In the first article, On the brink of burnout? we uncovered what burnout is and the symptoms. This next article looks at the steps from burnout back to flourishing.
If you think you may be experiencing burnout – pause. Take stock.
What are you noticing? If you are unsure, then speak to your GP or psychologist.
Getting a second opinion can help you see things more clearly and really understand what is going on. If in doubt, reach out and ask, as early intervention is key to recovery.
If you know that you are experiencing burnout – stop.
Burnout is unlikely to resolve on its own without you making some significant work or lifestyle changes. Knowing what changes will have the greatest impact can be unclear when you are in the thick of it, so before you do anything hasty like quitting work, or moving to the country – take a break.
Step 1 – Rest
The first step to recovery is rest. Your mind and body need space to refuel and rejuvenate. It is hard to make good decisions when you are not feeling yourself or thinking clearly.
So, talk to your employer, GP and/or family about taking a break from work or reducing your workload. Give yourself the best chance to recover. How long will depend on your personal circumstances, this is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Resting is hard to do. People who end up with burnout are often driven, high achievers, loyal and care about their work. They worry about the impact on others if they stop or reduce work. It is also common to worry about being judged – that they have failed, look weak or imperfect.
Feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment are common. It is an act of courage to stop and prioritise your own wellbeing, to take time out to rest and recover.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What do I find most challenging about resting or taking care of myself?
- What would I say to a friend/colleague with burnout?
- How can I create space in my own life to mentally and physically rest? and
- Who is in my network that can guide or support me through this process?
Step 2 – Identify the Cause
Burnout is most often a complex interplay of personal psychological and workplace factors. It is rarely an individual problem that can be solved independently of the workplace.
Identifying the underlying cause is key to creating your personal plan for recovery and return to a thriving relationship with work.
The personal psychological factors are where we have greatest control – our own energy, attention, emotions, choices, and behaviour.
Workplace factors – such as safety, workload, role clarity, resources, remuneration, social support, and environment – are often where we have less control or influence, depending on our role in the organisation.
When establishing the causes of burnout, ask yourself:
- What workplace factors do I find most draining or dissatisfying?
- What personal factors contribute to my burnout?
- What workplace or personal factors can I control or influence? and
- What do I have no control over and need to accept or let go of?
Step 3 – Know Yourself
Most people go through life on autopilot. Not really taking the time to understand their mind and body and, consequently, what they need in life to not just survive, but thrive.
Experiencing the symptoms of burnout is the mind yelling at us, letting us know that our tank is empty, the way we are living is not working right now and we need to take stock and adapt.
Too often we compare ourselves to some idealised other – that doctor who only needs five hours sleep, the practice manager who is always full of energy and optimism, or the nurse who maximises their time and productivity with military-like precision.
This comparison is unhealthy and unrealistic. Instead, learn how to focus on yourself and understand what you need to feel and function at your best.
Whether you are experiencing burnout or simply want to have a better relationship with work, there are three internal resources that we can take charge of – how you manage your:
- Energy and
When we get the right balance of these three factors we not only feel better but we perform better.
Time is a limited resource – there are only 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week. We often focus on how to be more productive with the time we have, but fail to factor in down time, unproductive time, time for the body and mind to heal and re-energise.
We are also subject to cognitive biases such as the planning fallacy, where we vastly overestimate what we can achieve with the time we have. Often, we overcommit ourselves, with good intention but a disconnection with the actual limits of time.
Consider your relationship to time with these questions:
- How well do I understand and manage my time commitments?
- Do I reserve enough time for mental and physical rest?
- If I had to reclaim time for rest or rejuvenation, what would I be willing to let go of?
Energy, like time, is another limited but renewable resource. A lack of energy is a key indicator of burnout, as much as the presence of the right amount of energy is the hallmark of great performance.
The key levers you have for managing energy are how you rest, refuel, connect and play.
Reflect on how you manage your energy with these questions:
- How well do I understand and manage my energy levels?
- How much sleep do I need to function optimally?
- How do I best fuel and hydrate my body for optimal energy? and
- What type of connection and play helps me re-energise? e.g. exercise, socialising, meditation, cooking, gardening, time in nature, reading, or naps.
Once you have your energy back, then understanding your personal values is key to making better life choices at work and home. Think of your values as your internal life guide, like an internal compass that tells us which direction to head.
Understanding what you stand for in life is a powerfully motivating force and behaviour change agent.
The decisions we make every day are driven by our personal values, for example, curiosity, mastery, loyalty, adventure, or compassion. They guide the small life choices – saying no to extra work requests – and the bigger life choices – changing jobs or relationships.
Living a life that is in congruence with your values – where your behaviour or actions match your core values – leads to greater authenticity, clarity, and wellbeing. When you act in ways that do not match your core values you often feel uncomfortable, dissatisfied and over time begin to languish or burnout.
Reflect on how well you understand and live your values with the following questions:
- What are my priority values for this stage of my life? Have they changed?
- Am I living a values-congruent life – do my choices and behaviour reflect my values? and
- Do my values feel challenged or supported by my work life? If so, how?
Read more about values here.
Step 4 – Know Your Work
Our relationship with work and our workplace is a key component of burnout. Understanding the strengths and limitations of the organisation you work within can set you up for a healthier work life.
Also, knowing who, within your workplace, you can talk to if something is not working for you, or others, is important.
Consider the following:
- What workplace factors challenge or support me best?
- What is it that I want or expect from the workplace?
- Do they have the adequate resources to meaningfully support me?
- Am I willing to accept their limitations as much as strengths?
- If I am struggling at work, who would I talk to?
Burnout is not an individual or ‘I’ problem to solve, it is a ‘We’ issue. For employers, there is a responsibility to recognise the workplace stressors that contribute to burnout or poor mental health and have a clearly communicated strategy to address them.
As individuals, talk to trusted people in your life who can help you recognise the workplace and personal causes of burnout, address the stressors you have control or influence over, release the stress, and sustainably rebuild your energy.
As hard as it may seem to stop, rest and rejuvenate, it is the only way forward when it comes to shifting from burnout back to flourishing.
The information on this website is not a substitute for medical advice, nor is it to be used for diagnosis and treatment. You, or anyone you are concerned about, are encouraged to seek professional advice and treatment from General Practitioners and/or qualified practitioners and providers in specific cases of need. If you or the person you are concerned about appear at risk of self-harm or harm to others, please seek immediate professional assistance.
Our Burnout Workshop explores the latest psychological insights and strategies to identify, prevent and manage burnout.
TMR Coach, our coaching service designed to provide clarity and perspective for leaders, teams and businesses. Support your people to lead, perform, think well, feel confident and make great decisions.
Burnout, E. & A. Nagoski [Book]
Workplace Stress, Heads Up [Website]
Break and Shake Burnout, The Mind Room [Blog article]
Reclaim rejuvenation, The Mind Room [Blog article]
Values Cards, The Mind Room [Shop]
Headspace App [Download]