Overcoming Burnout: How Much Time You Need to Heal

Burnout has become a relatable buzzword for many. It occurs when you work excessively or in an environment lacking growth, challenge, or appreciation. This leads to feelings of exhaustion, depletion, and overwhelm. As stress accumulates, it's natural to seek ways to break the cycle and transition to a healthier emotional state. Discover the steps needed to recover and accelerate the process.

How long does it take to recover from burnout?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to mental health. Burnout recovery is based on a combination of personal and work factors. This includes your level of resilience, coping strategies, supportive resources, and how bad the burnout is. For example, if you’re under extreme stress for prolonged periods, burnout can lead to conditions like depression or anxiety. Without addressing underlying health issues or implementing changes, burnout can last longer.

There are also different subtypes of burnout. For instance, there’s the frenetic subtype, where you take on too much work. There’s also the under-challenged subtype, where you feel a lack of opportunities, growth, or creativity and lose interest. The third, the worn-out subtype, describes people who disconnect from work because of a lack of recognition or results, leading to hopelessness and a sense of incompetence. The recovery process changes for each person’s unique situation.

Speeding up burnout recovery

While many things may be outside of our control, one of the most important areas you can work on to speed up your recovery is your sense of agency.

If you have strong personal agency, you believe in your ability to take action, change your situation, and achieve your goals. You can make your own decisions, without letting others influence you, and take responsibility for the consequences. This personal belief can help you take on more effective coping skills and strategies to move forward and recover more quickly.

Factors that influence recovery time

These are some of the most important factors influencing your recovery time:

  • Burnout severity. Severe burnout may take more time to recover.
  • Work environment. The more flexible and supportive work system you have, the more likely you can take advantage of essential resources to recover. This includes empathic management and colleagues, telecommunication, mental health days, and flexible hours.
  • Lifestyle factors. Your daily habits and health have a massive impact on recovery. This includes diet, exercise, and sleep to rest and re-energize your body.
  • Personal resilience. Bouncing back from difficulties seems easier for some than others, but it is a skill you can work to strengthen. Working on problem-solving skills, for example, may help you avoid the issue of burnout.
  • Social life. Our social circle has great power over our health, and investing time into building healthy friendships and socializing can dramatically change our recovery process. Even if you’re isolated and feeling lonely, there are options. For instance, volunteer work may increase a sense of purpose and lead to a new community of support.
  • Professional support. Getting support from a mental health professional provides a safe environment to discuss our challenges openly and learn coping strategies tailored to our needs. Working with a professional can help us solve problems, gain support, and stay accountable, empowering us to take action and regain a sense of control.

Stages of burnout recovery

Burnout is something that takes time to notice. It might take longer for some than others, especially if you don’t feel very in tune with your body. Here’s how burnout acknowledgement and recovery begins:

  1. Awareness. If work-related exhaustion is weighing you down, it's crucial to take a step back and assess its impact on you. Pay attention to other signs that could point to burnout, such as feeling constantly tired, lacking energy and experiencing decreased productivity or engagement at work.
  2. Withdrawal. We may think of withdrawal as something negative, but it can just be a sign that you need rest. So if you’re saying no to obligations and taking more time for yourself, you might be on your way to recovery.
  3. Re-evaluation. When we notice things aren’t working, we can take a moment to think about why it happened and what needs to change. From here, we can learn what works and what doesn’t to get to the next step.
  4. Planning. What can you do to improve the situation? For example, talking with your boss, setting new boundaries or work hours, or maybe even looking for new work or career options.
  5. Action. Once we have an idea of what can help, we have to take the first step in making it happen. It doesn’t have to be anything major to start, just something that builds momentum and gets you going in the right direction. That could look like seeking out friends or professional support to get a clearer idea of how to move forward.
  6. Maintenance. You can take what you learned to protect yourself from future burnout. That means continuously re-evaluating what’s working, paying attention to your body, setting new boundaries, and practicing self-care regularly.

How to overcome burnout

To overcome burnout, we usually have to take action in a few different areas of our life. Here are some strategies that can help you manage:

Ways on how to overcome burnout

Fully detach yourself from work stressors

Taking a vacation while thinking about work the whole time or checking emails in off-hours likely won't give you the full break you might need. Allowing yourself to mentally and physically detach from all work-related stressors is a great way to re-energize and think more clearly about how you can move forward.

Take regular work breaks

Despite the prized go-go-go mentality or the admiration of being a hard worker doing a 12-hour workday, remember that regular breaks may prevent burnout and improve your productivity. That can potentially lead to a better concentration, less fatigue, and improved job performance.

Just keep in mind that a good work break should energize you. For instance, taking a 10-minute stroll around the block with a colleague can provide a chance to socialize, enjoy fresh air, revitalizing you for the tasks ahead.

Set boundaries

Saying no to your boss or more work may not be an easy task. However, if you can set clear boundaries about how much and when you can work, you’ll save yourself money and stress in the long run. You’ll have more control over both your workload and personal time, leading to a better work-life balance.

Prioritize self-care and coping strategies

Even though you’re tired, taking the time to do something for yourself can give you the energy you need. Depending on the moment, that might look like a gentle yoga class, napping, time in nature, or seeing friends. If you’re struggling to cope or find the energy to take care of yourself, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. Even if it’s just a few sessions, extra support with new perspectives or ideas might be enough to get you going.

Spend time on things you’re good at

We tend to forget how important it is to maintain or pick up a new hobby when exhausted and busy. But these little things can spark joy, creativity, and self-efficacy, reminding us that we can do something to make ourselves feel better. Think of something you love, and make it a part of your day or week. For example, take evening walks in the park if you love nature, or go to pottery, art, photography, or dance classes once a week.

Improve your professional skills and opportunities

If you’re feeling tired at your job, taking action to improve your skills or opportunities might give you the hope that you’re not stuck after all. Research courses or reach out to people who have the job you want to get their advice. Consider applying for jobs and getting help to update your CV. You can also let your boss know how you're feeling, in case they're willing to make changes to keep you.

Can you recover while still working?

It’s possible to recover from burnout while still working. How it affects your recovery depends on how you and your workplace manage it. The resources available to you will make a difference, like having the possibility for more flexible hours, delegating tasks to others, and getting support from management or coworkers. You can still follow the suggestions, paying particular attention to boundaries and breaks.

When to seek professional help

If you're encountering symptoms and struggling to cope with the overwhelming stress of daily life, seeking professional help is important. Watch for indicators such as persistent fatigue that doesn't improve with rest, along with changes in sleep or eating patterns, or experiencing physical discomfort like aches and pains. Moreover, if you find yourself feeling increasingly disconnected or pessimistic about work, to the point where you're unable to keep up, it could signal worsening burnout.

In the end, you can recover from burnout more quickly if you take a holistic approach. That means setting boundaries, taking care of your needs, and asking for support. Also, look at different areas of your life where you can spark creativity, connection, or opportunities to gain more energy. As you notice what works and what doesn't, you can build your plan toward health.

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