5 ways to cope with burnout

stressed man at desk
CC BY 2.0 bark

Use these simple, common-sense strategies to restore peace and perspective in your life.

Burnout is a feeling of physical and mental exhaustion. It can come from working excessively long hours or under stressful conditions, or from interacting with difficult people. It afflicts many individuals, particularly in cultures that glorify stress, such as the United States. This attitude makes it hard for stressed individuals to speak out, for fear of appearing as though they're not trying their best.

Writing in the New York Times, Tim Herrera points out that one in 5 Americans is at risk of burnout, so clearly this is a problem that needs to be discussed more openly. Identifying feelings of burnout and knowing how to deal with them can avert a personal crisis and help to maintain professional performance. Herrera offers a few actions that can help with burnout, and I've added some science-backed ones. Try these out next time you're feeling overwhelmed.

1. Focus on advancing tiny goals. Sometimes the to-do list gets so long that you feel you're going to suffocate. Herrera suggests starting small and chipping away at the smallest components.

"Studies have even shown that setting and achieving tiny goals can lead to increased dopamine levels in the brain, and that 'ordinary, incremental progress can increase people’s engagement in the work and their happiness during the workday.'"

2. Take time for yourself. Ask for a rest day if you need one, or a half day to do nothing other than eat your favorite ice cream, go for a run, or meet a friend for lunch at a cool new spot. Taking those hours off may seem like a big deal, but you'll return refreshed and energized the following day. Be sure to get enough sleep each night, too; this has a huge effect on one's mental wellbeing and performance.

3. Try meditation. If the fact that meditation has been around for millennia doesn't convince you that it works, then listen to what Fast Company says: a 2009 Danish study found "long term meditation is associated with increased gray matter density in the brain stem." This is the part of the brain that appears to correlate positively with various abilities and skills, so it could help you do your job better, while giving you some precious time alone. If meditation really isn't your thing, then strive for uninterrupted, deeply focused work time, when you don't think about anything else at hand or respond to outside demands.

4. Get active. This counts partly as taking time for yourself, but it also is a fantastic stress reliever and mood booster. It's hard to feel frustrated or uptight after a sweaty weightlifting session or a long run. Fast Company mentions a study from 2004 that found exercise reduces students' sensitivity to anxiety, so think of that exercise time as building your anti-burnout armor. Extra points if you do it outside in the sunshine.

5. Talk to people. Interacting with other live humans -- face-to-face, not on your phone -- is another known stress-buster. Herrera quotes Christina Maslach, a researcher in the field of burnout:

"What we found is that people’s health, well-being, everything in life, is way better if you’re connected with other people. That social network, that each of you have each other’s back, that they’re there for you and you’re there for them, that’s like money in the bank. That’s a precious, precious resource."

There you have it -- five ways to fight against the creep of burnout and ensure you're always feeling at the top of your game, both at work and at home. Do you have any go-to tactics for keeping that balance in your life?

5 ways to cope with burnout
Use these simple, common-sense strategies to restore peace and perspective in your life.

Related Content on Treehugger.com