7 Science-Based Hacks To Deal With Burnout

by JR Thorpe

Feeling exhausted, over-stretched, and unable to fit all your commitments into a single life? Burnout is a common feeling. Fast Company reported in 2016 that several high-paced industries, including journalism, are experiencing the consequences of burnout among female employees who scale back on their work lives after reaching a tipping point. A recent viral BuzzFeed article explored the phenomenon in depth, leading many people to ask what are ways we can actually deal with burnout?

There are, according to Verywell Mind, three main elements to burnout: "exhaustion, cynicism (less identification with the job), and feelings of reduced professional ability." Symptoms can include anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue, emotional absence and irritability as you struggle to maintain your workload and also live a healthy, fulfilling life outside of work.

One of the major causes of burnout, according to a study from 2014, is conflict between obligations at work and at home — or an absence of work-life balance. According to data gathered from the Bustle Hive, many women struggle with this aspect of their lives and find it difficult to challenge their employers to give them better working hours or more support.

Let's be real: a lot of burnout can be traced not to our own expectations but to the pressure placed on us by employers. When it comes to the parts of burnout you can individually control, though, there's research to help you out. Here are seven science-backed ways to help manage feelings of burnout.


Do Emotional Intelligence Exercises

A 2018 study of burnout in physicians found that when they had higher levels of emotional intelligence, they were more capable of avoiding burnout and managing its symptoms. The researchers achieved this through training, but you can boost your own emotional intelligence at home. Psychologist Daniel Goleman told Verywell Mind that there are five elements to emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy and motivation to fulfill your own needs rather than search for external motivation. Preston Ni at Psychology Today has a range of exercises and techniques for boosting your emotional intelligence over time; it seems that the more tuned in you are to your own needs and those around you, the more resilient you are in a job that's burning you out.


Understand The Roots Of Burnout

Burnout isn't just about working far too hard. According to a study published in 2016 in Frontiers In Psychology, it's actually about a mismatch between expectations: what you unconsciously need from your workplace, and the opportunities and rewards you're actually given. If you happen to need work that's personally fulfilling or gives you a lot of time on your own, but your work doesn't do any of that, you're much more likely to experience burnout, the research says. The study identified two common "implicit motives" that people often don't know they have — power, when people want to be in charge, and affiliation, when they want to bond with others — but there are many others. What do you really need from your job, and what isn't it giving you?


Take Control Of Your Commute

A 2015 study found that people with long, stressful commutes can be more prone to burnout than people whose strolls to work are easy — but that it's not all about time or difficulty. Part of the issue, said the researchers from the University of Montreal who did the study, is control; carpooling or being at the whims of others when you're commuting can make you feel stressed and out of control of your situation, resulting in higher anxiety levels and a higher likelihood of burnout. A commute of over 20 minute raises the risk of burnout whether it's on a bike, public transport or in a car, too. If you can control your workday commute in any way, do so to help feel more in command.


Prioritize Rest

2017 research found that when it comes to dealing with burnout, people focus on lowering their work hours but not necessarily on replenishing their energy. The research, from Florida Atlantic University, focussed on doctor burnout, but has important lessons for everybody. "Just reducing the number of hours worked is not sufficient as several studies have previously shown. Rest must result in relaxation and renewal," the scientists commented in a press release. If you're taking proactive steps to make your life more balanced, remember to extend your sleeping hours and build in breaks and rest throughout the day.


Challenge Perfectionism With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Perfectionism is a big cause of burnout, according to a study in 2015, which makes perfect sense; people who are driven to achieve the best at all times won't rest until they've given 100 percent, and can break their bodies down as a result. If you suspect your perfectionism is driving you to feel cynical, exhausted and bad at your job, there's a technique that can help: cognitive behavioral therapy.

CBT, as it's called, uses techniques in talking therapy to shift your thoughts and behavior gradually, and is particularly good for tackling embedded thought patterns like perfectionism. The UK government, in a review of burnout in 2015, found that when it came to helping with burnout, CBT sessions "showed positive (but modest) effects and were observed to produce greater effects than other types of workplace intervention, such as relaxation and meditation techniques". Seek out a therapy taster session, or see if there's anything in-house provided by your workplace health coverage.


Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness, a therapeutic practice that emphasizes connection to self, has been shown to be helpful in cases of burnout. A study of teachers in 2013 found that those who practiced mindfulness regularly were able to better regulate their own stress and avoid total burnout at work. Fortunately, mindfulness is a pretty easy thing to learn to do at home; places like Pocket Mindfulness and Harvard Health have mindfulness exercises that can be done daily to help improve wellbeing and resilience overall.


Challenge Organizations To Do Better

When you're approaching total burnout, it can be extremely difficult to motivate yourself to do anything at work beyond your own duties — because even those will likely feel like a struggle. However, the UK's review in 2015 found something powerful about burnout: it needs to be tackled on an organizational level, not just an individual one.

"Due to their longer-lasting effects, organisational [sic] interventions in the workplace may be more effective than individual interventions alone," the government report said. The best response, they added, may be "combining both organisation [sic]- and person-directed elements." Own your own business? Have any sway with HR or an opportunity to talk to higher-ups about work-life balance and burnout? Use the opportunity. There are many people like you, and every business that commits to reducing burnout rather than taking on a "Next!" mentality is a step in the right direction.


Burnout is real and it's a powerful issue. If you've reached the point of no return in your job, recognize that you're at your limit and seek the help of those around you. Burnout can be tough, and you'll need support to get through it.