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5 steps to beating burnout: Recovery and prevention

By Michael Feder

In today’s hectic world, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Responsibilities in every sphere of life can pull you in so many directions. From working a job or pursuing a degree to taking care of kids and meeting social obligations, there are so many things to get done — and so many sources of chronic stress. It doesn’t help that our culture often promotes a lifestyle in which working nonstop is considered the only path to success.

It’s no wonder so many people experience burnout syndrome in their work life. Exhaustion and diminished performance are just two symptoms that can negatively affect both your work and personal life.

The good news? If you experience these symptoms, you’re not alone. Even better, there are actionable steps you can take to prevent or beat burnout for a better sense of work-life balance.  

What is burnout?

According to Mayo Clinic, “Job burnout is a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”

Burnout isn’t specific to employees in any one job or industry. Burnout for healthcare employees may have different specific causes than employees in remote workplaces, but the effects are often the same.

Some warning signs of burnout include:

  • Excessive stress
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Sadness, anger or irritability

It’s easy to see how some of these physical symptoms of burnout can compound the problem. Feeling fatigue at work may affect your output, putting you further and further behind your goals, for example. This can increase your stress, resulting in exhaustion, which caused that stress in the first place.

Of course, these symptoms are certainly not specific to burnout syndrome; other mental health factors, such as anxiety and depression, might be at play. At the same time, understanding the signs of burnout can help employees connect specific workplace stresses with healthy solutions.

Steps to beat burnout:

1. Make a schedule

Stress can often arise from indecision. When there’s an overwhelming number of tasks on your plate, it can be hard to know where to start. At worst, this feeling of indecision allows additional duties to pile up, making your responsibilities appear even more insurmountable. It’s easy to see how this anxiety builds.

Sound familiar? Then proper scheduling may be the answer. By bracketing off specific times every day for specific assignments, you can see your responsibilities not as a marathon but as a finite series of steps.

When making your schedule, it’s important to take your own psychology into account. If you’re not a morning person but have to get up early for work, then try reserving more mundane activities for that time. This can help you feel accomplished the moment you get to work, a feeling that can give you the momentum to accomplish more difficult undertakings later.

Alternatively, maybe you’re someone who likes to end the day with the easy stuff. In that case, schedule those tasks for later in the day.

Regardless of how you arrange your day, be sure to build breaks into your schedule. These times can give you the space to recoup your energy for the tasks ahead.

Scheduling around how you work best isn’t a sign of laziness or inefficiency. Quite the opposite! By working with yourself instead of against, you likely will begin to work more efficiently.

2. Become a taskmaster

This goes hand in hand with making a schedule. Instead of looking at your responsibilities as one large obstacle, breaking things down into doable chunks can make you more productive and less overwhelmed with stress.

The first step is to prioritize your responsibilities. Which part of your workload needs to be done now versus later? Putting objectives in order of importance can help you figure out what needs to be done today and which goals can be scheduled down the road.

Where can you delegate? Burnout can arise from the inefficient delegation of responsibilities. Whether you’ve been assigned more work than you can reasonably do or you’ve taken on that responsibility yourself, it’s important to understand your stress and emotional limits. If there are aspects of your responsibilities, even minor ones, that can be delegated, then it’s probably worth a try.

Christina Neider, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at University of Phoenix (UOPX), agrees. “It’s OK to say no or delegate to others on your team,” she says, adding it’s important to pay attention to when you feel overloaded or exhausted. “Setting clear boundaries is something people need to do, and it’s okay to do that.”

Of course, you shouldn’t use this as an excuse to overload others with work you’d rather not do. If you’re overwhelmed, talk to your co-workers. Someone may have the time and energy that you don’t right now.

If burnout at work has already gotten a hold of you, workload management is one of the best ways to get yourself into a healthier place. Even if you’re very behind, you can only do so much at any given moment. Breaking things down provides a road map to getting caught up and, eventually, ahead of your work and diminish the anxiety.

3. Take care of yourself

In general, physical and mental health are closely related. Whether you’re working a highly physical job in a fast-paced environment or spending hours a day sitting in front of a computer at home, your physical well-being plays a big role in avoiding burnout.

Taking time for yourself can help mitigate burnout, Neider says. “Especially working from home,” she says, “a lot of individuals don’t know how to turn that work part of their brain off at the end of the day and move into that personal space.”

If you’re at an office, taking 10 minutes to walk around the block, listen to music and get some fresh air can break up a long workday. This is especially true if you’re up against a difficult challenge and you’ve exhausted your ideas. Leaving and coming back to it can offer a new perspective.

Maintaining a healthy routine is also important in a work-from-home setting. It can be tempting to sleep as long as possible, waking up just a few minutes before you have to log on for work. Yes, the extra time with your snooze button can seem like a nice perk of remote work, but waiting until the last minute presents its own challenges. No one is ready to start work the moment they wake up. Instead, try to give yourself a little cushion of time at the start of the day to go for a short walk, take a shower and enjoy breakfast.

4. Organize your workspace

Removing as many obstacles as possible between you and your work can help you get ahead of the anxiety and fatigue associated with burnout syndrome. Make sure that your work computer is accessible the moment you need to start work and that your desk is clear so that you can easily grab anything you need.

Saving bookmarks on your web browser can help in this regard. Having to remember or find sites you use frequently just adds mental and emotional work for you to deal with.

By optimizing your workspace physically and digitally, you’ll help yourself become more efficient and, as a result, feel more competent.

5. Reach out for help

Feeling burned out may be especially common in fields like healthcare, which involve a lot of responsibility and interpersonal contact, but it can really happen anywhere, so it’s important to be on the lookout for symptoms.

Feeling burned out can lead to irritability, cynicism, depression, exhaustion and hostility in the workplace or classroom, and feeling isolated can compound those feelings of feeling burned out. Try talking to your co-workers or classmates. Chances are they have or have had similar feelings, and connecting can help you figure out how working together as a team can decrease stress and anxiety to avoid burnout.

Also, consider making plans with others to deal with the stress. This might mean stepping out of the office to get lunch together or taking breaks to decompress and not discuss work topics. Even a short conversation with a friend across the office can serve as a healthy break from a tough workday full of stress.

At the end of the day, make sure you emotionally unplug and unwind. “The biggest thing I see with people who are approaching burnout is generally they are overcommitting themselves … and not able to take time for themselves,” Neider observes. It’s OK to do a lot, but save some time for you too.

Or, as Neider puts it, “Be deliberate about your schedule.”


Are all those virtual meetings stressing you out? We’ll show you how to make the new norm a little more palatable.

If you require additional resources, the University of Phoenix Life Resource Center offers life coaching, counseling and support to navigate life’s challenges.

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