- Is It Really Burnout? Symptoms to Watch Out For
- How to Recover From Burnout: 7 Steps
- Causes of Burnout
- Finding the Cause of Burnout
- How to Avoid Burnout
If you’re experiencing burnout, then you may be wondering how to recover from burnout. Being burned out lowers your productivity at work and negatively affects your mental well-being. According to one study, it even increases your risk for heart disease. In this article, you’ll learn practical ways to get over burnout.
But first, it’s a good idea to make sure that what you’re experiencing is, indeed, burnout.
Is It Really Burnout? Symptoms to Watch Out For
According to the World Health Organization, burnout is an “occupational phenomenon,” not a medical illness. It's got both physical and emotional elements.
Physically, you may be feeling fatigue and aches and pains. You may have trouble sleeping. You can also have physical signs of anxiety, such as palpitations.
In terms of emotional symptoms, burnout causes a general lack of joy. Some people may have feelings of depression and hopelessness. You can also feel overwhelmed even with the tasks of daily living. You may also find yourself distracted.
These physical and emotional symptoms of burnout can lead to behaviors like impatience, avoiding others, and escapism. You become disengaged in your work. Your performance suffers. Turning to alcohol, drugs, or food to try to escape burnout only makes the situation worse. This is why it's crucial to know how to fix burnout.
If you've got these symptoms and you think you’re experiencing burnout, then keep reading. You don’t have to stay in this situation. There are practical steps you can take to overcome it.
How to Recover From Burnout: 7 Steps
The symptoms and consequences of burnout can hurt your professional and personal life. To get over burnout, you must address both the physical and emotional aspects. Below are seven steps that can help:
1. Take a Break
The first step to recover from burnout is to take a break from everything. Take some time off from work, chores, and other responsibilities. Even if you can only manage to do this for a half day, it'll still be helpful.
Strive to schedule down time regularly:
- a few minutes every day
- a few hours once a week
- one day a month
- longer every few months
This may be all you need to recharge and recover from burnout!
2. Review Your Goals and Values
When you’ve carved out time for a break, don’t spend it mindlessly binge-watching shows or scrolling through social media. Instead, use this precious time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of your life. What are your goals? What’s your “big why”? It’s also helpful to clarify your values, because these may have changed without you noticing.
There are many values clarification exercises to choose from. One of my favorites is the Who Am I? Exercise. In this activity, you take ten sheets of paper and write, “Who am I?” on top of each one. Then, answer the question on each page. Write only one answer per page. Don’t over-think it. Write the first thing that comes to mind and keep each answer short. For example:
- "Who am I?" Resilient
- "Who am I?" A dad
- "Who am I?" A writer
- "Who am I?" A teacher
- "Who am I?" Diligent
- "Who am I?" A great cook
… you get the idea.
Next, on each sheet, write “Why?” five times. Leave a small space after each “why” so you can write your response. Take the time to reflect and dig deep. For example, under “‘Who am I?” Resilient,’” you could write:
- "Why?" Because I’ve survived many trying times
- "Why?" Because I've the support of my family and friends
- "Why?" Because I've strong relationships
- "Why?" Because I’ve worked hard at nurturing strong relationships
- "Why?" Because people are important to me
3. Say No
Now that you've got a clearer idea of what’s important to you and what goals you want to achieve, you can be more selective with your time, attention, and energy. Say no to the activities, obligations—even people—who aren't aligned with your goals and values.
Simplify your life and be extremely protective of your physical and mental wellness. Once you stop feeling overwhelmed and burned out, then you can begin adding more into your life. Or you may decide that you prefer to keep things pared down. That’s completely up to you!
4. Increase Positive Thinking and Gratitude
Cultivate a positive attitude. One way is by always finding something to be grateful for. Start a gratitude journal if you don’t have one yet. Every day, commit to listing at least three things you’re thankful for. Some days, this can be easy. Someone gave you a compliment. You received an unexpected check in the mail. Or you enjoyed a new dish at a restaurant.
Other days, it can feel like you can’t think of anything to be thankful for! This is when you can choose to be grateful for the ordinary everyday things we take for granted. When this happens to me, I remember that I am always grateful for being able to walk and run, having a roof over our heads and food in the fridge, and … indoor plumbing!
If you tend to have negative, pessimistic thoughts, it’s worthwhile to learn how to reframe them. One way to do this is by using the ABCDE framework by Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology. In this model, you question your negative beliefs and disprove them. For example, if one of your beliefs is “I always mess things up,” then you call to mind all the times when you did something correctly.
5. Learn How to Manage Stress
Chronic stress is pervasive in our lives today. According to the Mayo Clinic, it affects our bodies, mood, and behavior. And so, managing stress is a skill we all need. Stress management is even more valuable when you’re experiencing burnout.
Stress management strategies are varied. You’re sure to find a few that suit your personality and style. These include participating in hobbies, like knitting, wood working, gardening, fishing, or playing a musical instrument. Moderate exercise and being out in nature (according to one source, forest bathing is proven to be specially good for you) have been shown to reduce stress and feelings of depression. And naturally, relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga help reduce stress. Find a few things that work for you and do them regularly.
6. Address Medical Issues
The physical symptoms of burnout can also be caused by underlying ailments. Make sure you get to the bottom of these symptoms. See your primary care physician so they can rule out any illness that could be causing—or exacerbating—your situation.
7. Seek Professional Help
Finally, if after following the above steps, you’re not feeling better, then seek professional help. You could be going through something more serious than burnout.
Or maybe the causes of your burnout are just too much for you to handle alone. Your primary care physician can refer you to an appropriate professional. You can also ask people you know for recommendations on professionals who can show you how to fix burnout.
Causes of Burnout
To address burnout both in the short and long terms, we must know what causes it. There's no definitive list of causes of burnout. But we can take a cue from its symptoms. Since burnout has both physical and emotional symptoms, that seems to indicate that it's got a variety of causes.
“Burnout isn’t simply about being tired,”
as Elizabeth Grace Saunders writes in Harvard Business Review. Burnout has been attributed to any combination of the following:
1. Chronic Overwork and Stress
Burnout is usually said to be caused by prolonged overwork and stress. This causes the autonomic nervous system to be over-stimulated and cortisol (the stress hormone) to always be high. These are experienced as anxiety and exhaustion, the classic symptoms of burnout.
2. Misalignment of Work With Your Goals and Values
Burnout is sometimes caused by a mismatch between your work and your values and goals. For example, you might value philanthropy, but you work for a company whose top value is profit. Eventually, you'll lose the motivation to perform well in the job and experience burnout.
3. Poor Health or Illness
Burnout can also be caused by underlying medical conditions or generally poor health. Lack of exercise, for instance, can cause you to become easily tired. Illness can also feel like burnout.
Chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, anemia, mental health issues, and sleep apnea are just a few of the conditions that could cause burnout symptoms or make them worse.
A poor diet—such as one that’s high in processed foods and added sugar and low in whole, plant-based foods—also causes a drop in energy, mental clarity, and productivity.
4. Insufficient Sleep
Another possible cause of burnout is not getting enough sleep over a prolonged period of time. If you've got the night shift, then your sleep is always disrupted no matter how hard you try to make up for it during the day. This can lead to exhaustion and other alarming effects.
Finding the Cause of Burnout
Before you can learn how to get over burnout, it's important to find out what caused it. To find out what caused your burnout symptoms, you can try one of these two activities:
1. The 5 Whys Technique
This was already described in the “Who am I?” exercise above. Basically, you drill down the problem five times, more or less, asking “why?” until the root cause becomes clear. For example:
- “Why am I burned out?” Because I work more than eight hours a day on my job.
- “Why?” Because I’m not able to finish my tasks during regular office hours.
- “Why?” Because I've got a lot of assignments and deadlines.
- “Why?” Because my manager gives me too much to do.
- “Why?” Because I’m covering for an open position that we still haven’t hired for.
This exercise will surface situations that you may be able to change. In the example above, you can talk to your manager and discuss how your current workload isn't sustainable and is affecting both your physical and mental health. And then you can work together to remedy the situation.
2. Stress Diary
Another good way to get to the bottom of burnout is by keeping a stress diary. This helps you identify the circumstances and people that cause your stress. Here’s how it works: Every time you feel stressed out, write down the time, place, situation, and people involved. Include details like why you feel stressed and how it makes you feel physically.
- Are your shoulders tight?
- Are you sweating profusely?
- Is your breathing shallow?
Finally, give your stress level a score, from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest level of stress.
After a few days, you’ll be able to spot the most common stressors for you. Some of these stressors can be avoided (for instance, if driving in heavy traffic stresses you out, then leave earlier to avoid it). For those you can't avoid, then you can prepare yourself with stress management techniques.
How to Avoid Burnout
Now that you know what could be causing your burnout, you can avoid burning out again.
- Keep your eye on what caused your burnout in the first place. Take steps to avoid or minimize them.
- Use the skills you’ve learned, such as stress management and cultivating a positive attitude.
- Continue to care for your health, both physical and mental, so you can become more resilient against acute and chronic stress.
- Check in with yourself regularly so you can catch the signs of burnout before it gets bad.
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Protect Your Health, Happiness, and Productivity: Learn How to Recover from Burnout
Burnout has far-reaching effects on your health, happiness, and productivity. It's got wide-ranging causes, from your workplace situation, to your health and values. But this shouldn’t discourage you because there’s a lot you can do to fix burnout.
Address both the physical and emotional roots of burnout. Do the exercises recommended above to discover what’s causing you to burn out, so you can address them. And keep monitoring your well-being to stay on-track.
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