Recovering from Burnout at Work

Natalie Buchwald, LMHCSelf Care

By Natalie Buchwald, LMHC | Last Updated: June 14th, 2023
Reviewed by Steven Buchwald

We are in the midst of a work burnout epidemic.

Stress at work from time to time might be inevitable: Big projects, tight deadlines, and competing demands seem to be part of the modern workplace.

But stress is not the same as burnout.

Work Burnout, says the World Health Organization (WHO), is a syndrome that occurs when chronic workplace stress isn’t properly managed and grows into a deeper, even more difficult condition.

Workplace burnout is characterized by feelings of exhaustion, a growing sense of apathy about the job, and reduced productivity, according to WHO.

If you’re experiencing burnout, you’re not alone.

According to a 2021 American Psychological Association survey, nearly 3 in 5 American employees are currently experiencing symptoms of burnout, including lack of motivation (26%), lack of effort (19%), and emotional exhaustion (32%).

Others reported irritability, insomnia, impatience, lack of focus, substance misuse, and overall disillusionment—all symptoms that can spill over into other aspects of a person’s life.

The good news is that there are ways to manage these symptoms.

Dealing with Work Burnout

Here are some tips to help you recover from workplace burnout:

Extend yourself compassion

We tend to be our own worst critics—especially on the job. But you can flip the script on the unkind self-talk by noticing and rewarding the effort you’re putting into your work—regardless of the outcome.

Create—and hold—your boundaries

Work to live, don’t live to work. Find ways to protect your peace, whether it’s having a strict go-home time at 5:30 pm each day or letting your boss know you already have too much on your plate and can’t take on new projects.

By creating and enforcing boundaries, you’ll do more than improve your day-to-day work life—you’ll help yourself stay on task and improve your productivity.

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There is a time for everything. A time for work. A time for rest. A time for joy. A time for pain. A time for laughter and a time for sorrow.

When you work, be immersed in your work. And when you rest, don’t let work interfere.

Visualize your work to-do list as a folder that you put away in a closet. This closet is locked until tomorrow. Now is the time to live life on your terms.

“Do your work, then relax.

The only path to serenity.”

Tao Te Ching

Strengthen your resilience

When you take care of your body and your brain, you’re better equipped to deal with stress at work—and everywhere else.

Develop daily self-care practices that can help you manage your stress.

These might involve creating a new routine to help you unwind before bed, establishing a daily reflection practice, breathwork or adding “do nothing” sessions to your calendar.

Celebrate the wins

Although it may not always seem like it, you most likely are making progress at work.

Document the wins, no matter how small, and notice everything you learn, achieve, or observe each day. Be sure to take a victory lap when the big wins occur, too.

Verbalize positive observations. You might be going around putting yourself down, judging yourself or being your worst self-critic. You can rebalance your thoughts toward more positivity by emphasizing the positive.

For instance:

“I am doing great”, “I am noticing that I did do this task which I didn’t want to do. I did it anyway and that feels really good to be done with it.”  “I am proud of you.” “You did it!”

Use your time off to give yourself what you need most.  

When we feel overwork, we have a tendency to crave pleasure. We tend to look for it in the easy places like food, TV, social media, substance abuse.

Overindulging on these easy pleasures is not only unsatisfying it actually does not help you recover from work burnout.

Use your time off and your non-working hours intelligently by giving yourself what you need most:

Sleep, meditation, grounding exercises, connecting with friends in real life, going for a walk outside, listening to music and doing an activity you like to do for its own sake are all essential part of a life well lived.

They play a big role in helping you live a fulfilling life outside of work.

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Listen to your body. Pay attention to what you really need most now.

Take intelligent breaks between tasks at work. Instead of burying your head in your phone, you can take a short nap, mediate or listen to music.

Remember: perfection is an illusion.

You know that co-worker who always seems to be on top of every situation, calmly churning out one flawless project after another? You’re probably not seeing the whole picture. The people around you have their struggles, too—and make mistakes. Perfection simply does not exist.

The only reasonable standard is your own: Just do the best work you can under whatever circumstances you find yourself in.

Therapy Can Help

The experience of burnout feels awful, but it is treatable. If you’re feeling emotionally, mentally, and physically depleted, burnout therapy can provide a supportive, judgment-free space to assess what burnout looks like for you and think about the different factors contributing to your experience.

Your therapist will help you re-discover your values and goals, maintain perspective, and learn skills to better manage workplace-related stress.

Burnout is usually a temporary condition, but the growth you can create when you’re intentional about managing it can provide lasting, positive effects.