacation time taken has decreased.Many companies have revamped their leave policies in response to the pandemic and rising burnout statistics.9

Medical leave also may be an option for those experiencing severe burnout. Taking extended time off can allow time to focus on the underlying issues that caused this high stress. Each company's paid leave policy will differ, so connect with your human resources department to learn about the options available to you.

Think you're suffering from physical and emotional exhaustion?

Review this checklist to see if you're experiencing burnout.

Having the self-awareness to recognize that you've experienced burnout and seek professional help for treating burnout doesn't always come naturally. This handy checklist can help assess how things are going.

  • How’s your body feeling physically? 
  • Are you holding tension in any part of your body?
  • Have you been getting enough quality sleep each night?
  • Are you eating well? Drinking enough water?
  • How do you feel about your connections/relationships?
  • When was the last time you spent quality time with friends or family?
  • Have you been working more hours than usual?
  • Do you feel a sense of purpose that motivates you?
  • Do you ignore or skip activities you enjoy?

Remember that you’re not alone. Workers across America are reporting that they’re struggling with stress. According to Guardian’s 11th Annual Workplace Benefits Study, 75 percent of workers report that their biggest mental health challenge at work is burnout.10 Taking steps towards recovering from burnout can contribute to a reduction in this statistic and improve overall well-being.   


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