Have you heard of the term “burnout”? It’s a state of mental and physical exhaustion due to prolonged stress. Burnout was first talked about in relation to stress in the workplace. The World Health Organization even classified burnout as an “occupational phenomenon.”1 Now, burnout goes beyond just work. The conversation on burnout has expanded into caregiving, parenting, relationships and identity. Here’s what burnout looks like and how you can help prevent or manage burnout in your life.

What does burnout feel like?

“Burnout is the complete depletion of your energy level in every area of your life—physical exhaustion, emotional exhaustion, mental exhaustion. This exhaustion happens when the level of physical, emotional and mental stress is prolonged and excessive and exceeds your capacity to manage your life and stressors,” says Dr. Desreen Dudley, clinical psychologist, licensed therapist and Teladoc Health Senior Mental Health Quality Consultant.

Burnout is clear to see and has a wide variety of symptoms, like:

  • Physical fatigue
  • Not sleeping well—either sleeping too much or not being able to fall or stay asleep
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Feelings of depression and anxiousness
  • Feeling fidgety, irritated or forgetful
  • Not enjoying things you normally enjoy
  • Not performing tasks as well as you normally do

How can you manage or prevent burnout from happening?

First, it’s important to keep in mind that there may be things going on in the world that can play a part in making you feel burned out. While you can’t control those larger issues, one thing is in your control—taking care of yourself. Here are some ways to get started. When put together, these actions may be able to help prevent you from feeling burned out, both in your personal and professional life.

1. Practice self-care

Self-care can be whatever you want or need it to be. It’s about doing things to care for yourself so you have the energy and desire to embrace all your life has to offer. Actions that fall under the self-care umbrella include:

Get good, restful sleep

Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. If you’re struggling to fall or stay asleep, try limiting your screen time before bed. Also, aim to go to bed at the same time each night. Have a cup of herbal tea or read a book to tell your brain it’s time to wind down. Also, try to limit caffeine after noon so that it doesn’t impact your sleep.

Move your body

Exercise is good for your mental and physical health and can improve your mood and energy. Choose something you enjoy, like running around with your kids, playing fetch with your dog, lifting weights or practicing yoga. Aim to move at least 30 minutes a day, but know that even small amounts of exercise can help.

Eat well and stay hydrated

A balanced plate and plenty of fluids are key to improving your energy and focus. Include a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains in your meals and snacks.

Be mindful

The benefits of mindfulness include less stress and improved focus. It can also help manage blood pressure and improve mental and emotional well-being. Mindfulness can be as simple as eating, listening and moving more intentionally. Or try clearing your thoughts through meditation for even five to 10 minutes each day.

Practice gratitude

Reminding yourself of the people and things you’re grateful for can help you take on a more positive mindset. Try writing down three to five things each day that you’re grateful for right after you wake up or just before you go to bed. 

More ideas

It might seem like some of these simpler actions can’t possibly help reduce stress and burnout in the long term. Research shows they do, though!2

  • Read books or watch your favorite shows or movies
  • Spend time in nature
  • Schedule and attend routine health appointments
  • Unplug from electronics for however long you’re able
  • Devote time to learning a new hobby or skill

2. Talk to a therapist

Working with a therapist is a great way to care for your mental health. Your therapist can help you learn skills and strategies to protect yourself from burnout. This includes:

  • Helping you set doable self-care and stress-management goals
  • Brainstorming ways to set healthy boundaries and how to work them into your life
  • Guiding you in tackling obstacles getting in your way of caring for your mental health
  • Being a sounding board and extra set of eyes and ears on your mental health journey

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3. Delegate and ask for help

It can be hard to ask for help. There may be areas in your life where allowing others to step in can be better for everyone. Think about what tasks you may be able to let go of. Then, see who can help. This may look like having:

  • Your partner do the grocery shopping
  • Your friend handle planning the next get-together
  • Your coworker take over a weekly report

4. Set boundaries and say no when you’re able

It’s more than OK to set healthy boundaries for things that no longer serve you. While it’s not realistic to turn down every request asked of you, you can set boundaries on how, when and what requests you are willing to accept. This could look like:

  • Telling your friends you need advance notice in order to make plans that work with your schedule
  • Letting your family know you’re only going to one holiday party this year instead of four
  • Turning your work notifications off after hours or not checking your email past a certain time

Setting boundaries may be especially impactful when it comes to work and working from home. Dr. Dudley strongly encourages people to keep a structure so that there can be a way to separate their personal life from their work life.

“If you’re supposed to be ending work at a certain time, really stick to that by making plans after your workday, even if you’re just at home. Make there be a transition so that you go from shutting down your office and computer to spending time with family, doing exercise or running errands.”

5. Focus on what you can control

We long for security and stability. But uncertainty is all around us. When something outside of our control happens, many of us turn to worrying. Worry can be misleading, though. We may think that if we can worry over a problem long enough, we’ll be able to control the outcome. Instead, it can simply cause more stress and anxiety.

When you catch yourself worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet, bring yourself back to the present moment. Focus on what you can actually control.

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6. Stay connected

Our social bonds can help reduce stress and make us feel secure and supported. Connect with loved ones through phone calls, walks, shared meals and weekend adventures.

7. Ensure your social media serves you

Social media can help us feel more connected. But there can be a downside. If there are accounts you follow that stress you out or make you feel bad, unfollow them. Or hide their posts from your newsfeeds. You can always follow them again when life is less stressful.

8. Limit the news influx

It’s helpful to stay informed. But the non-stop news cycle can be overwhelming. Protect yourself from information overload. Set a daily time limit on the amount of news you read and watch.

Adopt these tips into your personal and professional life. You can help to create a protective shield around yourself that reduces the risk of burnout.

Get started

Talking with a therapist can be life-changing in many instances. Read on to see if therapy is right for you.

Published November 1, 2023


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