9 Ways to Overcome Burnout and Find Balance in Your Life
What Is Burnout?
You may feel like you’re stuck in a rut, where it takes all your energy to get up every morning, go to work, and repeat. You’re in an exhausting cycle where you stay up at night thinking about your to-do list and next big project at work. You might find yourself getting into arguments with loved ones, eating more and more quick takeout, and skipping your daily workout because you’re just too busy.
You probably keep saying, “Once things calm down and I feel like myself again, I can take that vacation” or “I can spend time with my friend” or “I can eat right and focus on my health again.”
If this is you… you are likely experiencing burnout. And you are not alone. A 2021 Pathways report found 9 out of 10 employees were concerned about burnout. (1)
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and/or physical exhaustion from excessive stress over time. Although burnout is typically associated with work, it can happen to anyone for any reason.
What Does Burnout Look Like?
Burnout significantly impacts your day-to-day, and that’s because it touches emotional, mental, and physical health.
As part of burnout, you may experience symptoms like: (2)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling emotionally drained
- Feeling isolated from others
- Frequently getting sick
- Poor job performance
- Short temper or quick to anger
- Upset stomach
Burnout and Emotional Health
Burnout and stress can derail emotional health, or how you are able to manage thoughts, feelings, and emotions. This connects back to coping mechanisms and resilience. While it’s normal to experience emotions like sadness and frustration, how a person processes, internalizes, and handles those emotions makes the difference.
Constant stress and high emotions can be a struggle for your body to keep up with, which slowly chips away at emotional health. For example, burnout can put strain on relationships and your interactions with those around you. People experiencing burnout are more likely to distance themselves from loved ones and friends, or no longer find time to progress these essential relationships.
This is an endless cycle, as isolation leads to more unhappiness and stress, which then leads to more burnout and isolation. Burnout can easily spiral out of control and damage relationships, as well as worsen coping skills.
Along with this, burnout also triggers higher levels of cynicism. You may lose interest in work or even expect the worst from coworkers and the company. Unfortunately, cynicism is closely linked to unhealthy lifestyle and risk factors for mental and physical health. How you process emotions like frustration at work can have a direct impact on the mental and physical aspects as well. (3)
Burnout and Mental Health
Mental health and emotional health overlap. How a person processes emotions and the ups and downs in life directly correlates with mental health. Burnout can lead to thoughts of feeling trapped, a sense of failure, loss of motivation, more cynicism, hopelessness, and so on. All of these factors can lead to serious mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
In fact, a 2021 study found a significant association between burnout and depression, as well as burnout and anxiety. While this study looked specifically at medical workers, it applies to all fields and career types. The added emotional and mental burden naturally can lead to mental health conditions. (4)
The strong correlation between burnout and mental health is why more and more corporations are providing mental health benefits, such as counseling, resources, retreats, self-care days, trainings, and summits. These programs can boost employee productivity, performance, and satisfaction (5).
Burnout and Physical Health
Alongside emotional and mental effects, burnout can lead to a variety of physical concerns, such as fatigue, heart disease, high blood pressure, insomnia, type 2 diabetes, weakened immune system, and weight gain. (2)
When under constant pressure, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a common factor in major complications like diabetes, high blood pressure, and weight gain. The more excess cortisol your body pumps out, the more it can damage your health in the long run. Similarly, high stress can set off the body’s inflammatory response, which overtime compromises your immune system. Of course, a weakened immune system can cause a cascade of issues, starting with more colds and viruses. (6, 7)
Also keep in mind, people with burnout tend to sleep less, change eating habits, and spend more time working at a desk vs. getting active. All of these working together can take a toll on physical well-being.
Possible Causes of Burnout
Now that we’ve covered all the negative consequences of burnout, let’s dive into why you’re feeling this way. Here’s the top factors for burnout: (8)
- Lack of control: Having no autonomy, freedom, flexibility, direction, or say over your day-to-day work management can lead to burnout fast. This is one of the top quoted reasons for burnout listed by people in the workplace.
- Negative workplace dynamics: Alongside a lack of control is a toxic work environment. If you experience friction or misalignment with coworkers or your direct manager, this triggers stress on an almost daily basis. Burnout is inevitable, especially when it goes along with other burnout factors.
- No support system: Outside of work, it’s important to have a social circle to support you. One indication of burnout is isolating yourself from friends and family. But the reverse is also true — not having positive social interactions and relationships can lead to burnout. (9)
- Unclear job expectations: When asked what was most stressful when experiencing change at work, 31% listed “unclear expectations.” A lack of clear objectives and guidelines, or constantly shifting expectations, can lead to frustration and then burnout. (10)
Work-life imbalance: We all know that working too many hours and the line blurring between work and personal life can cause issues, including burnout. But it may play an ever bigger role than we thought. According to a recent study, work-life interference significantly increases burnout, which contributes to both higher turnover rates and lower career satisfaction. (11)
9 Ways to Lessen Burnout
Life coaching is getting more and more attention nowadays, as people experience more and more stress and overwhelm in their day-to-day lives. Coaches can specialize in everything from wellness to relationship management, or even burnout. A burnout coach typically helps educate, guide, and support you to limit burnout and build long-term resilience.
A burnout coach can be beneficial in the beginning stages or later stages of burnout, or even prior to experiencing burnout to prevent it. Through sessions, a coach guides you through coping processes, exercises to pinpoint stressors, stress relief techniques, and more.
When asked in a survey, 67% of coaching clients said coaching helped improve their work-life balance. Another survey found that 70% of coaching clients improved communication, relationships, and work performance. (12, 13)
- Essential oils
Essential oils can be a great way to alleviate burnout and stress and instead evoke positive reactions in your body. Essential oils can be added to baths, diffused, inhaled, rubbed onto the body, or sometimes taken orally when following certain precautions. Examples include basil, helichrysum, lavender, and peppermint.
One study found that a mixture of basil, helichrysum, and peppermint helped relieve mental exhaustion and moderate burnout. All three of these essential oils are known to promote clarity of mind and lessen mental fatigue. (14)
Lavender essential oil is known for its calming and relaxing effects. It may also help reduce anxiety, agitation, depression, insomnia, and restlessness. A study found that when inhaled before going to bed, it improved the quality of deep sleep. Plus, in the case of general anxiety, lavender essential oil can be just as effective as a prescription medication. (15, 16)
You’ve probably heard the phrase “get a life.” Well, in the case of burnout, sometimes that’s what you need. Something as simple as baking, board games, journaling, painting, physical activities like pickleball, playing an instrument, reading, or solving puzzles can be good pastimes.
Hobbies help with burnout by getting you out of your usual routine. Hobbies tend to relieve stress, encourage you to socialize, and take your mind off work. Also, for the perfectionist personalities, it can help give you a sense of accomplishment outside your career. (17)
Word of caution, however: make sure your hobby is relaxing and doesn’t end up contributing to your burnout. If you enjoy it, then that’s what matters. But remember… everything in moderation!
Meditation is another useful method to reverse the effects of burnout in your life. Meditation is a known practice that trains the brain to focus on a particular object, thought, or activity. It helps build resilience, clear the mind, lower stress, and promote a calm state of being. (18)
Researchers conducted a study where participants went through a 4-week meditation plan, which helped significantly reduce stress and burnout. Another study looked at the benefits of a 12-week meditation program. The researchers found similar results: less burnout and improved emotional well-being for participants. (19, 20)
The nice thing about meditation is it’s an easy exercise to add to your daily routine. There’s lots of information available online about meditation, as well as guided meditations videos to get an idea how to start. Taking a few minutes a day to meditate can make a big difference in your emotional, mental, and physical health.
- Mindful movement
Mindful movement pairs well with meditation. Exercises like gentle stretching, qigong, tai chi, and yoga are gentle, low impact physical activities that support breathing and awareness. Mindful movement has been found to lessen the effects of anxiety, burnout, depression, and stress. (21, 22, 23, 24)
One reason mindful movement is effective is because these activities lower cortisol levels. For example, in a study they had participants do 90 minutes of yoga five days a week. They found that yoga lessens inflammation, lowers cortisol levels, and significantly slows the cellular aging process. (25)
Each mindful movement has its own techniques. However, in yoga there’s a few different poses that can help lower burnout and stress. Some good starting poses include constructive rest, half sun salutation, simple cross-legged position, and warrior 2. (26)
Nature can be healing and has a variety of positive effects on the body, both mentally and physically.
When looking at mental health benefits of getting out in nature, the increased activity can stimulate your prefrontal cortex, which controls emotions. This boosts mood and encourages relaxation. It can also lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. In particular, sunshine and vitamin D exposure during the day can increase serotonin, or your “happiness hormone.” (27, 28)
As already mentioned, being in nature has positive effects on mood and neural responses, as well as tends to increase physical activity, all of which can influence physical well-being. Research has found that being out in nature can lower blood pressure, obesity, and risk of diabetes. It may also promote better sleep, cardiovascular health, immunity, and healthy pregnancies. (27)
One of the top recommendations for people experiencing burnout is to get away. A vacation is often the go-to, but that only acts as a temporary escape from the burnout lifestyle. For the difference in the long run, a retreat may be a better fit.
Retreats are designed to promote rest and reset, but also to give you the education and resources to learn resilience, healthy habits, and work-life balance. Typically, these retreats are run by specialized burnout coaches or professionals who are best equipped to help you overcome burnout in your life. Retreats have the added benefit of a social circle as a support.
Depending on the retreat, you may also incorporate other practices to help against burnout, such as meditation, mindful movement, and other relaxation techniques. This offers you a more cohesive, all-in-one option to face your burnout head on.
One study of a one-day burnout training retreat found that among employees it decreased emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, as well as improved their opinions of customers. 91% of the participants found the training helpful. Longer retreats would have the even greater opportunity to promote relaxation and teach healthy habits related to burnout. (28)
Self-care looks different for everyone. Maybe you like getting massages, relaxing out in nature, or getting your favorite drink at Starbucks. Sometimes, preventing and limiting burnout is as simple as having a self-care day in place a few times a month. This looks different for everyone, but should be a day spent on you.
Of course, these other ways to help fight burnout could all be examples of self-care. You might take a day to focus on a hobby, attend a retreat, or get out in nature. But the important thing here is dedicated time you allot every week and month for self-care.
At times, giving yourself a break to reflect and relax is all you need to reset. For larger issues, you may need more intensive help, such as coaching, counseling, or specialized burnout retreats. Either way, self-care is a good habit to learn early.
You hear it all the time: sleep, sleep, sleep. Well, catching zzzs matters just as much for avoiding and lessening burnout. Two of the main symptoms of burnout are fatigue and trouble sleeping.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleeping less than six hours a night is one of the best predictors of burnout. Getting the recommended 7–9 hours of sleep helps your body recover and give you the energy necessary to perform well. Less sleep can deteriorate your mental and physical health, which can only further spiral stress at the workplace. (29)
Sleeping more and better comes down to healthy sleeping habits. Having a set wake up time and bedtime can help train your circadian rhythm, or your internal clock. Another helpful tip is to avoid phones and electronic devices one to two hours before bed, since the blue light can disrupt your circadian rhythm. Also, make your room completely dark at night and maintain a comfortable temperature. Light, noise, and temperature can all disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm. (30, 31)
Burnout can be a major buzzkill. It can leave your emotional, mental, and physical health in shambles. It can put pressure on relationships and lifestyle. And sadly, its effect on those in the workplace just keeps growing. More and more people find themselves stressed, unhappy, and feeling stuck.
Fortunately, there’s ways to help as well. The most important first step is taking time for yourself and practicing self-care, whether it be through coaching, hobbies, meditation, mindful movement, or retreats.
There’s a light at the end of the burnout tunnel. Just keep pushing on ahead, and remember it’s okay to pause and take a breath. Burnout recovery is a process, not a sprint, but the good news is it’s possible if you keep working towards it!