Does your client complain about feeling emotionally exhausted, uninvested in their work, and questioning their career decisions and abilities?
If so, they might be experiencing burnout – the final stage of poorly managed workplace stress.
The best way to explain the effects of work and leisure activities on our health is to use the metaphor of a battery. Work activities delete our battery charge, but certain activities can recharge us. If we don’t recharge, our battery is going to run empty. If that happens, we have developed burnout.
In 2020, Gallup reported that three-quarters of employees experienced burnout ‘always,’ ‘often,’ or ‘sometimes.’ Burnout has detrimental consequences to workplace productivity and employee health; it must be addressed.
In this post, we’ll explore various strategies that can be used to recover from burnout.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to These science-based exercises will equip you and those you work with, with tools to manage stress better and find a healthier balance in your life.
This Article Contains:
- How to Recover From Burnout
- 3 Scientifically Proven Treatments
- Burnout Management: The Importance of Self-Care
- Recovering From Burnout: 4 Helpful Exercises
- How Long Does It Take to Recover?
- A Look at the 6 Recovery Stages
- Best PositivePsychology.com Burnout Prevention Tools
- A Take-Home Message
How to Recover From Burnout
Burnout is largely a result of poorly managed workplace stress, and the primary responsibility for preventing it rests with managers (Gallup, 2020).
Besides talking to managers or supervisors, there is little that employees can do to change the company culture or workplace demands. Unlike employees, managers have the power and resources to change the workplace environment. With positive leadership, good managers will know the warning signs of burnoutand should be able to intercede.
Fortunately, there are several things your client can do at home to recover from burnout, without help from a manager.
The effort–recovery theory posited by Meijman and Mulder (1998) explains how burnout can be accelerated by daily activities.
In a nutshell, they argue that:
- Work-related activities require cognitive and physical energy to complete; in other words, there is a cost involved.
- This cost can be recovered after a brief break from work.
- However, if the break is too short or if the break is never taken, then the cost is never recovered.
- When an employee with an energy deficit approaches work-related tasks, their productivity will be reduced and they work slower. To make up for the shortfall, the employee might work overtime, which again prevents recuperation from the cost of work-related activities. As a result, the employee is continuously working at an energy loss and can never fully recuperate.
With this in mind, employees recover from burnout when their cognitive and physical resources are recharged. To recharge these resources, employees must take a break from work and participate in other activities with the following properties:
- They have beneficial consequences.
- They promote good health and habits.
- They foster supportive relationships.
Activities that can support burnout work recovery include:
- Downtime activities:
These are activities that are not outcome driven or productive, require little effort, and are purely enjoyable. Examples are coloring, watching tv, and napping.
- Social activities:
These include social interactions with friends and family. The goal of these social interactions is to develop healthy support networks to protect clients from stress.
- Physical activities:
Regularly taking part in sports can reduce the harmful effects of stress. Exercising in a group or with friends can also foster social relationships and encourage a healthy sleeping pattern.
3 Scientifically Proven Treatments
To curate a list of effective treatments, we consulted several peer-reviewed manuscripts.
Each treatment is briefly described below.
Daily recovery is vital
Overwhelmingly, research suggests that daily recovery efforts are more important than waiting for the weekend or a vacation (Derks & Bakker, 2014; Oerlemans & Bakker, 2014).
In other words:
- More frequent breaks are better than one long annual vacation.
- Daily recovery periods are more important and effective than weekly, or less frequent, recovery periods.
Put your smartphone away
By reading participants’ regular journal entries, researchers gained insight into natural strategies that participants used to combat burnout.
Derks and Bakker (2014) found that burnout recovery was hampered by work–home interference, which is when our home and work needs conflict. The researchers argued that smartphone use after hours put people at risk of work–home interference, specifically:
- Receiving text messages about work after work hours
- Actively checking work email after work hours
Derks and Bakker (2014) divided their research participants into two groups: those who used their work smartphone after hours and those who did not. Participants who used their work phone after hours were more likely to experience work–home interference and struggle with burnout recovery.
If these participants could ‘disengage’ from their work and not use their work phones, then they were able to relax.
If you were wondering, avoid syncing your smartwatch with your work email; it will have the same deleterious effects.
Yes, you should lie on the couch
In another diary study, Oerlemans and Bakker (2014) were interested in how burnout recovery was affected by the following three daily activities:
- Social activities – spending time with friends and family at home or outside of the home; taking part in social activities with other people outside of the home
- Low-cost activities – lying on the couch, watching tv, doing nothing, napping
- Physical activities – participating in sports, yoga, or exercise
Oerlemans and Bakker (2014) analyzed the diary entries of 247 people across two weeks. To measure burnout recovery, they asked participants to rate statements relating to:
- Physical vigor, characterized by feeling energetic and strong
- Cognitive liveliness, characterized by thinking quickly, feeling creative, and coming up with novel solutions and ideas
- Recovery, characterized as feeling rested and having sufficient time to recover
Overall, burnout recovery improved following participation in any of the three types of activities.
However, when Oerlemans and Bakker (2014) split the participants into groups of high-risk versus low-risk for burnout, they found the following for the high-risk participants:
- Low-cost activities improved physical vigor and cognitive liveliness, but not feelings of recovery.
- Social activities improved physical vigor, cognitive liveliness, and recovery.
- Physical activities showed no improvement for any of the three outcome variables.
Other recommended strategies known to assist with burnout recovery include the following (Demerouti, 2015; Derks & Bakker, 2014):
- Detach from work. Remove yourself mentally and physically from work after work has ended. At the end of the day, close your laptop and walk away.
- Deploy coping strategies that directly target a stressful situation, rather than coping strategies that aim to change feelings about a situation. These are known as problem-based coping strategies and emotion-based coping strategies, respectively. Avoidance strategies such as ignoring the situation are extremely unhelpful.
- Employees who used compensation strategies to cope with negative job reviews were better able to cope with workplace stress. Compensation strategies include relying on other people for help (e.g., forming a daily writing group), using technology (e.g., adding reminders to their calendars), and learning new skills.
- Promote good healthy habits, such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and enough sleep.
Other recommended strategies include relying on religious or spiritual guidance, including:
- Attending religious ceremonies and support groups
Burn out to brilliance. Recovery from chronic fatigue – Linda Jones
Burnout Management: The Importance of Self-Care
Unfortunately, your client might not have the necessary power or resources to make the changes needed in the workplace to counteract burnout. However, they can promote self-care and put themselves first.
The best way to counteract the cost of work is self-care.
Specifically, your client should focus on their wellbeing first. The importance of self-care is simple when we return to the battery metaphor. If your client’s battery is not fully charged, then they cannot provide enough energy to their work and life responsibilities.
By improving their wellbeing, clients will become more resilient to workplace stress.
Promoting self-care can be difficult especially when coupled with bad habits, such as working overtime, responding to work messages or texts after hours, and saying yes to everything, resulting in an unreasonable workload.
To aid your client, encourage them to place importance on the following:
- Downtime tasks include activities that require little effort to complete, have no productive outcome, and are not deadline driven. Examples include reading, watching tv, coloring, and napping. These tasks should have little to no physical or cognitive demands.
- Social tasks, such as spending time with family and friends, will foster a supportive social network for your client. By contacting friends and family, clients will have an outlet to talk about work stressors.
- Physical activities, such as exercise and yoga, will help your client feel less stressed and also help encourage a better sleep cycle.
- General health refers to satisfying other important drives such as eating and sex. Eating a healthy diet, rather than eating irregularly or unhealthily, will contribute to an overall feeling of wellbeing. Enjoying sexual activities with one’s partner will help foster feelings of love, intimacy, and support. Other activities that can help promote general health include meditation and enough sleep.
Furthermore, your client should learn how to identify signs that they are tired or stressed. For example, do they report not enjoying their hobbies or feeling more irritable, demotivated, or tired? These could be signs that your client must take extra measures to recharge their battery.
Recovering From Burnout: 4 Helpful Exercises
Recovering from burnout can be a long, complicated procedure.
However, to help you and your client, we recommend the following exercises.
At PositivePsychology.com, you’ll find several breathing and self-awareness exercises that can help with stress. These exercises can easily be used in sessions with your client who can then use them at home.
Deep breathing can assist with feelings of stress and anxiety and may help with burnout recovery.
As a start, look at these exercises:
To help clients cultivate better awareness of their stress responses, this Reactions to Stress exercise can help. In this exercise, your client will develop a table to record capture stressful events and their reactions to them. This is especially important in situations where repeating patterns have become entrenched.
Our internal and external resources can provide a potentially endless amount of support that sustains us during stressful times and when facing challenges. The Identifying Your Stress Resources exercise contains valuable questions to help clients recognize their resources and identify how they can support their strengths. These detailed, science-based exercises will equip you or your clients with tools to manage stress better and find a healthier balance in their life. Download PDF
Download 3 Free Stress & Burnout Prevention Exercises (PDF)
These detailed, science-based exercises will equip you or your clients with tools to manage stress better and find a healthier balance in their life.
Download 3 Stress & Burnout Prevention Exercises Pack (PDF)
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How Long Does It Take to Recover?
It’s difficult to estimate the time needed to recover from burnout.
In a study aimed at improving burnout recovery, the intervention results showed positive effects (Hahn, Binnewies, Sonnentag, & Mojza, 2011). Participants in the treatment group received training about the importance of self-care, recovery from burnout, goal setting, time management, how to disengage psychologically from work, and other strategies (the full program is described in Hahn et al., 2011).
Compared to baseline measurements taken before training, participants who received training showed the following:
- One week after the second training session, recovery scores were higher, quality of sleep was better, and self-efficacy scores were higher.
- Three weeks after the second training session, recovery scores had plateaued, quality of sleep improved further, self-efficacy improved further, negative affect was lower, and perceived stress was lower.
The difficulty with an intervention study is that recovery was aided through an artificial environment (i.e., the study design itself).
Naturalistic studies show more variability in burnout recovery because employees are not actively treating their burnout through some type of intervention. In some instances, employees still report feeling burnout even after one year, and sometimes even after a decade (Cherniss, 1990).
Other naturalistic studies suggest recovery takes between one and three years (Bernier, 1998). Some researchers question whether recovery from burnout is even possible (Hakanen & Bakker, 2017).
Despite this, the published evidence suggests that regular participation in social, physical, and low-cost activities will benefit burnout recovery (Derks & Bakker, 2014; Oerlemans & Bakker, 2014).
Your client must actively monitor their feelings and thoughts, looking for signs of stress or exhaustion, which might suggest that they’re at risk of burnout. As a practitioner, you can also apply these burnout tests to monitor your client.
A Look at the 6 Recovery Stages
After interviewing 36 people who had experienced burnout, Bernier (1998) identified the following six consecutive stages to burnout recovery.
Stage 1: Admitting there is a problem
At this point, employees realized that something was wrong. They felt tired and overwhelmed and displayed psychological and physical signs of burnout. These symptoms continued to escalate, and with feedback from family and friends, employees came to realize that they were experiencing burnout.
Stage 2: Distancing from work
After recognizing that work was problematic, employees took a break from work. This break was psychological and physical. For most employees, this break was framed as sick leave, but sometimes even resignation.
Bernier (1998) reports that some participants took an average of 3.5 months of sick leave, but in some instances, they took up to 11.5 months. During this stage, employees had to learn to distance themselves from work psychologically (e.g., not thinking about work or feeling time pressures).
Stage 3: Restoring health
During the third stage, employees reported they slept excessively; they either slept for longer periods in a single sitting or took frequent naps.
Besides sleep, employees also engaged in other low-cost activities and reported not wanting to complete tasks that were too draining.
After feeding these physical needs, employees did things purely for the ‘fun’ of it. They started to reengage with their hobbies and enjoy physical activities.
Stage 4: Questioning values
By now, employees could reflect on their old values and took efforts to replace these with new efforts. They questioned what they thought was important and why, and then found meaning in new values.
One common change during this stage was that all employees placed more emphasis on their health.
Stage 5: Exploring work possibilities
During the fifth stage, employees worked hard to find job opportunities that aligned with their new values.
The time taken to find a satisfactory work environment differed between employees, and employees explored many opportunities.
Stage 6: Making a break, making a change
Finally, employees had to take a break from their work and their previous work stressors before finally achieving workplace stability.
In some instances, employees tried to return to the original workplace, but when they did, they realized they had to break away completely.
Best PositivePsychology.com Burnout Prevention Tools
In this article, we’ve looked at some useful exercises that can be adapted for clients who are experiencing burnout. These free tools can be found in our 3 Stress and Burnout Prevention Exercises Pack (PDF).
First, we recommend Strengthening The Work-Private Life Barrier, which will give both you and your client insight into the behaviors, beliefs, and conditions that create metaphorical “holes” in the barrier between work and private life. In doing so, clients are better equipped to create a strong barrier between the two to help them restore a healthy balance.
Second, the Energy Management Audit is a very useful tool for your client to use when assessing their energy levels in the following four life domains:
By assessing their energy levels, your client can learn to recognize signs of exhaustion before they reach burnout. Additionally, this tool will highlight the areas of their lives your clients are neglecting and remind them to balance their energy across all domains.
If you want to assess your client’s positive outcomes following a stressful event, then we recommend The Stress-Related Growth Scale. This 50-item assessment instrument is a useful tool for measuring stress-related growth, which allows clients to consider the positive benefits of challenging experiences for their relationships, thinking, and coping.
You can access all these exercises by downloading our 3 Stress and Burnout Prevention Exercises Pack (PDF).
If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others manage stress without spending hours on research and session prep, our 17 Stress & Burnout Prevention Exercises contains 17 validated stress management tools for practitioners. Use them to help others identify signs of burnout and create more balance in their lives.
A Take-Home Message
Our batteries can only last for so long before they need recharging.
It’s impossible to avoid stress at work completely, and sometimes clients will need to put in extra hours to complete a task. This is normal. However, in anticipation of these normal occasional work pressures, it’s even more vital that your client’s battery is fully recharged.
Although treating burnout is important, it’s even more important to prevent it.
Regular recharge moments alone or with friends and family lay down the foundation for a stronger battery in the future. Your client should not wait until they feel burnout symptoms to start focusing on the benefits of self-care and stress management.
Burnout is not limited to only your clients; as a therapist, you are also at risk. So make sure to look after yourself too, and use the advice in our related self-care for therapists article to help you mitigate your workplace stress.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to .
- Bernier, D. (1998). A study of coping: Successful recovery from severe burnout and other reactions to severe work-related stress. Work & Stress, 12(1), 50–65.
- Cherniss, C. (1990). Natural recovery from burnout: Results from a 10-year follow-up study. Journal of Health and Human Resources Administration, 13(2), 132–154.
- Demerouti, E. (2015). Strategies used by individuals to prevent burnout. European Journal of Clinical Investigation, 45(10), 1106–1112.
- Derks, D., & Bakker, A. B. (2014). Smartphone use, work–home interference, and burnout: A diary study on the role of recovery. Applied Psychology, 63(3), 411–440.
- Gallup. (2020). Gallup’s perspective on employee burnout: Causes and cures. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/282659/employee-burnout-perspective-paper.aspx
- Hahn, V. C., Binnewies, C., Sonnentag, S., & Mojza, E. J. (2011). Learning how to recover from job stress: Effects of a recovery training program on recovery, recovery-related self-efficacy, and well-being. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 16(2), 202–216.
- Hakanen, J. J., & Bakker, A. B. (2017). Born and bred to burn out: A life-course view and reflections on job burnout. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 22(3), 354–364.
- Meijman, T. F., & Mulder, G. (1998). Psychological aspects of workload. In P. J. Drenth, H. Thierry, & C. J. de Wolff (Eds.), Handbook of work and organizational psychology (2nd ed.) (pp. 5–33). Psychology Press.
- Oerlemans, W. G., & Bakker, A. B. (2014). Burnout and daily recovery: A day reconstruction study. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 19(3), 303–314.
How do I recover complete burnout? ›
- Keep Track of Your Stress Levels. You may be aware that you're stressed. ...
- Try Journaling. ...
- Move Your Body. ...
- Try Stress Management Techniques. ...
- Set Boundaries. ...
- Be Compassionate… ...
- Reset Your Sleep Schedule. ...
- Nourish Your Body.
It takes an average time of three months to a year to recover from burnout. How long your burnout lasts will depend on your level of emotional exhaustion and physical fatigue, as well as if you experience any relapses or periods of stagnant recovery.What is the best exercise for burnout? ›
Aerobic exercise, like running, can help your brain recover from mental exhaustion or burnout, according to new research. This may be because this type of exercise provides recovery for your cognitive processes and nervous system so they can function more effectively.What are healthy coping mechanisms for burnout? ›
The main coping strategies that have been identified by Lazarus and Folkman (1984) are as follows: confrontation, distancing, self-control, seeking social support, accepting responsibility, escape-avoidance, problem solving, and positive reappraisal.How does the brain heal after burnout? ›
Try to do healthy activities as part of that self-care, such as “trying to get to sleep and eating healthy foods not high in sugar,” Arnsten said. “Alcohol is what people often reach for to relieve the stress, but it actually makes you feel worse the next day … and the same thing with benzodiazepines like Valium.How do you push through burnout? ›
- Reframe Your Mindset. Consider the role you're burned out from and remind yourself why you started, Thornton suggests. ...
- Make Time for Self-Care. ...
- Ask for Help. ...
- Maintain Your Social Life. ...
- Set Boundaries.
Despite the grip that burnout has over so many of us, recovery is possible. While there's no quick fix to burnout, there are many ways to alleviate stress levels and return to a healthier state of being.How long is the longest burnout? ›
Tune in. Burn out.
Our boy and Victory Stunt Team rider, Joe Dryden, made it in the Guinness World Records by completing a massive burnout. 2.23 miles to be exact, at Orlando Speed World on a Victory Octane. Oooo mama, that's a humdinger!
Friends and family members may also notice behavioral changes. If left untreated, burnout can become a part of your everyday life and eventually lead to anxiety or depression. You can also begin to experience chronic mental and physical fatigue that prevents you from working.Does exercise cure burnout? ›
The physical benefits of exercise have been widely documented, helping individuals maintain their mental health, reducing fatigue, and improving overall cognitive function. Taking the time to make self-care a daily activity can be vital to reducing burnout.
Is walking good for burnout? ›
Going for a walk, even a very short one, does something super positive for your body. It immediately reduces burnout symptoms related to your stress hormones, simply by moving. Being outside is beneficial for you too, rain or shine. Plus, it is a forward motion that triggers your mind to think and feel forward more.What are 5 healthy coping skills? ›
- Establishing healthy boundaries.
- Creating a to-do list.
- Walking away from a stressful situation.
- Asking for support from friends, family, or a professional.
- Practicing time management & problem-solving skills.
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. ...
- Take care of yourself. ...
- Take care of your body. ...
- Make time to unwind. ...
- Talk to others. ...
- Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol.
Take vacations away from home and work. Engage in pleasurable or fun activities every day. Practice relaxation exercises such as yoga, prayer, meditation or progressive muscle relaxation. Avoid use of caffeine and alcohol.How much sleep do you need to recover from a burnout? ›
The research is very clear: seven to eight hours of sleep reverses emotional exhaustion and increases energy levels. Track how much sleep you get on average, and make a plan to increase it to the proper amount. Physiological recovery is the basis for psychological and behavioral recovery.Can burnout cause permanent damage? ›
Research shows that not only does burnout affect your mood and productivity--it actually affects your brain function. Participants in burnout studies showed enlarged amygdalae, and thinning of the frontal cortex.How do you break the cycle of burnout? ›
- Involve others – Whatever you're working, on get others' ideas in addition to your own. ...
- Incorporate relaxation into your daily routine – Whatever that means for you, whether it's taking a coffee break outside, throwing a ball for your dog, or watching a tv show.
- Eliminate the stressor. While not always possible, the best way to treat stress is to eliminate the stressor. ...
- Eat healthy. ...
- Exercise. ...
- Limit alcohol. ...
- Get enough sleep. ...
- Practice mindfulness. ...
- Connect with a trusted friend. ...
- Take a break.
Habitual Burnout. The final stage of burnout is habitual burnout. This means that the symptoms of burnout are so embedded in your life that you are likely to experience a significant ongoing mental, physical or emotional problem, as opposed to occasionally experiencing stress or burnout.Why does it take years to recover from burnout? ›
Since burnout affects people differently, recovery time hinges on how a person experiences work-related exhaustion. Because of this variation, recovery time can take anywhere from a few weeks to several years.
What are the long term effects of burnout? ›
The most commonly reported residual symptom was reduced stress tolerance, but many patients also reported problems with concentration and memory and sleep disturbances that plausibly are residual symptoms due to the former exhaustion.Is burnout temporary or permanent? ›
Burnout symptoms are usually temporary and disappear after you address them. If not addressed, these can also affect your physical health and cause heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol, and even type 2 diabetes. Depression symptoms, on the other hand, can get in the way of your daily life and are longer-term.Who holds the record for longest burnout? ›
Victory Stunt Team rider, Joe Dryden managed to bag a 2.23 mile burnout in front of officials' eyes and became a Guinness World Records holder in the process.Do you sleep a lot after burnout? ›
Fatigue is a major symptom of burnout and can affect all areas of your life. You might feel like sleeping all the time, or find that even simple tasks take longer to complete.How long can you survive burnout? ›
It can take weeks, months, or even years. In order to begin the process of healing, you'll have to recognize the signs your body and mind give you once you're teetering at the edge.What are the three A's of coping? ›
When your stress level exceeds your ability to cope, you need to restore the balance by reducing the stressors or increasing your ability to cope or both. Try using one of the four A's: avoid, alter, accept or adapt.What are the 10 coping strategies? ›
- Re-balance Work and Home.
- Build in Regular Exercise.
- Eat Well and Limit Alcohol and Stimulants.
- Connect with Supportive People.
- Carve out Hobby Time.
- Practice Meditation, Stress Reduction or Yoga.
- Sleep Enough.
- Bond with Your Pet.
- Eat a healthy diet. A healthy diet can help relax muscles and reduce anxiety. ...
- Reduce caffeine and sugar. ...
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. ...
- Get plenty of sleep. ...
- Supplement with magnesium. ...
- Identify professionals who can help.
My review produced “5 Cs of resilience”: confidence/control, connections, commitment, calmness, and care for self.What are the 5 R's of coping with stress? ›
The Five R's are: Rethink, Relax, Release, Reduce, and Reorganize.
What are three physical symptoms of stress? ›
- Difficulty breathing.
- Panic attacks.
- Blurred eyesight or sore eyes.
- Sleep problems.
- Muscle aches and headaches.
- Chest pains and high blood pressure.
- Indigestion or heartburn.
The Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior explains that those who struggle with addiction often struggle with maladaptive coping strategies; it could stem from denial, blame, guilt, trauma, abuse and much more.What are the 6 types of coping skills? ›
Different types of coping skills - self-soothing, distraction, opposite action, emotional awareness, mindfulness, and a crisis plan when the rest don't work.What does complete burnout feel like? ›
Being burned out means feeling empty and mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don't see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress feels like you're drowning in responsibilities, burnout is a sense of being all dried up.Should I quit if I feel burnout? ›
Burnout can also lead people to become more pessimistic or indifferent than they have been in the past. If you're feeling a little burned out, then taking a break — either over the weekend or during a vacation — should help, said Dr.What can burnout lead to? ›
Burnout is a serious matter. It can lead to personal and professional dissatisfaction; social isolation; relationship problems; depression; substance abuse; and, in extreme cases, suicide. Therefore, it's important to learn how to prevent burnout and to seek professional attention if it occurs.Is A burnout reversible? ›
Burnout doesn't go away on its own; rather, it will get worse unless you address the underlying issues causing it. If you ignore burnout, it will only cause you further harm down the line, so it's important that you begin recovery as soon as possible.Which two needs are affected by burnout? ›
Burnout can negatively affect job performance, as well as physical and mental health. A 2020 review of research involving nurses with burnout found that burnout increased turnover, illness, and absenteeism.