A practical guide to beating burnout

/ 7 min read
Kat Boogaard

We can all agree that certain aspects of our work lives are a drag. The slog toward Friday. The pointless meeting that should've been an email.

Another thing that belongs on the list? Burnout. With some people going so far as to refer to it as a full-fledged burnout epidemic, it's becoming an increasingly-shared experience among workers.

Need proof? The World Health Organization officially classified employee burnout as an "occupational phenomenon" in 2019—long before the pandemic exacerbated burnout even further.

Recent Deloitte research revealed that 77% of professionals have experienced burnout at their current jobs. Other McKinsey data shows that 49% of employees say they're at least somewhat burned out.

And the path to burnout isn't only paved for employees—it's common among business owners too. In one survey, 42% of business owners reported recently experiencing burnout.

So here's the natural next question: what can you do? When workplace stress is as much of a staple of our careers as a stuffed inbox or a morning cup of coffee, is there actually any way to beat burnout—or even prevent it in the first place?

To solve this question, we need to first make sense of the ever-present burnout puzzle.

What are the symptoms of burnout?

We've probably all had an occasional brutal day at work. And, if we're being honest, most of us would readily admit that we'd rather be vegging on the couch than cranking through our to-do lists.

That makes it tough to figure out where the line is here. How can you distinguish between annoyance with the normal daily grind and tried and true burnout?

For starters, the Cleveland Clinic explains that there are a few signs of burnout to watch for. These include:

  • Fatigue (especially extreme fatigue)
  • Feeling apathetic or dissatisfied with your work
  • Headaches
  • Changes to your diet or sleep patterns

Noticing some (or even all) of those in your daily life? You could be dealing with burnout. Take note that the symptoms of burnout have a lot of overlap with the signs of mental health issues like depression.

Regardless of what you think you're dealing with, it can be helpful to connect with a mental health professional for their expert guidance and resources. Whether you're dealing with burnout, depression, relentless work stress, or something else, they can help you figure out your next steps.

How burnout affects your life (and health)

While there are some general red flags to look out for, burnout manifests itself differently for different people. One person might feel increasingly irritable, impatient, and short-tempered while another feels completely drained and disengaged.

No matter how burnout shows up, this much is true for everyone: It can have a major negative impact on every single area of your life. Your work. Your relationships. Your hobbies. Your mood. And even your physical health.

The Mayo Clinic shares that any or all of the following can be consequences of burnout:

Behavioural health consequences

  • Excessive stress
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Sadness, anger, or irritability
  • Alcohol or substance misuse

Physical health consequences

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Vulnerability to illnesses

Pretty scary stuff, right? That's why burnout isn't something that you should leave unchecked and assume it'll resolve itself in time. Once you see the warning signs, you need to take a systemic approach to burnout prevention.

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6 strategies to prevent (or manage) burnout

We'll be straightforward with you: There are plenty of people who like to pedal easy or offer quick-fix strategies to address burnout. But, the truth is that there is no fast and simple solution. Burnout is a big issue and requires bigger solutions than a short break or a breathing technique.

If you're ready to go beyond empty, ineffective hacks and make real changes to address burnout, here are six simple, science-backed strategies to put into play.

1. Lighten your workload

"Sounds like you need a vacation!" is oft-repeated advice for people who are saddled with unnecessary stress and are teetering on burnout.

It's well-meaning, but a vacation (or workcation) is nothing more than a band-aid. Once you head back to work? You find yourself right back in your same situation—and likely barreling straight toward Burnoutsville all over again.

Managing or beating burnout involves more meaningful changes than a weekend getaway, and that starts with taking a discerning look at your workload and your workflow. Do you have way more on your plate than you can reasonably manage? If the answer to that question is a resounding yes, it's time to make some hard decisions.

Maybe you need to delegate some of your responsibilities. Perhaps you need to adjust the scope of your projects or incorporate more integrations and automation. Perhaps you need to have some honest conversations with your manager or clients to get your to-do list back to a more manageable place.

All of this is way easier said than done—especially when offloading some of your commitments inherently feels like failure. There's no technique or strategy out there that will help you if you keep yourself buried under an impossible workload.

2. Cut down on stress triggers

Stress triggers are a normal part of our daily lives and there are quite a few of them we can't eliminate entirely. After all, you probably need your job, and money (which is one of the most common stressors) is a necessary reality for all of us.

APA graph reveals rise in prices as a significant source of stress for most people(Image Source: American Psychological Association)

Even so, it's worth identifying some of the stress triggers you do have control over so you can figure out how to minimize them. For example, you might:

  • Set out supplies ahead of time if your family's morning routine feels like a mad dash
  • Silence any notifications while working to avoid getting sidetracked
  • Download some great audiobooks or podcasts to take your mind off of your stressful commute

Try to identify the most anxiety-inducing parts of your day and challenge yourself to come up with some clever solutions to make them a little more pleasant. Even small changes can make a big impact.

3. Prioritize your self-care

Let’s be clear about one thing: A bubble bath, face mask, or massage alone isn't going to cure your burnout.

While it might not be a fix-all, taking a little time to indulge in some self-care certainly doesn't hurt. In fact, it can be extremely helpful when combined with some of the larger decisions and changes you're making.

Self-care means something different for everyone. Maybe you want to take a few quiet minutes each day to meditate (which research shows is highly effective at reducing burnout). Or maybe you'll make sure you schedule adequate time for exercise each week.

The important thing is that it shouldn't be a sporadic treat to yourself. Making self-care a regular and reliable part of your routine is when you'll see the most meaningful changes to your mood and overall levels of stress.

4. Take a break from your devices

When you're feeling drained or depleted, your natural inclination might be to kick your feet up on the couch and mindlessly scroll through your phone. Unfortunately, that could do you more harm than good.

Too much screen time is linked with a small increased risk of anxiety and depression. Plus, when 87% of office workers in one study said they spend an average of seven hours per day staring at screens, digital burnout is a genuine concern, too.

Resist the urge to grab your phone or tablet and pick up a book instead. Or sit outside. Or take up a hobby like crocheting. Or make yourself a cup of tea. The sky's the limit. Just try to come up with something relaxing that gets you away from screens—especially before bed.

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5. Untangle your identity from your work

It's no secret that we all have a lot of our own self-worth tied up in how we earn a living. It's why "what do you do?" is such a common icebreaker question at social events.

Still, your career is what you do—it's not who you are. Recognizing that fact and separating your own sense of value from your job is helpful for avoiding the temptation of burnout in the future.

This is one of those pieces of advice that feels a little ambiguous. If you’re not sure how to do it, the best first step is to invest more time and energy into other important aspects of your life, like your hobbies and quality time with your loved ones.

Doing so will help you look at your life a little more holistically. Over time, it will help keep you from piling your professional plate way too full in order to chase a sense of fulfilment and importance.

6. Ask for help

Beating burnout can be a battle—but fortunately, it's not one you need to tackle alone. If you're really struggling to get it under control, enlist some help.

That might mean having candid conversations with your employees or a business partner to keep you accountable. It could mean talking to a trusted friend. Or, it could involve working with a mental health professional who can equip you with actionable strategies to help you in building resilience.

Put simply, there is no need to struggle alone. Burnout is an incredibly relatable experience. Having someone to turn to can be reassuring and enlightening.

Is beating burnout really possible?

While burnout might feel like an impossible hill to climb when you're stuck in the thick of it, beating burnout—and even preventing it from sneaking up on you in the future—is more than possible.

However, in order to do so, remember that there won't be any simple hacks or quick-fix strategies to kick burnout to the curb. Beating burnout requires meaningful (and often difficult) changes—and a commitment to maintaining them on a personal or organizational level.

But when your mental and physical health is on the line, the challenge is more than worth it.

About the author
Kat Boogaard
Paperform Contributor
Kat is a freelance writer focused on our working world. When she’s not at her computer, you’ll find her spending time with her family—which includes two adorable sons and two rebellious rescue mutts.

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