How to Recover From Burnout
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- Burnout affects many people and is a common mental health condition in the workplace.
- Some signs of burnout include depression, anxiety, physical pain, and sleep disturbances.
- Recovering from burnout takes self-compassion and intentionality.
- People can recover from burnout, so they shouldn't ignore it.
According to the American Psychological Association, nearly 3 in 5 adult workers in the U.S. have dealt with workplace burnout. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies burnout as a syndrome caused by chronic stress at work.
Burnout can lead to mental, physical, and emotional fatigue and can have long-reaching consequences for a person's health and well-being.
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Workplace burnout is on the rise in the U.S.
Robert Half research shows that 41% of people are feeling more burned out now than they did a year ago, making burnout a major concern in the workforce.
How to Recognize Burnout
One of the best ways to prevent burnout is to recognize it early and start making changes in your home and work life to reduce your stressors. Watch for some of the major symptoms.
According to Mehwish Issa, a therapist at Issa Counseling, some signs of burnout include:
- Loss of productivity
- Sleep disturbances and insomnia
- Physical aches
- Low mood and depression
- Isolation and detachment from others
"The symptoms of burnout don't show up all at once," Issa says. "As your stress grows and your energy drains, they get stronger and have a greater impact on your life. It doesn't take long for a small list of stressors to become so large that you can no longer cope."
The Mayo Clinic lists some potential physical consequences of burnout when left untreated. These can include heart disease, high blood pressure, increased risk of diabetes, and vulnerability to illness.
If people don't pay attention to their stress levels, they may not notice their burnout until these physical symptoms become problematic.
How Long Does It Take to Recover from Burnout?
Once burnout has set in, it doesn't go away on its own. People must take active steps to recover. This process takes time, though how much time varies.
“Recovery can last anywhere from a weekend to several years. Resiliency factors play a role in someone's ability to return to work.”
— Nicole Carrita, Trauma therapist
According to Carrita, resilience factors are how a person normally cares for themselves. She says people frequently recover faster if they can create a good work/home balance, care for themselves physically, and use their support system. People who haven't can still learn these habits, but Carrita says the process will likely be easier if they're already instinctive.
Strategies to Help You Reset
Resetting from burnout isn't a simple process. However, the following strategies can assist you in your recovery from burnout.
Take Care of Physical Needs
When we get tired, it's easy to neglect our needs. People start eating poorly or living out of the vending machine. They neglect their teeth and hair. This isn't an uncommon response, but it makes people feel worse.
Carrita recommends focusing on caring for the body because sometimes it's what you can control. She also recommends getting regular exercise. It can lift your mood and help with some health problems that accompany chronic stress.
Dedicate Time to Your Hobbies
Issa tells her clients not to forget their lives outside of work. It's easy to let the things we love fall away when life gets chaotic. But it's important to keep things in our lives that make us happy.
If you are feeling burned out, it's important that you take the time to engage in activities that make you feel fulfilled.
"We let our hobbies drop when we’re busy and stressed," Issa says. "But taking time for these things is important. If life becomes all about working, we will fade quickly. Even if you don’t find a lot of time, consider things you like to do and try to work them into your schedule when you can."
Set Careful Boundaries
Setting boundaries may be difficult, but failing to do so contributes to burnout. It's important to understand your personal limits to know when people at work cross them and when to assert yourself. Without these firm boundaries, the balance between work and home life may start to blur, and suddenly people find themselves doing a lot more than they ever intended.
Carrita encourages people to maintain a boundary between their work and outside life. And along with that balance, it's important to have firm boundaries within the workplace so that you don't get pushed to take on more duties than you can emotionally handle.
Bellomy Iliff, mental health counselor and therapist, recommends an emotional-care approach. She practices self-compassion as taught by Kristin Neff, who has done research and written books on the topic.
In a session, Iliff has her clients put their hands on their hearts and tell themselves kind, compassionate messages in a loving voice. This helps them practice how they should speak to themselves.
They repeat messages about loving themselves and accepting their struggles and all. They need to hear these messages when they feel burned out and under-appreciated at work, so Iliff makes sure they hear it even if no one else will say it to them.
Iliff also helps clients identify their window of tolerance — an emotional zone where they feel the most regulated. "You have to make some really purposeful changes to get back to being OK," Iliff said.
Carrita, Iliff, and Issa each recommend some form of mindfulness for people dealing with burnout. Issa's therapy work focuses on connections between body and mind. So she recommends practices like yoga or breathwork to help someone find their calm and center.
Carrita suggests home activities like sitting down quietly with a cup of tea to find some peace. She likes to tie mindfulness in with self-care. Iliff's popular self-compassion focuses less on the body and more on taking time to check in with your emotions. She encourages her clients to tell themselves what they need to hear, which keys them to listen to their inner voices.
Mindfulness is about checking in intentionally so that you can give your mind and body time to rest and recover. It would help if you kept an eye on your limits to ensure you stay within them. It's easy to get swept along — practicing mindfulness will make sure you don't get lost.
Frequently Asked Questions About Burnout
Can you fully recover from burnout?
It is possible to recover from burnout, but only if you take it seriously and take steps to deal with it. As Carrita mentioned earlier, the rate at which people recover varies widely. It can be several years before someone recovers from burnout.
The important thing is to engage in strategies such as dedicating time to hobbies, setting boundaries, practicing self compassion, and practicing mindfulness. Burnout requires active attention to get better. And if someone puts in the work of relaxing and stepping away, they may be able to get back to their normal baseline.
Is burnout a mental condition?
According to WHO, burnout is considered an "occupational phenomenon" that is classified as a syndrome. It is not as permanent as many mental health conditions, though it can be the gateway into anxiety and depressive conditions if left untreated.
Burnout doesn't qualify as a disability on its own, and there isn't a specific medical treatment for it. But many physicians medicate symptoms like anxiety and depression, and they often recommend therapy to get through it.
What can burnout lead to?
Burnout can lead to physical conditions like high blood pressure, physical pain, and insomnia. It can also lead to anxiety and depression. Substance misuse is also associated with burnout because people often try to self-medicate when they can't cope.
Carrita also says that burnout may lead to relationship problems. She says that clients struggling with burnout often have trouble working with customers or co-workers on the job. They also may lash out or disconnect from people in their personal lives.
These consequences are serious. And if no intervention happens, they may cause long-lasting problems that will meld into other conditions.
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