How To Overcome Burnout At Work (+7 FAQs)

Burnout can silently creep up on you even when working from a holiday destination.

You can burn out while working your dream job or in a side hustle, at an office or at your home. It can happen if you have well-set goals, and even when you are aimless in life.

Burnouts can happen to anyone, at any place of work. It can happen to spouses and mothers who stay at home and only do housework.

Burnouts are like giant boulders on your shoulders that you build by gathering a lot of work stresses.

Since they do not grow overnight, you may not realize that you are having one. The best way to help yourself is to recognize the symptoms early.

And the worst thing you can do is keep telling yourself that everything will be fine soon.

“Burnout can strike you wherever you work – at the office, at home, or even while on vacation if you’re working.”

What Is Burnout At Work?

Burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion as a result of prolonged work-related stress. It is usually triggered by working long hours, heavy workloads, a lack of control over one’s work, and poor social support at the workplace. Burnout victims typically produce low-quality work and may explode in anger as a result of their stress.

According to Herbert Freudenberger, who coined the term “burnout,” it has three features: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization-derealization, and a sense of futility.

Help yourself overcome burnout at work without quitting
You can help yourself overcome burnout at work without quitting.

Help Yourself Overcome Burnout At Work: 5 Ways That Don’t Need Quitting

Some believe quitting a stressful job is the only way to avoid or beat burnout, but there are less drastic options.

Two of the easiest ways to fix workplace burnout that doesn’t require leaving your job are starting 30 to 45 minutes of daily exercise, and taking short vacations on weekends.

Here are five evidence-based practical ways for getting yourself out of a burnout phase or preventing one from occurring:

1. Develop New Workplace Relationships

Building new relationships doesn’t mean sparking up office romances. It means we make acquaintances and friends at the workplace, taking time away from our digital screens.

We are social creatures, and interpersonal contacts can help us avoid work burnout.

You might strike up new friendships with coworkers you don’t normally interact with. Do you commute together and have seen them on your train or bus? Do you sit next to them while eating your lunch?

When you’re working with your best friends, it often doesn’t feel like work. Research (The role of co-worker and supervisor support on job burnout and job satisfaction) shows co-worker support could reduce emotional exhaustion and depersonalization.

Friends at work can help you decompress, give you moments of laughter and joy, and support you when you want to share certain experiences. Workplace camaraderie also helps you work to your full potential and be happier.

Importantly, your new colleague-friends can help you enjoy your work and look forward to coming to work.

On the other side, you cannot perform optimally if you do not speak to any of your colleagues outside work-related talks. It can cause you to build up stress, which can lead to burnout.

Even shy people will occasionally find one or two close coworkers with whom to share a laugh and a story.

So, if it’s been a while since you took efforts to build organic relationships at work, try striking up a conversation with a coworker today.

Alternatively, plan a get-together at some safe place away from your workplace. It will help you with your performance at work as well as prevent future burnout.

It is also the responsibility of the company to create a climate of psychological safety so that social interactions are positive and pleasant.

deal with burnout
Burnout doesn’t happen overnight; it builds over time.

2. Only Do What You Agreed To Do

The pressure to perform well at work and finish extra tasks before deadlines is often what sparks the worst effects of job burnout. Reducing excess workload and cutting away what is not your job in the first place will help you avoid burnout.

Every so often, the sheer amount of work a narcissistic boss can pile on your desk every morning and on weekends is what causes burnout at work. Believe it or not, you can offload most of it.

Keep a copy of your job description and compare it to a checklist of the tasks and responsibilities allotted to you each day. Do it for a few days, even noting how much time you spend on each given task.

It can help you realize how much work you are doing beyond “your work.” You may discover that your work outside your job profile far exceeds what you get paid for. And you do not have a promotion to show for it.

Explain your situation to your boss or even their boss, emphasizing that you are overworked. Highlight the fact that your workload exceeds what was expected of you when you applied for the position.

Ask them to relieve you of your additional responsibilities, letting them know it is affecting your mental health.

Do only what you signed up for; you owe it to yourself. Learn how you can say “No” without hurting anyone or being rude.

3. Use A Breathing Technique to Relax

Deep, slow breathing can downregulate our stress response and bring serenity in the midst of a taxing work environment. Regular breathing practice can keep excessive stress from forcing you into burnout.

Here are two helpful breathing techniques:

i) “Straw breathing” for panic attacks

Anxiety makes us take faster and shallower breaths (called huffing or panting). This releases an excess amount of carbon dioxide from the bloodstream into the exhaled air.

And this causes the hemoglobin in our blood to retain oxygen rather than release it to the body. All this triggers a panic response.

Dr. Lorrie Fisher suggests the following breathing method to help with a panic attack: Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, then exhale silently through a plastic or metal straw held in your mouth. Do this for 7 rounds in a row.

“You’ll feel a significant calming in your body — but also in your mind. You have just released oxygen from hemoglobin, and your brainstem has the message.” — Dr. Lorrie Fisher, Ph.D.

Stress reduction technique: straw breathing
“Straw Breathing” for Panic Attacks

In stressful conditions, breathing exercises can increase our ability to resist and hold on.

ii) “Box breathing” for mental calmness

Try the box breathing or square breathing technique. It works better when your stress isn’t too high and you’re able to breathe with a relaxed belly.

  1. Inhale for four counts (four seconds).
  2. Hold for four counts after inhaling.
  3. Exhale to a count of four.
  4. Hold for four counts after exhaling.

What the whole process does is stimulate your vagus nerve and activate your parasympathetic (or “rest and digest”) nervous system.

Teachers in Germany leave their jobs 10 years before the legal retirement age of 65. Surveys revealed that they do so mainly because of stress-related illnesses, like depression, stress, exhaustion, and burnout.

This study on German teachers found that breathing therapy helped teachers withstand their professional demands.

Check out more ways to stimulate your vagus and keep work stress at bay: How To Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve And Calm Down.

4. Go Off The Grid For Sometime

In the modern age, work is everywhere, thanks to our smartphones and laptops. Try going off the grid, or on a digital detox sometimes.

One simple rule: Never take calls while eating or driving or exercising.

One simple trick: Use a separate phone for work.

Put your work phone away when you’re enjoying your leisure time, days off, or weekends.

When on a vacation, leave your work gadgets behind. Leave your laptops and tablets at home, and only carry your personal phone.

You’re not at work while you are away from your work. You don’t have to reply to emails unless you are under strict command to do so.

Even then, you should consider having a sit down with your manager and explaining the stress your “work away from work” is causing you.

Going “off the grid” when you’re not at work helps establish your spare time as actual leisure time, not just a time to work away from the office.

By the way, we all know how the WFH system worked against us in a pandemic-plagued world.

Many people experienced burnout when working from home. The stress of not meeting people face to face, the problems with online connection drops, and the inability to simply walk up to someone and ask for clarification or help all added up.

Burnout can happen whenever your job makes you feel like you are slaving away for longer than necessary or advisable.

We all need holidays; they can save us from burnout. Remember to choose a kind companion for your trip — one you like, respect, and trust. And they feel the same for you.

5. Introduce A Change Of Scenery

Once burnout happens, it requires obligatory time away from work. So, why not do it in spurts and forget about work while taking weekend mini-vacations?

Changes keep your mind in an active mode of learning. Give your mind a change of scenery instead of a stale work environment that is burning you out.

This could be as small as rearranging the items on your desk, and even asking to move to a different office, or taking a vacation in an area you’ve never been to.

If you feel bored to go your regular place of exercise, like the neighborhood park or the gym, try something new, such as Zumba or tai-chi. Join a laughter yoga class – it releases stress and helps you bond better with others.

Engage in creative activities like sculpture, pottery, painting, theater, and storytelling. Creative pursuits allow us to celebrate and process our big emotions.

You may also try hugging someone for 20 seconds.

Research shows a twenty-second hug can lower your blood pressure and heart rate while also improving your mood, which is reflected in the post-hug surge in oxytocin, our social-bonding hormone (Grewen, Anderson, et al., 2003).

A Work And Well-Being Survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that most people reported positive effects of taking a vacation.

68% of 1,500 workers surveyed said their mood was better when they returned to work from holiday. 66% said they had more energy. 57% reported more motivation and less stress.

By the way, the study also revealed that for 40% of workers, positive effects fade within days, and for 24%, they disappear immediately upon returning to work.

Do whatever works for you. Give your brain the delightful surprise of novelty it requires to transition from a burnout state to a productive state.

This way, you can stay in the zone when you need to be, and chill out when you don’t.

The Science of BURNOUT | Kati Morton & guest Dr. Barry Lieberman
The Science of Burnout – Kati Morton

If you feel you are unable to manage your burnout successfully, try to reach out to a burnout specialist or a medical professional.

7 FAQs On Burnout At Work

1. What can burnout at work lead to?

Burnouts can lead people into developing depression, anxiety, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions that may require expensive medical care.

In its initial stages, burnout can cause emotional and physical fatigue, making you feel too tired to work. Sleepiness, irritation, and inattentiveness follow, making you less productive at work.

If left untreated for too long, burnout may have serious effects, like accidents. In heavy machinery environments, such as construction sites, burnout may make a person a potentially life-threatening danger to themselves and others.

2. What is the final stage of workplace burnout?

The final stage of burnout is when the sufferer feels completely disconnected from their work, colleagues, relationships, and environment. They may start to feel worthless and see their lives as purposeless and meaningless. They stop feeling joy in all activities and may even have thoughts of self-harm.

3. What does burnout at work feel like?

Burnout at work can lead to a host of negative feelings, including exhaustion throughout the day, difficulty concentrating on tasks, emotional numbness, feelings of low self-esteem and shame, high levels of worry or stress, pessimism about the future, and cynicism about work and the world.

4. Is burnout a mental illness?

Yes, burnout is a mental illness with multiple symptoms. It is a state of mental fatigue and emotional exhaustion, accompanied by physical symptoms like tiredness, chest pain, palpitations, breathlessness, and sleeplessness. It depletes the sufferer’s energy and willpower, leaving them unable and unwilling to work.

The hallmark of burnout is a profound loss of interest in work, which often spills over to the non-work areas of life.

5. How long does burnout last?

Burnout is only diagnosed once the symptoms have been present for more than three months. Burnout, thus, can last between 6 and 30 months. It may take much longer than 30 months if the conditions for recovery, such as adequate rest or a positive environment, are not fulfilled.

If the symptoms do not resolve after three months, it is categorized as severe burnout which can last 6 to 18 months, making it difficult to return to work. Following that, it takes another 6-12 months of steady recovery before the sufferer’s mental and physical capacities return.

Burnout is not some “made-up excuse for a day off,” as some employers seem to think.

Moreover, many burnout victims are unaware that they are in one and assume that taking a day off will resolve their mental overwhelmingness.

6. Should you tell your boss you’re burned out?

Yes, you must alert your bosses that your mental health is hurting because of your persistent extra workload and you are feeling burned out.

Do it firmly but politely, without getting too emotional. Typically, it will result in you working within your assigned responsibilities and feeling less pressured. If it doesn’t, consider quitting because your health comes first.

“Most people in corporate offices live from deadline to deadline, without any time to look over and check if burnout has entered their lives.” — THB

7. Can you get fired for burnout?

It is a common misconception that you can get fired from your job for having burnout. However, most bosses and employers are sympathetic and dismissal is not always necessary.

As long as you are able to do your job, and you take the required steps to recover from your burnout, it is unlikely that you will be fired.

Burnout occurs when a person has been overextending for too long and neglecting the need to take time off work. They are more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety, which can severely impair their abilities at work. Such situations may invite a termination.

Final Words

We’ve all felt work-related stress at some point in our lives. Mostly it was mild, so we were fine. But chronic stress can evolve into burnout to strike anyone at any work.

Some ‘bad days’ will turn into bad weeks, then bad months. You become sick and tired of working for X company, and you sense that it won’t get any better ever.

Burnout can often feel like an unending sentence, more so these days of a looming recession in the shadow of a pandemic, when you need to keep your job.

Physical activity is the first line of defense against stress response. Find out how to make exercise a daily habit.

Seek help if your burnout is severe and you can’t seem to recover from it on your own.

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Take a look at these 6 alarming signs of Mental Fatigue (that you cannot ignore).

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When it comes to mental well-being, you don't have to do it alone. Going to therapy to feel better is a positive choice. Therapists can help you work through your trauma triggers and emotional patterns.