How To Build a Burnout Recovery Plan

If you’re reading this, you probably suspect you are experiencing burnout and are looking for a way to recover. You’re probably feeling exhausted and just want to feel better. Before you start building your burnout recovery plan you must understand where your burnout is coming from.

Burnout occurs when someone feels there is a gap between their work demands and their perception of their own ability to cope with that demand. Therefore, burnout doesn’t just happen when there is too much work. Someone can work many hours but not feel burned out, or work few hours but feel completely burned out. When you get to the point you are burned out, you feel mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. You might feel like you lost the ability to enjoy anything and that every day seems like a challenge. Feeling frazzled, scattered or “pulled in all directions” is very common.

What is burnout?

The term burnout was coined in the 70s by American Psychologist Herbert Freudenberge. He originally applied the term for people who were working in “helping” professions. Doctors, social workers, nurses – jobs with high stress, long hours and high ideals – often end up feeling exhausted, losing motivation and compassion for their work and feeling unable to cope.

However, there was never a clear definition of what burnout is and if it should be classified as a medical condition. Today, it is clear that people suffer from these symptoms across various jobs. Young people are feeling it more and more. Suddenly, what you’re doing just doesn’t feel important anymore, and you struggle to find reasons to go on.

Burnout and Depression

Depression and burnout share many of the same symptoms: extreme exhaustion, lack of motivation, reduced performance and negative affect – feeling low. In depression, however, the problems don’t just come from work. Other symptoms in depression can be increased appetite or lack of appetite, low self esteem, and suicidal thoughts. In addition, you can currently be diagnosed with depression by a psychologist or psychiatrist, whereas burnout is not yet a medical condition that is recognized in the DSM. Left untreated, however, feelings of burnout can develop into depression. Therefore, it is important to learn how to build a recovery plan so that the situation doesn’t get worse.

Taking care of burnout is similar to the way we take care of ourselves when we’re depressed: investing in meaningful social connections, being gentle with ourselves and investing time in things that make us feel good about ourselves.

Burnout and Self-Care

If you recognize that you are suffering from burnout, the most important thing you can do is practice self care. Since many of us aren’t used to taking good care of ourselves during our day to day, our solution is often to want to go for vacation. Of course, it’s not always possible to just go off for vacation every time you’re feeling exhausted. In addition, for many people taking a vacation isn’t really a break! You have to think of where to go, book a hotel, budget your money, and if you’re going somewhere you might as well see all the sights. Not so relaxing anymore. Not only is it not practical, it’s not a good recovery plan to overwork, vacation, repeat. The question is how to bring self-care into our daily lives.

In today’s modern world we often feel like we have to do more and more. We measure ourselves by our accomplishments. Outside of work, we want to feel like we’re “doing something”, so we might try to juggle many activities. We’ll try to balance keeping our house beautiful and tidy, keeping up with all our friends and family, going to the gym, and managing several social networks. And if we Google “self-care” we might come across perfect looking photos of baths with flower petals, difficult yoga poses or motivational photos that just tell us to “keep calm and self care”. All this just stresses us out more.

The most important skill to learn for proper self care is setting boundaries. Learning to take breaks at work to be able to work more productively, or to say no to events that will drain you instead of revilitise you, is invaluable. Limit your contact with negative people as much as possible, make meaningful connections with your coworkers and friends, and invest in projects that are meaningful to you. Remember that your priority is you. No matter how much you love your job, if something happens to you they will replace you Getting enough sleep or a nutritious meal is more important than squeezing in some more work as you eat sugary cereal in front of the computer.

Mindfulness and Burnout

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and other mindfulness programs have been shown to decrease burnout and help people manage stress. Techniques such as body scans and breathing meditation improve people’s reported measures of wellbeing. While there is a huge benefits to doing a structured course, you can also find guided meditation and teaching on YouTube or through apps like Calm, Mindspace or Insight Timer. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programs help teach valuable skills for burnout recovery, like being present with your work and leaving work at work.

Practicing mindfulness helps you be more aware of what is going on instead you. It’s about recognizing your thoughts, emotions and sensations more quickly, but at the same time not identifying with them. For example, if you normally don’t realize how exhausted you are until you collapse over the weekend, practicing mindfulness can help you notice when these feelings pop up during the same day. Mindfulness isn’t just about noticing, though. When you feel these emotions of stress, exhaustion or lack of motivation coming up, mindfulness teaches you to be present with them, accepting them without trying to push them away or getting stuck in a cycle of negativity.

Through learning mindfulness you can learn to separate thoughts and lessen your identification with them. When our thoughts have less power, our stress doesn’t take over our lives.

Being mindful doesn’t just involve meditation. Introspection will help you discover why you are feeling burned out in the first place. Try and write down what made you feel stressed out every day, and question why the events had that emotional reaction from you. Understanding your burnout completely is a key step in building a recovery plan.

Your Burnout Recovery Plan

  • Find balance in your life. You might hate your job and find yourself unable to quit, but you can look for things outside of work that give you satisfaction. Focus on volunteering, making art, or investing in your family.
  • Learn to take real breaks. If you’re not working, you’re not working. No more watching TV while checking work emails. Shut your phone an hour before bed and don’t check it as soon as you wake up. Being “always on” is the quickest road to burnout.
  • Learn to set boundaries. Spending time with others is important, but you don’t have to attend every social function. There might be many projects you’re interesting in doing, but you won’t be able to do them all without spreading yourself too thin. Learning to say “no” is the most important thing you can do for yourself.
  • Make your health a priority. Getting enough sleep, drinking water and cutting back on alcohol, and making sure to move your body every day will make a huge difference in your stress levels. Even if you don’t feel you have enough time, fitting exercise in your week will boost your mood.
  • Find value in what you do. How does your job help others or benefit the company? What parts of your job do you enjoy?
  • Nourish your creativity. Pick up a new hobby, doodle, or start a project that is unrelated to work.
  • Connect to your coworkers. Say hello instead of picking up your phone during work breaks. Make work a place that is more enjoyable. Your coworkers can help you get through a rough day by making you smile or simply listening.
  • Take time off. If all else fails, take some time away to recharge your batteries. Sometimes we need distance to learn how to recalibrate. Use this time to investigate recovery options for you. Reevaluate your priority and what you want to achieve. What do you enjoy doing? What are your goals or dreams? This might be the perfect opportunity to reconnect with yourself and set out on a different path.

Overcoming Burnout in 30 Days

If you’re struggling with building your burnout recovery plan from home, we can help. While recovery from severe burnout is no easy task, at New Life our 30 day Resident program has all the tools you need to rest, recover and build a healthier life. You will get to learn your own body and mind, and develop tools to help you back home.

Through working meditation, you will learn to recognize your emotional and mental patterns at work. You will be able to examine these patterns in your therapy sessions and learn how to care for yourself. In workshops, you will learn how to set healthy boundaries, communicate efficiently through non-violent communication, and bridge the gap between body and mind. In between all this self-growth work, you will be able to relax by the pool, read books from our large library, or just enjoy a conversation or movie in our cozy Recreation Hall.


by Chen Polat

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