We have had a very strange two years. While it might feel now all is getting back to normal and we are ‘living’ with Covid the repercussions rumble on. One of these repercussions feels like a large number of people struggling with Burnout.

Burnout comes when we have too much stress at work, not enough recovery time and this goes on for so long that it becomes chronic. An official definition is that is it “an experience of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, caused by long-term involvement in situations that are emotionally demanding”.

Signs you are suffering from burnout:

  • Feel exhausted
  • Are starting to distance yourself from your work
  • Feel increasingly negative towards your work
  • Are feeling ineffective
  • Notice your work performance is suffering
  • Feel ‘on the edge’
  • Feel you are lacking accomplishment
  • Are having trouble sleeping
  • Spot an increase in physical discomfort (headaches, tummy troubles).

A study from Monster suggested that the two years of on-off home schooling, working in new ways and trying to adapt to different behaviours has meant 69% of home workers have some burnout symptoms. A Gallup study in the US found up to 78% of us have felt it at some point and that those who are feeling burnout are 23% more likely to need emergency healthcare, 63% more likely to call in sick and are much more likely that others to leave their jobs.

How many buckets are you trying to fill?

The way I often describe it with clients is through discussion of buckets!

We can get very good at compartmentalising things in our heads. We might have a bucket in our head for handling day to day work issues, another bucket for a work project you are doing, another bucket for handling a difficult colleague, a bucket for the sport you do, a bucket for family issues and maybe a bucket for the volunteering we do. On a good day they may each feel about 25% full. And we can handle 25% full. However, our body does not compartmentalise stressors. It feels all of them. So six buckets of mental stress which are 25% full mentally feels ok, but physically your body bucket is 150% full. Overflowing and unable to handle the stress.

12 ways to recover from burnout…

Expect it to take a lot longer than you expect. Months in fact. It isn’t a nice linear recovery – you might be up and down for a while. And you need to be aware this is a process and one you must take seriously. The difficulty with burnout is it is usually suffered by people who are used to seeing a problem and working very hard to fix it. Burnout cannot be fixed by working harder. That makes it worse. It is fixed by stopping and recovering.

  1. Schedule in lots of sleep. Your body will be craving it to recover.
  2. If you struggle to sleep as your mind is too active have a note book by the bed and write down anything that comes up as a to do list. You can tackle it tomorrow.
  3. Take your annual leave from work – and properly switch off. That means not taking your work phone or laptop with you ‘just in case’.
  4. Build in time for intentional relaxation. Chapter 1 (Settle) of our AudioGuide: Power Down to Power Up on Audible is good for this.
  5. Figure out how many buckets you are trying to fill. Which ones can you set aside for a while?
  6. Try to finish work on time. Where you can’t and do have to work late on something set a timer on your emails so they don’t send until 9am the next day. This stops you anticipating replies and staying stressed and anxious waiting for them.
  7. Plan in exercise – but exercise with the only goal being to enjoy it. Burnout with big sporting goals do not go well together – you drag out the burnout and do badly in your sporting goals so you feel doubly rubbish.
  8. Prioritise the stuff you have to do and ask for help with the bits you can’t. But notice if you are doing the easy stuff and procrastinating on the harder, scarier stuff. Burnout (and anxiety) tends to do this to us but it simply drags out the issues and gives you more to do down the line, and usually in a rush which feels super stressful.
  9. Consider how to refocus work to give you more headspace for other things: Job sharing, WFH, flexible hours, mentoring.
  10. Try to take breaks in the work day – ideally to do some exercise as this helps us keep our stressors in more perspective.
  11. Learn a few grounding techniques to centre yourself when it gets too much. You can use Chapter 2 (Ground) of Power Down to Power Up for this.
  12. Find a psychologist who can help you develop flexibility so you can respond more effectively to the thoughts and emotions you will be feeling, stay grounded when it is feeling too much, understand what matters most to you so you can start to prioritise it and take steps towards changing your work environment. Someone who works from an ACT approach might be a good place to start.