Overcoming Burnout


Burnout—feeling so completely depleted or exhausted that you struggle to make it through the day—is so ingrained in our cultural consciousness that some argue it defines an entire generation. Now, experts are recognizing that the condition has consequences beyond simply feeling frazzled. In May, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the next version of its handbook of diseases, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD11), will recognize job burnout as a legitimate “occupational phenomenon” that could drive people to seek medical care.

The WHO focused on job burnout with good cause: A recent Gallup poll of nearly 7,500 full-time US workers found that 23 percent reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44 percent reported feeling burned out sometimes. But burnout isn’t limited to the office. “Anyone that feels emotionally and physically exhausted by an emotionally demanding situation can feel burnout,” says Siobhan Murray, a resilience and life coach and author of The Burnout Solution.

Women Are More At Risk

Women are particularly at risk for burnout, in part because we’re often thrust into emotionally taxing roles like motherhood and caregiving. Many working mothers face an extra layer of overwhelm— the “second shift” of unpaid work they do at home. “Even when women have a partner who pitches in, they still have to keep a mental spreadsheet of all the things like birthday parties and school field trips in their brains,” says Murray. “It’s exhausting.”

It’s Part of a Busyness Epidemic  

Burnout has always existed, says psychologist James Campbell Quick, Ph.D., a fellow of the American Psychological Association who has extensively studied the phenomenon. But our digitally distracted lifestyles have amplified the problem. It’s become the norm to think “I have to be on call whenever I’m not sleeping,” says Quick.

Burnout’s Health Implications

When stress morphs into burnout, more than frayed nerves are at stake. Burned-out people have no energy to take care of themselves, says Murray. They’re less likely to socialize, cook healthy meals, exercise, and they don’t sleep well. And when you’re so burned out that you can’t undertake these healthy strategies, you may even struggle to maintain a healthy weight, notes a new study published in the Journal of Health Psychology. In the long run, high levels of stress (which is essentially what burnout is) are linked to a greater risk of developing heart disease, liver disease, and “pretty much every chronic disease that you can have,” notes Murray.

That’s why it’s important to take these steps to burnout-proof your life.  

3 Ways to Prevent Burnout

Say No

Adding to your already overflowing plate makes burnout more likely, which is why you need to learn to say no without guilt, notes Murray. One way to ease the discomfort? Say “I don’t” instead of “I can’t” when you’re asked to do something. For example: “I don’t have time to help with the school bake sale this week” or “I don’t process invoices; you should speak to Jim in accounting.”  According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, this strategy is powerful, because “I don’t,” establishes a firm rule about your availability and willingness to do something. “I can’t,” on the other hand, leaves room for the asker to suggest scenario under which you could be able to take on the task.

Clear Out the Clutter

Do a mini audit of your time and look for tasks you can let go of. Are there meetings on your calendar that you don’t need to attend? Get-togethers with people who suck your energy rather than fill you up? When you eliminate things that don’t add value to your life, you can make more time for the things that bring joy or satisfaction, like hobbies, travel, or spending time with friends—activities which help undo the strain of burnout, says Murray.

Get Active

A 2017 study revealed that exercise might be able to prevent or reverse work-related burnout. It can be hard to muster the energy to take a spin class if you’re burned out, so don’t. Even a 15-minute walk can help, says Murray.

Complement Self-Care with Self-Kindness  

Self-care is as ubiquitous as burnout, but blocking out 30 minutes to take a bath can only go so far if you’re stressed the other 23.5 hours of the day. Plus, it can feel like another thing on your to-do list, which can actually increase pressure, says Murray. Instead, focus on being kind to yourself throughout the day. In other words: Missed your yoga class? Don’t beat yourself up about it. Can’t squeeze in a meditation? Breathe in some relaxation-boosting essential oils, like the Stress Relief blend, to help center yourself instantly instead.