Right after graduating from UC Berkeley, I got a job at a non-profit in San Francisco. I was so excited, fresh out of college I was an idealist with so much energy, positivity, and dreams to make the world a better place. The last thing on my mind was how to cure burnout.
Fast forward six months and I wanted to scream every day (I didn’t).
Physically, I was beyond tired. Looking at my endless task list, my overflowing inbox, and projects made me want to crawl under a rock and never come out.
My brain was constantly on. I couldn’t sleep, I was irritable, tearful, exhausted, and broken.
Everything felt completely overwhelming and I just couldn’t cope anymore.
I was suffering from burnout.
What is burnout?
Burnout is defined as feelings of energy depletion on the job, increased mental distance from your job, or reduced professional efficacy.
Although burnout is not considered a medical diagnosis, many medical and mental health professionals find a high correlation between burnout, depression, and anxiety.
Is burnout serious?
Burnout can look and feel differently for each person.
In this Ted Talk, Frédéric Meuwly discusses his experience as a burnout survivor and will explain the red flags to look out for when it comes to personal exhaustion and burnout.
Generally, the three most significant factors of burnout include feelings of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy for your job.
It is a serious condition and has a lasting impact on your physical, emotional, and mental health.
15 signs of burnout
Stress, anxiety, and burnout show up differently in everyone, but you should look out for some common symptoms.
Some of the signs that you may be suffering from burnout include:
- Sleeplessness at night
- Chronic daytime fatigue
- Over-reliance on caffeine or other stimulants
- Excessive difficulty focusing and concentrating
- Decrease in productivity
- Feelings of depletion and low energy
- Mood swings, especially irritability
- Isolating yourself from colleagues
- More anxious than usual
- Dreading mornings
- Frequently being reactive and negative
- Feelings of resentment toward your work, workplace, or co-workers
- Blurred lines between work and home life
- Personalization of work frustrations
- Recurring headaches, colds, or other physical ailments
Experiencing many of these symptoms at once, or even just one or two on a regular basis is a good indicator that you may be experiencing burnout.
Why are we burning out?
There is so much social pressure to constantly be productive. To do more than the next person. Popular culture and society paint the picture that to be successful, you have to work yourself to death.
In fact, there is an actual word for working yourself to death in Japanese, it is karoshi.
Throughout the pandemic, many people who had never experienced mental health challenges found themselves struggling for the first time. If you found that it impacted your mental health, you are not alone.
In fact, of the almost half a million individuals that took an anxiety screening, 79% showed symptoms of moderate to severe anxiety.
How to get over burnout
The first and most important step to figuring out how to cure burnout is to realize that you have burnt out or are running headlong towards it.
It may even take someone else to tell you that it is time to slow down, like my best friend who said that I wasn’t my usual self.
Take control. Feel better.
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Or my mother, who lovingly told me that I had to stop.
The thing that finally hit me, was that I was causing my own stress.
Yes, I was in a job I didn’t like. But I was choosing to show up there every day. I was the one piling tasks on my plate.
What are you going to do about it?
Well for one, stop thinking that you are superhuman. You are not a superhero (even if you’d like to be).
You can dress up like one for Halloween and sometimes you may feel like you can do everything.
Realistically you can’t, so ask yourself, what are you going to do differently?
Here are 13 things that could help you recover from burnout
When you’re suffering from burnout, it’s hard to even think about adding one more thing to your plate.
I get it, I’ve been there and was more interested in watching Netflix all day than actually doing anything else.
But remember, if you want to make changes, it’s time to set the re-start button on your mind and body to cure your burnout.
1. Go see your doctor
One thing that I really wish I had done when I first started experiencing symptoms of burnout was to get help from a doctor.
This would have prevented months of insomnia, spiraling anxiety, panic, and suffering from burnout.
Perhaps the symptoms that you’re experiencing have something to do with your physical health and not your mental health, but you’ll never know unless you see a doctor.
2. Consider taking a medical leave of absence
When you are burnt out, it’s critical that you take a leave of absence to focus on your physical and mental health.
Yes, it’s scary and anxiety-provoking to take a leave but continuing full force will only make your burnout worse.
To learn more, check out how to ask for a leave of absence from work.
I wish I had taken a leave of absence since I could have qualified for disability pay. Instead, I just quit my job because I was burnt out to a crisp.
3. Engage in wellness activities
Now, it’s time to reset your mind and body through some wellness activities.
Just like when you power off your computer and click the restart button, you have to do the same for your mind and body.
Here are a few examples of activities you can do to help you discover how to cure burnout:
- Focus on improving your sleep
- Make a nutritious breakfast you wouldn’t normally eat on a workday
- Schedule and get a relaxing massage
- Take a nap
- Spend time outside in nature
- Go on a hike or walk at the beach or mountain
- Write in your journal
- Take a yoga class
- Paint, draw, or color
- Read a book
- Drink a cup of herbal tea slowly
- Watch a funny movie
- Get lunch with a friend you haven’t seen in a while
4. Calm your mind
If you are anything like me, I had a constant chatter going on in my brain which I just couldn’t switch off.
Integrating a daily meditation practice into your life is one of the most effective tools for engaging in how to cure burnout since you can change the way your brain is wired.
If you’re new to meditation, I suggest the best meditation tips for beginners.
5. Sleep, like you have never slept before
Getting good quality sleep is critical if you want to learn how to cure burnout and reset your mind and body.
A common misconception is that you can get by in less than 6 hours a night. However, research suggests that adults need at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night to be well-rested.
When I don’t sleep well, my anxiety skyrockets, I’m irritable and I get triggered easily. I try my best to follow a healthy sleep routine.
If you want to learn more, check out how to put your racing mind to bed and sleep now!
6. Take a walk and move your body
Exercise naturally boosts your mood because it increases endorphins and dopamine, the chemicals in your brain that make you happy and stabilize your mood.
Need some motivation? Check out 10 foolproof ways to boost your motivation and workout right now!
Or just go outside and take a walk. You’ll feel better afterward, I promise.
7. Schedule your relaxation time
This was a hard one for me to get my head around (and I still struggle with it a bit) but making time to relax is as important as making time to be productive.
Put a block of time in your calendar to do this, and then make yourself do it.
8. Detach self-worth from achievement
You are not your biggest success.
How you feel about yourself should not be based on how many hours you put in at the office or how many times someone praised you.
I wish someone had told me that just because I had a degree from UC Berkeley and a job in San Francisco didn’t mean anything. It was just a degree and just a job. There’s more to life than those things.
9. Ditch sugar, caffeine, and alcohol
Though consuming caffeine, sugar, and alcohol feel good in the short term, they can drastically impact your mood, emotions and even increase your anxiety.
If you want to examine how to cure burnout, consider reducing your intake of caffeine since it’s an “upper” and will only worsen your anxiety and stress.
In addition, cutting down on sugar will result in fewer emotional highs and lows, and drinking less alcohol will help you feel healthier in the long run.
10. Practice self-care
When you practice self-care, you are taking one step closer to evaluating how to cure burnout.
Self-care is any activity that you do intentionally, in order to take care of your mental, emotional, and physical health.
In order to counter your stress and anxiety response, it’s important to regularly engage in self-care activities that activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
11. Turn off your phone
I get it, you have work to do, you have texts to respond to and the list goes on.
Ask yourself, what would happen if you unplugged for a few hours? Or if you’re really brave…the whole day?
So make a plan to disconnect and unplug (for a few hours at least).
If you’re really brave, just turn off your phone. You’ll thank yourself later for doing this.
12. Admit that you are struggling
You are not alone.
Burnout is real and 50% of people in the workplace struggle with anxiety and burnout.
Talk to your supervisor and tell them that you are experiencing burnout.
Share what you’re going through with your friends and people you trust.
If your boss is a decent human being, they will understand if you ask for help with prioritizing your workload and arranging for you to take time off.
Note — if your boss is not a decent human being (or even a human) then it might be time to look for a new job.
13. Understand your values
This is a big one as oftentimes people work hard for years to be successful in their career.
However, it’s important to pause and evaluate if the career you’ve worked so hard for is in line with who you want to be.
I’ll be honest, this step isn’t easy but it’s essential.
Ask yourself if your job adds value to your life, makes you happy, you find rewarding, and is something you look forward to doing regularly.
If the answer is no, then it might be time to leave. Yes, it’s scary to quit your job, but it will likely be the step you need to take to improve your physical, emotional, and mental health.
It was really hard to admit that I had to quit my job. I had attached so much meaning to my job that I was terrified about what life would look like without.
Once I made the decision to leave (and actually walked out the door), it was the best thing I had done in a long time.
Yes, it took me a while to recover but I can honestly say that quitting my job was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.
So, what now?
To be completely honest, I didn’t logically follow each step in a calm and steady manner.
My anxiety was so severe and I was panicking daily so it took me a while until I settled into a rhythm that felt right.
What worked for me may not work for you. This isn’t an exhaustive list of hard and fast rules. Just try a couple and see what works out.
If even picking one thing on the list feels too overwhelming right now, then how about I pick one for you?
Start meditating by using a meditation app. This was the first thing I tried and was great at helping me sleep. To figure out the best meditation app for you, check out 5 meditation apps that will make you calm and stress-free.
Put on your headphones before bed tonight and listen to the first meditation that pops up. And tomorrow night listen to the next one and just carry on like that until your monkey mind starts to slow down.
The good news is, after a few months I started to feel like an actual human again rather than an anxiety stress ball. And you will too.
Looking back I wish I had known what burnout was so I could have been more proactive and avoided getting burnt out to a crisp.
Now I know and since I struggle with depression and anxiety, I make sure to manage my stress. Talking to a therapist along with engaging in my daily self-care activities has helped me prevent getting burnt out again.
If you’re reading this and struggling with burnout, I want you to know that you’re not alone. You are brave, courageous and have taken the first step in learning how to cure burnout by reading this article.
The next step is to look for professional help. Make an appointment with your doctor, talk to your supervisor and consider taking a medical leave.
I also recommend checking out these free mental health resources. I promise that in time, you will get better. Just hang in there.