How to Deal with Workplace Burnout

6 minutes Written by Kali Wolken

There is an increasing number of people struggling to make it through the workday. Mental health struggles are on the rise, and anxiety and depression are front-and-center for many. It can feel like your mind won’t stop racing as you try to grasp a single thought. Or you feel like you’re trudging through molasses as you get ready for your day. Nothing feels easy, and the hard things feel impossible…

You are not alone.

With the last two years, several parts of our lives have shifted-especially in the career world. We have spent more time at home and away from co-workers or friends. We have fewer interactions with people as a whole. We have had to learn new things such as working remotely-which also means making new schedules and redefining work-life balance.

It is a lot.

As you start to put these changes in perspective, it’s no wonder that more and more people have been leaving their jobs, seeking therapy and struggling with burnout. If you’re with those ready to leave their jobs because every day feels like the last straw, please keep reading. Burnout is a serious issue and worth addressing as soon as you realize that it’s a part of your story.

Let me first note that while much of this post is about helping you deal with burnout, it is not a substitute for counseling. One of the most important things you can do for yourself in dealing with burnout is reach out for help. Therapists can help you work through burnout, build skills to cope with stress, and identify new life steps to help prevent future burnout.

If you’d like to address your burnout outside of a counseling office as well, here are just a few suggestions:

Boundaries: I cannot stress enough that when you work from home, you need to have clear boundaries for when and where you are at work versus when and where you are home. Before the pandemic, we had clear definitions of work and home because most people went somewhere else to work. And if you worked from home, chances are, you had an office set aside. When it comes to working from home, having a clear work space where you only work is important. And when you leave that space, leave the work there! I mean it. Our brains love to compartmentalize tasks and so it’s very easy for them to recognize when you are sitting at a desk, it’s time to put on your work hat. However, when you are doing work on the couch, at the dinner table, or even in bed, your brain doesn’t know where to turn off the work mode. So have a clear space.

Also set clear boundaries on your work hours. If you plan to work 8-5, leave the e-mails received at 5:30 for the next day. If you have some way to filter these e-mails into a work folder, I highly recommend you do so. Boundaries are a way to limit the role work has on your life. If you are working all the time, burnout will soon follow. Boundaries are a way to reduce this risk.

Self-care: I know most of us are familiar with the term self-care, but I want to break it down more. Because the truth is, most of us equate self-care to hobbies. We consider self-care things like taking a bath or reading a book. And these might help some people, but not everyone wants to read the next New York Times Bestseller.

One way I like to frame self-care is to consider those activities that give you energy. Imagine if you sit down and the end of the day and you want to feel more energized, relaxed, better etc. Self-care is listening to what we need and responding to those needs with kindness. This could mean that if we have a headache because we haven’t had water all day, then we go drink a glass of water (it also means drinking the water throughout the day). It could also mean that we go out with friends because we feel lonely. Self-care is a responsive act but not a reactive one. Start with building awareness to your needs in this moment. As you are responding to those needs with kindness, you will begin to create space to feel more energy and less stress. By energizing yourself, you begin to equip yourself for dealing with the heavier load burnout has delivered.

Stress management: Maybe this is an obvious one, but a key part of burnout is the mere fact that you are in a constant state of stress and your brain and body don’t know when to turn it off. What this means is that you will sometimes need clear ways to deal with and lower your stress level. Sometimes this means exercise to expel the pent up energy. Other times, painting might be the best outlet for what you’re feeling. Whatever you do to decrease stress, it needs to be an outlet for the stress rather than a distraction from the stress. So sing at the top of your lungs in your car. Paint an abstract painting to express all the feelings you have inside. Go to the gym and hop on a bike or treadmill. Do something that sends that stress away from your mind and body.

The last piece that I want to discuss ever so briefly is that there may be moments where you need to evaluate whether you need a change beyond the self-care, boundaries, and stress management. There may be times that the job need to change. I don’t recommend you make this decision on your own. Talk to friends and family about the demands of work. Explore if the expectations are reasonable and doable. If you need additional help, talk with a trained career professional. Not every solution is about staying in the same place and dealing with it. But that is a big fork in the road and getting some perspective on next steps can be crucial.

Avatar Kali Wolken

Written by Kali Wolken

Kali Wolken is a therapist in Indiana and Michigan who specializes in individual therapy.