When you’re suffering from burnout, it can feel endless. You might feel like there is no cure for your exhaustion, like it is a permanent condition you must accept. But there are numerous ways to cope with burnout, heal from it, and even prevent burnout from happening again.
This guide will explain what burnout is, how to recognize it, and the strategies you can use to cope with and even heal from burnout.
How to recognize burnout
It is important to understand that burnout is not the same thing as being tired. Ordinary tiredness is a temporary state. You feel tired, you go to bed, and you wake feeling rested.
Burnout, on the other hand, is characterized by constant, impenetrable exhaustion. When you are struggling with burnout it becomes impossible to feel rested. Even the best parts of your job feel tiresome.
Ways to cope with and prevent burnout
🤕 Note; The symptoms of burnout can be very similar to the symptoms of depression. If you find that the coping methods listed in this article don’t provide significant release, seek professional help from a therapist or psychiatrist.
1. Take some time off
The first thing you need to do if you’re struggling with burnout is to take some time off. This doesn’t just mean time away from work. This means time spent relaxing or doing things that renew your mental energy, like hiking in the woods. Even a long weekend spent doing something you really enjoy can help you prevent burnout.
The key thing about this time is that you need to fully switch your work-mind off. Don’t check your email, take calls from work, or check in with your coworkers. You need to complete separation from your work.
Journal about what you’re struggling with, what your burnout feels like, and what your burnout is caused by. Create a step-by-step plan to deal with it. When you feel overwhelmed, like you don’t even know what to do anymore, turn to this plan for guidance.
I prefer journaling with pen and paper, but there are numerous ways to journal.
You can use a document in Word or Google Drive, a note taking app, a specialized journaling app like Day One, a voice recording app, or even your phone’s video recording function.
The important thing is that you take this time for self reflection.
Bonus tip: For a long term boost to your mental health, consider keeping a gratitude journal.
3. Have a heart to heart with a close friend or therapist
Talk through your struggles with someone you trust. Ideally, this person will also be separated from your situation (so a co-worker is probably not your best bet). An outside perspective can help you see things in a different light and maybe even help you find solutions.
The key here is honesty. You won’t feel any better if you just say “I’m exhausted all of the time.” You need to explore what is going on in your life and where that exhaustion comes from. This will not only help you cope in the moment but help you prevent burnout in the future.
4. Take a break from alcohol and caffeine
When you’re struggling with burnout it might feel like alcohol and caffeine are the only things keeping you going, but they are actually making everything worse.
Alcohol disrupts communication pathways in your brain, damaging your ability to regulate emotions.
Caffeine increases anxiety and creates sleep problems. If you are struggling with burnout, it might be time to detox from both.
Note that this doesn’t mean you need to permanently quit alcohol or caffeine. You can resume one or both in moderation once you have recovered from your burnout. Until then, however, cut these substances out so your brain and body can heal.
5. Build a meditation practice
Meditation and meditation-based practices can reduce anxiety and depression and even improve the quality of your sleep. This makes it not only one of the best ways to cope with burnout, but also one of the best ways to prevent burnout in the future.
6. Find a type of exercise you love
If you’ve paid any attention to the health discourse in the past decade, you know that extensive research has proven the benefits of exercise for mental health.
However, creating an exercise routine – and sticking with it – is easier said than done. The best way to make it happen is to find exercise you truly love doing.
Look for something that is fun, but that also encourages you to push yourself and grow, building your confidence. Some great activities to consider are rock climbing, martial arts, and dance.
7. Give yourself a creative outlet
Pick up a new, no-pressure creative hobby or get back into an old one. If you can, take classes so you can immerse yourself in a supportive community at the same time. If classes are too expensive or nonexistent where you live, teach yourself using YouTube videos.
The important thing here is that you don’t feel pressured to create at a certain level of quality or productivity. This should be something you do at your own pace, purely for your own enjoyment, with no goal of monetization. When all of our hobbies become side hustles, they begin to feel like work, and that makes burnout worse, not better.
8. Strengthen and expand your support network
You might be an introvert, but you’re still human, and humans are social creatures. We require friendship. Being part of a community increases our resilience and gives us someone to turn to when we’re overwhelmed. Feeling isolated, on the other hand, can contribute significantly to burnout.
One of the best ways to prevent burnout is to immerse yourself in community. If you have supportive friends but feel disconnected from them, make some phone calls or plan a gathering (perhaps not right now, though). If you don’t have a strong network of friends, get out there and meet some people. Some of the things we’ve already discussed, like art classes, are great ways to do this.
9. Improve your sleep hygiene
When you don’t get enough rest, or you get low-quality rest, your mind and body don’t have time to process everything from the day before you wake up. This leaves you feeling exhausted the next day. And if you don’t tackle this problem, the other strategies on this list will have minimal effect.
Here are a few ways you can improve your sleep hygiene:
- Give yourself a set bed time and stick to it
- Keep electronics, especially the TV, out of the bedroom
- Do a relaxing activity such as reading for the final hour before bed
- Avoid electronics before bed; if you absolutely must use electronics late at night, use something like f.lux to filter out blue light
- Avoid late night snacks, and if you absolutely must have a late night
There are also numerous other ways to improve your sleep quality.
10. Improve your diet
Your diet has a huge impact on your energy levels. Foods that are high in sugar create a cycle of short energy spikes followed by extended crashes. A high-sugar diet can also lead to restless, less restorative sleep. This makes reducing your sugar intake one of the best ways to overcome burnout and prevent it from happening again.
Sugar is also addictive, and put into pretty much everything that’s processed, so this can be difficult to avoid. Start by reducing or completely eliminating pop and juice. Once you’re comfortable with those restrictions, you can introduce more.
11. Make your work a more welcoming place
There are two different layers to this. First, you want to make sure that your workspace is ergonomically optimized. This will reduce the physical strain associated with your job.
Second, you want to make your workplace an energizing one, not a draining one. Decorate your space with things like motivational quote calendars and images of people that inspire you. Get a small bamboo plant or, if possible, place multiple indoor plants around the space. Make it a space where you actually want to be.
Another great way to change something about your workplace is to give standing desks a shot. Switching from sitting to standing can give you a surprising productivity boost.
12. Ask for different responsibilities at work
Burnout is often created by a sense of monotony. When we do the same thing over and over again, we inevitably begin to feel like we’re in a rut. This is why the saying “a change is as good as a rest” is so popular. And one easy way to create a change is to take on different responsibilities at work.
The key here is that you want to take on different responsibilities, not more responsibility. If you are feeling burnt out, more responsibility is only going to make you feel worse.
13. Work away from your desk
Another great way to shake up your routine is to work away from your desk. This can mean working from home or working in a public location like a café or library. Depending on the type of work you’re doing, it might even mean working in a park.
This strategy does, however, run the risk of blurring the line between your work life and your home life. If you choose to work from home, I strongly recommend designating a specific area as your workspace. Only do work inside that space. And yes, that does include answering work emails.
14. Assess how your time is spent
Another reason why you might be suffering from burnout is poor time management. You can determine whether or not this is a problem by tracking your time with one of the top time tracking tools.
Some things you want to watch out for are excessive time spent on social media, web browsing with no specific purpose, and work projects that don’t actually help you achieve your goals. You might also want to take a look at our guide to time management for freelancers.
15. Create a wind-down routine after work
One of the biggest problems many people struggle with today is a lack of separation between their work life and their home life. Their brains never fully leave work mode, making it impossible to relax. A wind-down routine is a great way to tell your brain that it is time to stop working.
Your wind-down routine doesn’t need to be complicated. Something as simple as changing out of work clothes and into pajamas can signal to your brain that it’s time to relax. If you need something a little more active, I recommend journaling your thoughts on what you did during your workday. This technique has been extremely helpful in my own struggle to maintain separation between work and relaxation.
16. Quit your job
Sometimes burnout isn’t about you or your routine. Sometimes it’s about the culture of the company you work for. If you find yourself in a cycle of burnout-heal-burnout, it’s time to take a close look at your job.
Are you working unreasonable hours? Have you found it difficult to get time off to heal from burnout? Has your company failed to support you in taking preventative steps? Do you find the work environment emotionally draining or even toxic? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it’s time to find a new job (enter the gig economy and make money on Fiverr) or maybe even start your own business.
Final advice on the best ways to cope with and prevent burnout
Burnout is a very real problem for a lot of people, but you can overcome it. Careful planning and lifestyle changes can also help you prevent burnout from happening again.
Feeling overwhelmed? Start by setting up a journal and ranking these strategies from easiest to hardest. Work your way up the list, from the easiest change to the most difficult one.
Most of all, remember that your health is more important than any job!
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