How to Recover From Burnout

Andrew Buck August 23, 2022
woman lying on bed

Burnout, be it in the workplace or another area of your life, can be hard to avoid completely. But by learning the most effective and healthy methods for how to recover from burnout, you’ll minimize the effect that it has on your life.

A lot of us resort to the wrong coping strategies when trying to deal with burnout. We self-medicate, or engage in unhealthy activities that make us feel better in the short-term, but leave us worse off long-term.

Read on and we’ll help you set up a healthy blueprint for recovering from burnout and getting back to your best.

Further Reading:

Learn about the 5 Stages of Burnout, and how to spot them in your workplace.

The Consequences of Untreated Burnout

What happens if you don’t have a plan for dealing with burnout?

Prevention is the best cure. It’s best to monitor your energy and motivation levels, and have a system of checks and balances in place to prevent burnout in the first place.

However, you should also be prepared for the situation that you may, despite your best efforts, experience burnout. If you don’t deal with it the right way, the consequences for your well being can be serious.

Burnout greatly affects your mental health. It makes it hard to manage stress, which grows into chronic or overwhelming stress.

Burned out people also experience lower self esteem and motivation, and struggle to connect with others.

Burnout also affects your physical well being. You start feeling constantly fatigued or physically depleted. Your immune system is weakened. You may have trouble with sleep, which just exacerbates your physical symptoms.

Long-term, when not treated, the symptoms of burnout become chronic. The physical and emotional exhaustion becomes something that’s simply always there. You can develop long-term health problems. And the effect on our mental and emotional well being fractures relationships, in both our work and personal lives.

We all face burnout at some point. Dealing with it quickly, and dealing with it in the right ways, is important to ensure that it doesn’t take control of your life.

Most Common Methods for Dealing With Burnout

What do people usually do to recover from burnout?

A Statista study polled US physicians on the methods they personally use to deal with burnout. The results are extremely interesting, in that even health professionals (who should know what’s good for you or not), engage in both healthy and unhealthy activities when their experiencing burnout.

That just goes to show that recovering from burnout is not easy. If you’re having a hard time with burnout, don’t beat yourself up – even your medical professional struggles with this at times.

Here are the results:

Method% of Respondents
Exercise48%
Talk with family/friends43%
Isolate myself from others43%
Sleep39%
Play or listen to music36%
Eat junk food35%
Drink alcohol26%
Binge eat21%
Use prescription drugs3%
Smoke cigarettes/nicotine products2%
Use marijuana1%

Now let’s take a deeper look at these methods, and which of them are likely to be positive or negative for our long-term health.

Unhealthy Methods

43% of people isolate themselves as a way of dealing with burnout.

A number of the methods above may or may not provide short-term relief, but ultimately are just going to cause more problems in the long run. Let’s see what those methods are, and why they are unhealthy.

Isolation

When we’re burned out, we often find it hard to be social and outgoing. We retract inwards, which is why 43% of the people in the study above isolate themselves from others as a way of dealing with burnout.

This just creates a self-perpetuating cycle. We go into isolation because we’re burned out. Yet being isolated, with little social contact, stewing in our negative feelings, just makes burnout symptoms even worse.

Junk food

pepperoni pizza

A lot of people self-medicate in various ways. The most common being junk food, chosen by 35% of survey respondents.

Even physicians, who are well aware of the consequences of eating unhealthy food, partake in this when experiencing burnout.

A burger here and there is not going to do too much damage, but beware of this being a regular thing whenever you start to feel stressed. Poor nutrition and eating habits will only cause problems long-term. The health issues and reduced energy levels from eating a poor diet will make it more likely you’ll get burned out again in the future.

Alcohol

clear glass bottle with red liquid

Another of the world’s most common forms of self-medication: alcohol.

A quarter of US physicians self-medicate with alcohol as a way of dealing with job burnout. That tells you how common it is to see this.

Any time you self-medicate with any kind of substance, it’s usually a bad idea. Not least of all with alcohol, which can be addictive, and is detrimental to your long-term health.

A glass of wine or a beer here and there to reduce stress might be ok. But don’t make this a habitual way of dealing with stress and burnout.

Binge eating

A lot of people – 1 out of 5 physicians in this study – deal with burnout by binge eating.

It’s not hard to see why this would be harmful. Like eating junk food, it has negative effects on your overall health, which is likely to exacerbate the physical symptoms of burnout.

Prescription drugs

Now we get into a few lesser used methods. One of which, the use of prescription drugs, can be borderline between healthy and unhealthy.

Prescription drugs (assuming you’re taking them for their prescribed use) are certainly better than illicit drugs. These drugs may alleviate the anxiety that comes with burnout. But beware of allowing these drugs to become a crutch. It’s far better to come up with natural, holistic ways to recover from burnout.

Marijuana/nicotine

Finally, marijuana and nicotine – even amongst doctors – are somewhat prevalent methods of self-medication.

Like with alcohol, limited use may be fine. But it’s not good if they become a go-to method whenever you feel stressed or burned out. Along with the harmful effects on your health, you don’t want to become reliant on any substance to make you feel better when you’re burned out.

1 out of 5 people deal with burnout by binge eating.

Healthy Methods

So, if the methods above are not good for you, what are some of the better ways of recovering from burnout?

Along with a number of unhealthy vices and self-medication, the study gave us some much more beneficial tools to manage and deal with burnout:

Exercise

silhouette of three women running on grey concrete road

The number one way people deal with burnout is by exercising. 48% of the study participants said they use this method to help with burnout, and you should too.

Research suggests positive effects from regular exercise on stress and burnout. This study, to pick out one example, found these positive effects from both cardiovascular exercise and resistance training.

Not only is exercise beneficial for burnout, it’s also beneficial for your overall health, unlike some of the harmful methods outlined above.

Talk with family or friends

While 43% of people isolate themselves from others as a way of dealing with burnout, the same percentage lean on family members or close friends when they’re burned out.

This can feel like the last thing you want to do when you’re stressed, but it almost always has a positive impact. Studies back that up, showing that social support tends to reduce the negative effects of burnout and workplace stress.

Sleep

How we sleep – the length, and also the quality of sleep – has a huge impact on our overall health.

A lot of the time, when we’re feeling low-energy, unmotivated, unfocused, or in any other state adjacent to burnout, improving sleep quality will help greatly.

The only thing to be careful about is falling into a pattern when you sleep all the time, and use this as a way to avoid everyday life. Get a long, restful sleep, but make sure you make an effort to be active and social as well.

Music

36% of the physicians above used music as a way of recovering from stress and burnout.

It doesn’t seem like much, but listening to music can be extremely helpful when it comes to managing stress. Multiple studies [1][2] back that up, showing that “music therapy”, or simply listening to music you enjoy, can be a positive tool to use in the fight against burnout.

It’s worth noting that this 36% covers both listening and playing music. Engaging in a hobby or an activity you’re skilled at – this could be playing music or a range of other things – is another great way to alleviate stress and burnout.

For 48% of people, exercise helps them deal with the symptoms of burnout.

A Blueprint for Burnout Recovery

So, how can you go about dealing with and recovering from burnout?

It’s a good way to put together a plan for whenever burnout shows its face, rather than leaving it until you start feeling burned out. When this happens, you’re not usually in a state to think clearly, and this is when unhealthy methods (junk food, isolation, alcohol & drugs) seem like the attractive self-care ideas.

We can use a few of the methods above, among others, to come up with a solid blueprint for burnout recovery. Take this as a guide, and subtract or add methods where you see fit for your own situation.

Step away from work

Assuming professional burnout, one of the first things you can do is take a break.

Burnout is often a result of overwork, too much pressure, and an uneven work-life balance. Treating burnout may be as simple as taking a day off, or a short vacation.

This is why it’s so important for companies to offer their employees enough paid time off. They should be able to take a personal day here and there without worrying about missing pay, as well as being able to take a longer break at least once or twice a year.

Those businesses that skimp on PTO, thinking it’s better to save money and keep employees in the office, will inevitably face lower productivity, a negative workplace environment and greater turnover due to severe burnout issues.

Learn More:

The importance of taking time off, for both employers and employees.

Fix your sleep

Another thing you can look at to start the burnout recovery process is how you’re sleeping.

If you’re getting less than 7 hours of sleep, or your sleep isn’t restful sleep (you’re waking up often, you feel exhausted early in the morning), then this may be contributing to the problem.

Of course, burnout can also be the cause of your sleep problems. But you should first see whether your sleep is fixable on its own, because this will greatly improve your energy and mood.

Some things you can do to improve your sleep include:

Get active

Physical activity is almost sure to result in positive emotions and mental benefits. Studies back this up, and the survey we talked about earlier shows how important exercise is to a lot of people when it comes to de-stressing.

Getting enough exercise is good for your overall health, and it’s also a great way to switch off from work, and the issues – such as job demands, or a stressful event – that lead to you feeling burned out.

There are so many different things you can do to exercise, depending on what you enjoy the most. Running, lifting weights, playing a sport, yoga, group fitness classes are all excellent ways to treat and recover from burnout.

Spend time with loved ones

Take some time out to be close with the people in your life most important to you. Whether that’s family or close friends, social connections are excellent at lowering stress and treating burnout.

You may feel low and unmotivated to speak to anyone when you’re burned out. But quality social interaction with people you care about will almost always improve how you’re feeling, while isolating yourself and stewing in your own mind is going to do the opposite.

Relaxing, motivating or enjoyable activities

Find an activity or activities outside of work (or whatever it is that’s burning you out) that you enjoy doing, and put you in a good mood.

This could simply be exercise or spending time with loved ones, as mentioned already. It could be a hobby, a sport, a personal project. Whatever it is, it will help you get away from the feeling that work (and any problems at work) is the be all and end all, and significantly improve your mental health whenever you feel overwhelmed.

Get introspective

You don’t want to isolate yourself and get trapped inside your own mind. But at the same time, it is helpful to develop some self-awareness, take a look inside and address any issues head-on.

If you can look at the problem logically, this can help separate the emotional response. For example, if you’re burned out because of a particular issue – maybe a workload problem, or a relationship with a certain person – you can look at it analytically and come up with a solution.

Sometimes, simply sitting back and observing our thoughts and emotions, and distancing ourselves from them, can be beneficial. Meditation and journaling are both extremely effective in this regard, and can be a great way to combat burnout.

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How to Recover From Burnout the Right Way: Final Thoughts

Burnout is hard to stay clear of. It’s prevalent today throughout every industry, every walk of life. It’s especially common for high-performers. You give your all for a job, consistently, over a long time, eventually the classic symptoms of burnout are likely to show up.

What you do about it makes the difference. Fighting burnout through unhealthy coping mechanisms will only make things worse long-term. But healthy methods, such as exercise, meaningful social interaction and establishing a work-life balance, will fight burnout and stress in a positive way.

For individuals, come up with a blueprint like the one above that you can look to whenever you experience burnout. For companies, team leaders, employers, come up with something similar and talk about it with your team members. Job resources, such as mental and physical health tools, can also help alleviate burnout and avoid chronic stress in your workplace.

It’s in your best interest to keep your team happy, healthy, and motivated. Fighting burnout and helping people recover and get back to their best is a core part of that.

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