How Do You Prevent Burnout? We Asked Experts
It can be tempting to move through life without ever taking a break. You might even enjoy a busy schedule; the kind where you're constantly checking things off your to-do list, thinking up new projects, and racing from one appointment to the next. But if you want to prevent burnout, it's going to be necessary to slow down, on occasion.
Typically, experts use the word "burnout" when referring to workplace stress and fatigue. "It feels like periods of exhaustion, negativity, and reluctance juxtaposed with irritability, extreme stress, and even anger about your job," Emma Donovan, MA, LPC, a psychotherapist who works with young professionals, tells Bustle. "Burnout happens when you are pushed past your limits for too long."
It can apply to other areas of life, too, whenever you have ongoing stressors, Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. But whatever the cause may be, it's important to pay attention to the signs — like exhaustion, irritability, and negativity — and make a few changes to your routine.
"Burnout itself isn't the disease," Donovan says. "It is the fever telling you that something is wrong — namely, you've been pushed too far, too fast, and too long. To prevent and reverse it, reduce stress and create boundaries." Read on below for ways to prevent burnout, according to experts.
1. Recognize The Importance Of Self-Care
It can be tough to slow down, step away from work, and let a few calls go to voicemail, especially if you've gotten into the groove of being available, and working hard, 24/7. You might feel guilty, or lazy, or as if you're missing out. But if you want to get more done, while also preventing burnout, it'll be necessary to take a break.
This is where it can help to recognize the importance of taking care of yourself, and "embrace the truth that self-care is not selfish," Manly says. In fact, when you engage in self-care, it actually makes it easier to do the things you want to do, she says, because you'll feel refreshed and rejuvenated. So don't be afraid to take time to yourself.
2. Get Plenty Of Sleep
One of the best ways to practice self-care is by getting enough sleep. So if you typically stay up till all hours of the night completing projects — or even thinking about completing projects — try setting an earlier bedtime and sticking with it, instead.
"Research continues to support the truth that a healthy night of sleep (8 hours for most people) is essential for the brain, body, and mind," Manly says. Without sleep, you may get more done in the moment, but you'll also set yourself up for burnout symptoms down the road, like exhaustion, lack of focus, and waning creativity, Manly says.
By taking good care of your health, you'll be able to approach your work with a clearer head, and you'll feel better while doing so.
3. Create Tech Boundaries
For all the ways technology is great — constant access to emails, social media, texts, etc. — it's these very same things that can lead to burnout. Chances are, you rarely get a break from the world, but instead are doing things on your phone from moment you wake up, to long after you get home from work.
While it can be tough to step away, you'll actually be doing yourself a favor by creating a few boundaries. "You need time away from work to rest and recharge," Donovan says. "Tech boundaries reduce overwhelm and help you feel refreshed." So create limits, possibly be setting aside a chunk of time each day to reply to messages.
4. Take A Proper Lunch Break
Whether you're working from home, or clocking into a more traditional job, it's helpful to set aside time for yourself throughout the day.
An easy way to do that is by taking a lunch break, even if you're busy, and even if you're tempted to simply down a granola bar while still sitting at your desk. "See your lunch hour for the break that it is, and do something you enjoy," Donovan says. "Your brain needs a break to continue functioning at its highest level."
Even if you only spend 15 minutes getting up, going for a walk, or popping out for coffee, it's better than plowing through the day, and ultimately burning yourself out.
5. Pick Up A Relaxing Hobby
Sometimes preventing burnout is about doing less. But it can also be helpful to add something new to your everyday schedule, as long as it's relaxing. And this is where picking up a soothing hobby can come in handy.
"There are many ways to reduce stress," Donovan says, "through meditation, yoga, walking, writing, napping, [...] cuddling with your pet, or whatever else works for you." While you might initially think it's yet another item on your to-do list, the point is to switch out of work mode.
"Pick an activity or two, and commit to doing it daily," Donovan says. "This reduces the stress levels that lead to burnout."
6. Shift Gears At The End Of The Day
If you've developed the habit of simply pausing work at 5 p.m., instead of ending it completely for the day, then you'll probably benefit from "shifting gears" from work mode, to rest-of-your-life mode.
"This could be through [...] writing down a summary of your day or a to-do list for tomorrow and leaving it on your desk, or spending a few minutes in your car doing deep breathing," Donovan says. "This will clear your mind and help you get ready to enjoy home life."
Of course, even with a ritual, it can still be difficult to fully turn off your work brain, and that's OK. Preventing burnout isn't about completely forgetting about work, but making an effort to strike a better balance.
7. Say No To Extra Work
Sometimes it's necessary to take on extra work in order to complete a project by a certain deadline, impress your boss, get a business off the ground, etc. But experts say you should think twice before taking on extra work, every single time its offered.
"Take a look at what you already have on your plate," Salina Schmidgall, M. Ed, PLPC, NCC, a mental health counselor, tells Bustle. "Does it already feel heavy? Then say no to something or ask for help."
The same is true for anything that feels like it would be draining, if it isn't completely necessary. It all goes back to creating boundaries, Schmidgall says, which might feel uncomfortable at first. But it's an important way to protect your overall well-being.
8. Let Go Of The Idea Of "Perfection"
Letting go of the idea of "perfection" can be a tall order, but it's something you can work towards over time, in an effort to readjust how you approach work, your schedule, and your general attitude towards success.
"There is a true wisdom in learning when 'good' is good enough," Manly says. "Chasing the illusion of perfection can lead to disastrous burnout. Focus on your priorities and allow yourself to let go of the areas that are less vital or truly unimportant."
While you may want to "do it all," and do it all perfectly, this mindset isn't sustainable — and it isn't even as helpful as you might think, when it comes to being successful. Easing out of it will help your body and mind to relax, Manly says, and it'll allow you to focus on what's truly important.
9. Stay Connected
Another great way to combat burnout is by making a conscious effort to maintain other areas of your life, like your friendships. "Having a handful of people whom you can be honest with and gain perspective from can be really powerful in the prevention process," Dr. Snehal Kumar, a licensed psychologist, tells Bustle.
Not only is it nice to go out and do something fun, in order to give your brain a break, but a group of trusted friends can also help you spot the signs of burnout, Kumar says. And from there, you can take steps to change up your routine.
Taking breaks — both mental and physical — is necessary when it comes to preventing burnout, as is recognizing burnout in the first place. If you've been stressed, tired, or feeling "blah," that's your cue to adjust your schedule, and refocus on your well-being.
Emma Donovan, MA, LPC, psychotherapist
Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist
Salina Schmidgall, M. Ed, PLPC, NCC, mental health counselor
Dr. Snehal Kumar, licensed psychologist