Your brain and body can only handle feeling overworked and overwhelmed for so long.
You may begin to feel less motivated since it seems like nothing you do matters.
Since burnout happens gradually, you might not notice symptoms immediately. But once it takes hold, it can affect your ability to function across all aspects of life.
Key signs of burnout include:
- forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
- diminished pride in your work
- losing sight of yourself and your goals
- difficulty maintaining relationships and being present with loved ones
- frustration and irritability with co-workers
- unexplained muscle tension, pain, fatigue, and insomnia
Burnout can have a far-reaching impact, often:
- negatively affecting work performance
- keeping you from enjoying hobbies and time with family, or relaxing outside of work
increasing riskfor health concerns, including cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, depression, and suicide
Taking action to address burnout is essential, since it generally only gets worse. The next 10 steps can help you get started on the road to recovery.
It’s tough to make changes when you don’t know exactly what needs to change, but exploring contributing factors or sources of stress in your life can help.
Burnout often relates to job and professional triggers, like the stress of an increasingly demanding job. But you could also experience burnout when:
- having a rigorous academic schedule
- dealing with relationship problems, especially ones that seem to circle with no resolution
- caring for a loved one with a serious or chronic health condition
Trying to do too much on your own also creates an ideal environment for burnout to fester.
“Eventually you bend so much you break, and that’s when burnout happens,” explains Barrie Sueskind, LMFT, a therapist in Los Angeles.
Say you’re a single parent with a full-time job, trying to take online classes, and keep up with friends and loved ones at the same time.
The stress that accompanies each single factor might be manageable on its own, but the combination can easily overwhelm you if you don’t take steps to get support.
You might recognize a few ways to lighten your load right away.
Three different time-consuming projects keeping you working long hours, week after week?
“Those with a lot of ambition to succeed in their careers are tempted to do it all,” Sueskind says. But this can backfire when you end up with no energy for anything.
Instead, try accepting that doing it all isn’t realistic, and ask your supervisor to reassign one project or add someone else to your team.
Overwhelmed with work and personal commitments but still can’t bring yourself to turn down requests from loved ones?
“Those with people-pleasing tendencies often take on too much to avoid letting anyone down,” Sueskind says.
If you’re already running out of hours in the day for the things you absolutely need to do, adding more tasks will only add more frustration and stress.
Evaluate your existing commitments and consider canceling or rescheduling a few. The immediate relief this brings may surprise you.
If you feel unsure of how to begin sorting through the causes of burnout and looking for ways to ease your stress, that’s normal.
Burnout can become so overwhelming that determining how to address it still seems exhausting. It’s also hard to identify potential solutions when you feel completely spent.
Involving a trusted loved one can help you feel supported and less alone. Friends, family members, and partners can help you brainstorm possible solutions.
They’re close enough to your life to have some understanding of what works for you but still have enough distance to consider the situation with some clarity.
Opening up to people about the distress you’re experiencing can take some courage, especially when you worry they’ll see you as incapable or lazy.
But struggling through burnout alone can make overcoming it more difficult.
And you never know, your loved ones may have experienced burnout themselves and could have some valuable insight to share.
Unfortunately, addressing burnout isn’t always straightforward. But this doesn’t have to mean it will hold you down forever.
You may not see an easy road to recovery, but a little exploration may unearth some kind of path.
Maybe your boss keeps piling work on, despite your requests for help from co-workers or time to finish current projects first.
It might be time to start searching for a new job that respects your capabilities.
If you feel burned out because of relationship difficulties, a counselor can offer support as you take a closer look at your relationship and whether it’s serving your best interests.
In short, when you give everything you have and it still isn’t enough, there’s not much more you can do besides move on — for your own sake.
Sometimes, just knowing other routes exist can renew hope and help you remember you have power to make changes, even if those changes don’t happen right away.
Burnout can make you feel powerless. You might feel as if your life is rushing past and you can’t keep up.
If outside factors contributed to burnout, you might blame these circumstances and have a hard time seeing what you can do to change the situation.
You may not have had control over what happened to bring you to this point, but you do have the power to take back control and begin to recharge.
To start, try these tips:
- Prioritize. Some things just have to get done, but others can wait until you have more time and energy. Decide which tasks are less important and set them aside.
- Delegate. You can’t do everything yourself, so if more tasks than you can handle need immediate attention, pass them off to someone you trust.
- Leave work at work. Part of burnout recovery is learning to prioritize work-life balance. After leaving work, focus on relaxing and recharging for the next day.
- Be firm about your needs. Talk to others involved and let them know what’s happening. Explain that you need some support in order to take care of your health and manage your workload productively.
Setting limits on the time you give to others can help you manage stress while recovering from burnout.
“Accepting too many commitments can cause overwhelm,” Sueskind explains.
Before you agree to help someone or accept an invitation, she recommends the following:
- Push the pause button.
- Take a moment to walk through everything that will be required of you if you agree.
- Ask yourself if you really have the time and energy.
- Consider whether doing it offers value to you.
Part of boundary setting also involves learning to say no.
“You’re not lazy, selfish, or mean for declining a request for your precious time,” Sueskind emphasizes. “Being selective about accepting commitments is key to taking care of your mental health, honoring the truly important commitments, and proactively preventing burnout.”
Reaching a point of burnout can bring up feelings of failure and a loss of purpose or life direction. You might feel as if you can’t do anything properly or you’ll never achieve your goals.
When you reach a point of burnout, you’ve probably pushed yourself past the point of what most people would realistically consider themselves capable of for some time.
What would you say to a friend in your situation? Chances are, you’d offer empathy and kindness instead of telling them how utterly they failed.
Grant yourself the same love and support. Remind yourself you don’t have to be perfect, and that it’s OK to need a break.
So maybe you can’t complete three proposals at once. Who can, really? And so what if you didn’t ace that last exam? You still got a decent score.
In the end, all you can do is your best with the strengths you have. But you’ll find it easier to use those strengths when you aren’t running on empty.
Taking charge of your physical and emotional health is key to burnout recovery.
In an ideal world, reaching the point of burnout would mean you immediately take time off, clear your schedule, and dedicate your days to rest and relaxation.
But most people simply can’t do that.
If you have bills to pay and children to take care of, quitting may seem impossible until you have other prospects.
If you’re caring for a sick family member who has no other relatives, you may not have anyone else to turn to for support.
Practicing good self-care can make recharging easier while you try other strategies to reset.
Try these tips:
Severe burnout can drain you and make it hard to remember what you used to enjoy.
You may have lost your passion for a career you once loved and feel angry and resentful when you get to work each day.
Perhaps you no longer care about your favorite hobbies, or you’ve stopped responding to texts from friends because you lack the energy for conversation.
You might even feel perpetually irritated and snap at your partner or family without meaning to.
To counter these feelings, create a list of the things that bring you joy. It might include things like:
- long walks with your best friend
- taking your child to the park
- reading a book in the bathtub
Make time for these activities every week, and keep this habit up even after you feel more like yourself.
Confronting burnout isn’t easy, especially when it’s already taken a toll on your personal relationships and quality of life.
A therapist can offer professional guidance by helping you identify causes, explore possible coping methods, and navigate any life challenges contributing to burnout.
Burnout can provoke feelings of helplessness and can also play a part in feelings of depression, so it’s particularly important to talk with a therapist if you:
- feel hopeless
- have a persistent low mood
- experience thoughts of hurting yourself or others
Resetting yourself after burnout can be a lengthy process — but by choosing to address it, you’ve already taken the first step.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.