March 18 2022

How to cope with burnout: symptoms & recovery strategies

Are you wondering how to cope with burnout? A 2021 survey of US workers found that 67% of employees believe workplace burnout has worsened since 2019. The effect of burnout can be devastating. Let’s take a deep-dive into what exactly burnout is, the symptoms of burnout, and some recovery strategies to cope with burnout.

Burnout is unmanageable stress 

The World Health Organisation classifies burnout as a ‘state of vital exhaustion’. It’s chronic workplace stress, which hasn’t been successfully managed. 

Some stress is normal though, right?

Feeling nervous before a presentation or important meeting is understandable. Nerves come and go but chronic stress keeps you awake at night. Coping with stress leads to emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion. If left unchecked, it can lead to burnout.

Clinical burnout manifests in many ways, both physically and mentally. Burnout syndrome can be hard to spot, so it’s worth being aware of the symptoms:

Common signs of stress or burnout

  • Racing thoughts or difficulty concentrating on tasks at work.
  • Irritability.
  • Feeling constantly anxious or worried.
  • Lack of self-confidence and feeling overwhelmed.
  • Feelings of energy depletion or emotional exhaustion.
  • Avoiding things or people you are having problems with – absenteeism from work.
  • Eating or drinking more or less than usual.
  • Drinking or smoking more or less than usual.
  • Not enjoying work anymore. Feeling detached from your job and colleagues.
  • Less able to keep to deadlines and loss of productivity.

What can you do if you’re feeling burnt out?

Acknowledging feelings of burnout is a key step. Now you can start to take back control. Here are some steps on how to cope with burn out:

Coping with workplace burnout doesn’t have to mean quitting your job.

1. Broach the subject of burnout with your HR team or manager

Over 70% of people in the UK have experienced burnout in the last 12 months. That’s according to a study completed in 2021 by THE OUT. So if you’re feeling burnt out, it may be some comfort to know that you’re not alone. 

Companies are well aware of this phenomenon and your HR team is likely to be sympathetic. Ask them or your manager to work with you to find solutions that alleviate the way you’re feeling.

2. Take time off to cope with burnout

Whether you can take two weeks or two days off, make sure you use that time to focus on yourself. 

A Gallup study found that taking short regular trips improved mental and physical wellbeing. Even a three day break improved subjects’ physical complaints, quality of sleep, and mood. That’s according to a separate Gallup study

3. Find support outside of work 

If going to your HR team isn’t an option, then seek help elsewhere. You could try reaching out to colleagues or friends. 

You may be surprised at how many of those around you have experienced burnout and recovered. After all, 70% of people in the UK have felt burnt out at some point. 

Another option is to seek professional help. Often simply talking over your options with someone else can give you clarity on what you need to do next.

4. Challenge your thoughts around stress and burnout

Refocusing your mind using mindfulness techniques to challenge your thoughts can be helpful. There’s plenty of information about mindfulness techniques from the NHS as well as an extensive list of wellbeing apps you can try.

Reframing unhelpful thoughts can also be extremely effective. Check out this video created for the NHS’ Every Mind Matters initiative.

5. Exercise can be helpful when coping with burnout

Getting outdoors and breathing in the fresh air is one of the most underrated but powerful activities to promote overall wellness. Taking up a new sport or simply going for short walks during the day is a great way to tackle stress and help cope with feelings of burnout.

6. Set boundaries and know your limits to prevent further burnout

Saying no to projects and tasks that you know will push you to your limit is important, even though it may be tempting to take on the extra work to prove yourself.

Knowing your boundaries and sticking to them is essential, especially if you work from home. Replying to emails or taking calls outside of working hours can really take its toll because you’re not having the downtime that your body and mind need.  

Coping with burnout has long-term effects too

It’s easy to focus on the immediate issues associated with burnout and the challenges it can create for our work lives. But we mustn’t forget that chronic work-related stress has long-term implications on your personal life too.

Burnout can wreak havoc on relationships and family life

Someone who is living with chronic stress, isolation, and disengagement is also likely to experience negative effects on their personal life and relationships. Unfortunately, disengagement at work can translate into irritability and detachment at home.

Frequently feeling under the weather? Coping with burnout affects your health

Someone coping with the kind of stress associated with burnout will be more susceptible to colds and flu as well as longer-term conditions such as diabetes and heart attacks. In 2020, stress-related illnesses cost the NHS over £11 billion.

How can you help a colleague to cope with burnout?

While organisations are becoming more aware of burnout and some are taking positive steps to help prevent it, there’s still much more that needs to be done. 

Employers have a responsibility to create and maintain a healthy culture. But as employees, we can also help each other on a peer-to-peer basis. It’s important to work as a team, one that looks out for each other. That includes spotting the signs of burnout at work.

Three of the main causes of burnout (according to Gallup) are:

  • Unfair treatment at work
  • An unmanageable workload
  • A lack of clarity in job expectations

Reach out to your colleague if you think they are feeling burnt out

Here are some positive steps you can take to help a colleague that could be suffering from burnout:

Create a connection

Taking a moment to ask someone else how they’re doing can make a huge difference. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed for a colleague to confide in someone that they’re feeling burnt out.

Burnout isn’t a personal failure

Often, we see burnout as a sign that we ‘can’t cope’. At the same time, we imagine everyone is coping better than we are. Help your colleague understand how common burnout is and that their feelings have nothing to do with their competence or ability.

Use open questions to find out how you can help

Ask questions rather than steering a colleague towards solutions. Sharing your own experiences of burnout may be helpful. But remember that everyone copes with burnout and stress differently. What helps one person might not help the next. 

Try suggesting talking to a burnout expert (yes they do exist)

The physical and mental exhaustion caused by work burnout can affect an individual’s personal life and it can be difficult for a colleague to separate the two. That’s why speaking to a professional can be helpful in getting to the bottom of the causes of burnout.

Collaborate with your team to find ways to help with burnout

Employers are increasingly understanding the importance of cultivating workplace wellbeing. Help your employer by suggesting strategies or perks that may help. 

This is best done as a collaborative effort from all team members. This will help break the stigma that can surround burnout and it means that you can compile a greater list of ideas to present to your HR team.

Key takeaways:

  1. Burnout has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Many people suffer with burnout in silence, afraid that they’ll be seen as a failure.
  3. We don’t need to put up with chronic stress. It’s not good for anyone. 
  4. Chronic stress leads to burnout which negatively affects our personal and professional lives.
  5. Burnout has long-term health consequences.
  6. It’s possible to prevent and reverse burnout.
  7. Encourage your employer to implement ways to manage burnout.