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How to Prevent and Recover From Burnout at Work

In 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised ‘burnout’ as an ‘occupational phenomenon’. A state of physical and emotional exhaustion, burnout occurs when you experience long-term stress in your job, or when you’ve worked in a physically or emotionally draining role for a long time. Research conducted by YouGov in March 2021 revealed one in five UK workers felt ‘unable’ to manage pressure and stress levels at work. Unfortunately, burnout doesn’t go away on its own. Instead, it can worsen unless you address the underlying issues causing it. If you ignore the warning signs, prolonged burnout can cause serious harm to your physical and mental health. You could also become unable to meet the demands of your job which can have a knock-on effect in other areas of your life. So, how can you protect yourself from burnout at work?

Spot the Warning Signs

Burnout develops from spending long periods of time feeling stressed and overwhelmed. We can overwork for short periods, but this can’t become the norm. If we don’t listen to the signs and symptoms of burnout, they will get louder and louder until we have no choice but to stop. If you reach this point, recovery is likely to take a lot longer. Here’s what you need to look out for:

–  Feeling tired or drained most of the time

– No energy

– Feeling defeated and lacking motivation

– Sleeping and/or eating more

– Procrastination or avoiding tasks you used to find easy

– Feeling detached/alone in the world

– Noticing a negative mindset

– Self-doubt and reduced confidence

– Feeling stressed and overwhelmed

Take Action

Burnout can be hard to spot because it can take weeks or months to develop. By the time you start wondering about your symptoms, chances are you’re already experiencing burnout, so it’s important to act quickly. The action that’s usually prescribed is ‘no action’. In other words, it’s time to stop and take a break.

When you’ve been working too hard for too long, it can be challenging to stop, especially as we tend to work harder when we’re busy or overwhelmed. At first, slowing down will feel very uncomfortable because you’re not used to it. Learning a different pace takes time.

When people reach burnout, they’ve often arrived there because they’re used to striving and pushing themselves just a little too hard. If this is the case for you, slowing down may trigger your inner critic, adding another layer of suffering at what is already a difficult time. Try to counter this by fostering a supportive inner coach. Ask yourself how you would support a colleague or friend if they were going through the same thing.

Slow Down

If you’re prone to overworking, learning to slow down will help you avoid stress and burnout. The Slow Home Podcast is an excellent source of inspiration if you’re interested in making this shift.

I always advocate for gentle productivity over hustle culture. Keep your to-do lists manageable so you end each day with a feeling of achievement. Take regular breaks and never let your annual leave go untaken. To be at our best, we need downtime too. You might feel you’re being more productive by pushing through but pausing to rest and recharge your batteries will help you get more done overall.

A Few Other Things You Can Do to Prevent Burnout…

Ask for help. Read my advice about managing work-related stress and speak to your employer. They should be able to offer some support.

Support yourself. Remember to exercise and eat well. Prioritise sleep.

Start a journaling practice. This keeps you in tune with your thoughts and feelings, so it’ll be easier to spot signs of burnout. Read my beginners guide to journaling for more information.

Know your stress anchors. Identify at least five things you can do on a regular basis to release stress. Mine are yoga, mindfulness, journaling, reading, spending time with friends and walking our dogs.

Leave some white space in your diary. Figure out your capacity before you reach it and avoid over-committing yourself.

Figure out the tasks that energise you and those that deplete you. Is there a good mix of both throughout your week? If not, what does your ideal week look like? Write out a plan and start working towards it.

Recognise your achievements. Doing this gives you a small dose of dopamine which is important because lack of dopamine can lead to burnout over time.

Get My Guide to Building Emotional Resilience

Building emotional resilience is another well-being basic that can protect you from feelings of stress and burnout. Download my free guide here.

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Sarah Rees

Sarah is a fully accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and mental health writer delivering Modern Mental Health for you and with you in Mind. Sarah is the author of ‘The CBT Journal’ which helps you write for your wellbeing incorporating CBT techniques. For more information and to keep in touch have a look at