How to Get Over Burnout – Signs and Natural Ways to Heal

Amy20MD 1

Medical reviewed by Amy Rogers, MD MPH FACPM

Preventive Medicine, Public Health, Lifestyle Medicine, Pandemic Response, Global Health

Perpetually drained, feeling the relentless toll of the rat race weighing heavy on your spirit? In our fast-paced lives, it’s all too easy to ignore the signs of mental burnout until they begin to erode our health and happiness.

This article highlights this crucial issue, revealing the subtle indications of burnout and explaining how to recover from exhaustion. We offer insight on healing from burnout naturally, providing practical tips to reclaim your energy and reignite your passion for life. So, if you’re trapped with constant fatigue or diminished enthusiasm, this article might hold the key to your recovery.

What is burnout syndrome: Signs of mental burnout

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More than a buzzword, burnout represents a real health concern affecting countless people worldwide.

The World Health Organization considers burnout syndrome or severe burnout a legitimate medical diagnosis. It is your body’s distress signal, a sign that you’ve reached your breaking point.

Burnout isn’t about having a few bad days. It’s not a temporary setback that a good night’s sleep can cure. Instead, it can feel like you’re carrying a weight too immense to bear like you’re continuously running a race that you can’t finish, burnt out mentally, emotionally, and physically.

As highlighted by a 2018 Gallup study, in a sample of nearly 7,500 full-time employees, about 23 percent reported feeling burnt out at work very often or always, while 44 percent reported feeling burnt out sometimes (1).

These alarming statistics illustrate that feeling burnt out on life is not a rare issue but a growing problem we must tackle together.

Signs you have mental burnout

Detecting burnout may be more complex than recognizing other medical conditions, but that doesn’t make it less real. The signs of burnout can appear in three different dimensions: mental, physical, and emotional aspects of our well-being.

When burnt out mentally, you may feel constantly tired, a weariness that doesn’t dissipate even after rest. Cynicism may also emerge, making you question the value of your work.

There may be a significant decrease in motivation and productivity, and work seems like a daunting task that drains your energy rather than a platform to showcase your skills.

Irritability and a reduced tolerance threshold are common, too. You may find yourself snapping at colleagues or loved ones for the slightest of reasons.

You may also have concentration issues, where focusing on tasks becomes increasingly complex, affecting your productivity and quality of work.

Burnout can cause physical symptoms like frequent sickness, headaches, stomach problems, and body aches, mainly due to a weaker immune system. A 2011 study found a significant association between chronic work stress, health complaints, and burnout (2).

Emotionally, you might grapple with feelings of inadequacy despite significant efforts. You may constantly feel overwhelmed, under immense pressure, and dread the thought of work or other responsibilities.

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What is habitual burnout?

Life has a way of throwing us curveballs, but what happens when those curveballs become the norm? 

Habitual burnout is the consequence of prolonged exposure to stressors without adequate recovery, leading to a loop that can seem impossible to break.

However, experiencing habitual burnout isn’t an abrupt event; instead, it’s a journey that gradually unfolds, typically across five stages.

First, we have the “honeymoon phase,” where someone starts a new job or role and feels excited. But, as the newness fades, stress starts to set in, marking the start of the “onset of stress” phase.

When this stress persists and becomes increasingly burdensome, it’s called the “chronic stress” stage. In this stage, constant stress harms our mental and physical health, impacting our overall well-being.

The “burnout” stage comes next, where the stress gets so bad that it interferes with daily life.

The final stage is “habitual burnout.” In this stage, burnout symptoms have become a regular part of life that can seriously affect a person’s life and overall health.

In other words, burnout has become a way of life, making it much harder to recognize, address, and overcome.

The World Health Organization recognizes this continuous cycle as a legitimate occupational phenomenon that can result in more serious conditions such as chronic health issues, severe depression, and decreased productivity and life fulfillment (3).

Multiple studies reported that individuals experiencing chronic job stress and burnout were more likely to develop health problems, including heart disease and musculoskeletal disorders (4, 5).

Habitual burnout is about how you manage your stress, how you replenish your energy, and how you balance the different facets of your life. If not addressed, it can strip away your joy, making life seem like a constant uphill battle.

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Burnout isn’t just a brief phase but a long-term state of intense exhaustion many people experience. It manifests through constant tiredness, negativity, reduced motivation, irritability, focus issues, and various physical symptoms. Habitual burnout describes a repeated cycle of stress and burnout symptoms due to continuous exposure to stressors without rest. It usually goes through five stages: initial excitement, then stress, long-term stress, burnout, and habitual burnout. If not addressed, habitual burnout can lead to chronic health problems, severe depression, and reduced productivity and life satisfaction.

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How to recover from exhaustion: Natural ways to heal

If you’re reading this, you’re probably feeling the crushing weight of burnout. You’re yearning for a way of overcoming burnout.

When you’re stuck in burnout, it can feel like a bottomless pit with no way out. But with the proper steps and a commitment to self-care, overcoming burnout is possible.

However, it is a journey that involves more than just taking a few days off. It’s about lasting changes in your lifestyle, attitude, and work-life balance.

It’s about understanding how to get out of burnout and taking those first steps, however small they may seem, toward regaining your harmony in life.

In this part, we will explore how long a burnout recovery takes and some evidence-backed natural methods and strategies for recovering from exhaustion, essentially the treatment for burnout.

How long does burnout recovery take?

The short answer? About a couple of weeks to a few months.

However, like all recovery, the duration of burnout recovery varies significantly from person to person. It depends on several factors, including the severity of burnout, the individual’s overall health, and the effectiveness of the strategies used for recovery.

Overcoming burnout is a journey, not a destination. Some people might see improvements within a few weeks of implementing changes to their lifestyle and work habits, while others may take several months or even longer.

But don’t let the duration deter you. Every step you take towards healing is a victory, a testament to your resilience and strength.

10 Natural ways to heal

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10 Natural ways to recover from burnout

To assist you in recovering from burnout faster, here we suggest ten natural ways to heal from burnout. Read through, pick out the ones that resonate with you the most, and start implementing!

1. Tune into your body and mind

The first step to overcoming burnout is to stop.

Yes, stop! Halt the unceasing cycle of doing and instead listen.

Listen to your body; listen to your mind. Do certain activities leave you feeling more drained? Are there persistent thoughts or worries that seem to rob your peace?

These are your body’s messages, signals urging you to make changes that favor healing from burnout.

2. Regular exercise

The saying “motion creates emotion” holds true in the treatment for burnout.

Even in moderate amounts, regular physical activity helps your body produce endorphins, known as ‘feel-good’ hormones. Furthermore, many studies demonstrated that exercise can significantly reduce feelings of burnout (6, 7), but this is hard to study due to the variety of exercise modalities.

3. Limit media intake

In the digital age, constant exposure to news, social media, and other digital content can amplify overwhelming feelings.

Create media-free zones in your day. Whether it’s a daily hour of no-screen time or a weekend offline, these breaks can help recharge your mental energy and recover from burnout.

4. Prioritize social interactions

Human beings are social creatures.

Regular, positive interactions with people—loved ones, friends, or supportive communities—can help restore emotional wellness (8, 9).

You are not alone in your journey to recovery, and sharing your experiences can provide comfort and understanding.

5. Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques

Integrate mindful practices like yoga, meditation, or Tai Chi into your daily routine.

These practices foster relaxation and enhance your resilience and stress management abilities.

A 2021 study revealed that mindfulness significantly lowered the occurrence of job burnout among healthcare professionals (10).

6. Improve your sleep hygiene

Sleep and burnout have a tricky relationship. Burnout often disrupts sleep patterns, worsening your exhaustion.

However, having good sleep hygiene, such as a consistent sleep schedule, a peaceful sleep environment, and avoiding stimulants like caffeine before bedtime, can drastically improve the quality of your rest and aid your recovery (11).

7. Incorporate a balanced diet

What you fuel your body with impacts your energy levels, mood, and immune system.

Although this might sound cliche, it is true and worth mentioning again and again: a balanced diet, emphasizing whole foods, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and ample hydration, plays a significant role in your health.

Numerous studies have underscored the connection between diet and mental health, particularly in managing stress (12, 13).

8. Seek out nature

There is a natural healing power that comes from being in nature.

Spending time outdoors, whether a ten-minute walk in the park or a hike in the wilderness, can lower stress levels and significantly contribute to your overall well-being.

This practice, often referred to as ‘forest bathing’ and rooted in Japanese healthcare, has been validated by various scientific studies. According to Harvard Health, spending time in nature can significantly lower stress hormone levels (14).

9. Establish a self-care routine

As you navigate your journey of how to cure burnout, carve out a little corner of peace and joy in your daily life.

It could be reading a few pages of a book, listening to your favorite music, savoring a cup of coffee, or just sitting quietly for a few minutes.

Small though these may seem, they provide an oasis of calm in your day and can significantly improve your stress management.

10. Seek professional help

However, if your burnout feels too overwhelming to handle on your own, seek professional help. Therapists and psychologists are equipped with tools and strategies that can provide vital support. For instance, cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is suggested to be effective in treating burnout (15).

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How to deal with burnout at work: Coping mechanism

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Workplace burnout can be horrible.

As you navigate between deadlines, demands, and the ever-blurring line between work and personal life, it’s easy to feel like you’re on a hamster wheel, sprinting towards a finish line that’s always out of reach.

But here’s the good news: You can recover from burnout while still working. You don’t have to take a three-month unpaid leave to recharge yourself.

First and foremost, acknowledge the problem. Recognizing the signs of burnout is the first step toward finding a solution. Whether it’s increased cynicism at work, lack of energy, or reduced productivity, noticing these red flags allows you to take immediate action.

With this newfound awareness, here are some coping mechanisms on what to do when you’re burnt out at work:

Set clear boundaries

Building a boundary between work and personal life can prevent stress from spilling into your off-duty hours.

Determine when you’re ‘on’ and ‘off’ work, especially in a remote setup. That could mean turning off work notifications after a certain hour or setting aside weekends as ‘work-free’ zones.

You’re not obliged to be available 24/7. It’s okay to disconnect after your working hours and rejuvenate.

Find meaningful aspects in your work

If you’re feeling burnt out, it could be due to a lack of fulfillment or purpose in your work.

Try to identify tasks or projects that make you feel competent and valued.

Spending more time on these can invigorate your workday, reduce burnout, and improve overall job satisfaction.

While being highly passionate about your job is good, it may also lead to an imbalance between work and personal life, further damaging your health and potentially leading to burnout. 

Engaging in meaningful work is important, but having a balanced and healthy lifestyle is key for your long-term well-being.

Ask for support

Don’t hesitate to seek help when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Seeking support from others is not a sign of weakness but a strength.

This support could be in the form of delegating tasks to colleagues, asking for deadline extensions, or simply sharing your feelings with a trusted friend or mentor.

Open communication about your feelings and workload can foster understanding and potentially lead to solutions that reduce feeling overwhelmed.

Communicate with your supervisor

If your workload is unmanageable or your work environment contributes to your burnout, it’s crucial to have open and honest conversations with your supervisor.

Discuss possible solutions like adjusting your workload, taking a few days off for recovery, or exploring flexible work options. Yes, it takes courage to ask for what you need, but it’s a vital step in the process of how to come back from burnout.

Workplace burnout can be overwhelming, but it is possible to recover while still working. Acknowledging burnout symptoms like increased cynicism, low energy, and reduced productivity is the first step toward a solution. Effective coping mechanisms include:

  • Setting clear work-life boundaries. 
  • Finding fulfillment in work. 
  • Seeking support from others. 
  • Having open conversations with supervisors about workloads or environments.
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How to help someone with burnout?

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Burnout can be challenging to identify, as it often presents as irritability, cynicism, or excessive tiredness. So, when you see a loved one or a friend spiraling into this chronic exhaustion, it’s normal to feel helpless or uncertain about how to help them.

If you are looking to assist someone dealing with burnout, here we provide some tips on how to help with burnout and how you can support them in regaining control of their lives.

Active listening

Start by encouraging them to talk about what they’re experiencing.

Rather than throwing out advice (like what this article is doing) and trying to fix their problems immediately, focus on understanding their feelings.

This validation can provide immense relief to someone who is burnt out.

Furthermore, approach the conversation with empathy and openness. Refrain from passing judgment or trivializing their feelings. 

Burnout isn’t a sign of weakness or failure—it’s a signal that something in their life needs attention and adjustment.

Give a helping hand

If you’re in a position to offer help, do so. And by helping, this means “Actually” helping.

It might involve assisting with their workload, babysitting their kids for an evening, cooking them a nutritious meal, or simply being there when they need someone to lean on.

Your practical support can help lighten their load, allowing them some breathing room to focus on recovery.

Promote self-care

Help them understand the importance of self-care and rest in healing from burnout.

You can encourage them to take small steps to start. This could be as simple as taking a short walk in the park, enjoying a relaxing bath, or dedicating a few minutes to deep breathing exercises. What’s even better is doing these activities with them!

Remember to kindly remind them that their well-being matters and that taking time to rest and recharge isn’t a luxury but a necessity.

Patient and consistent support

We are not machines that can be fixed immediately by changing some parts. Healing from burnout takes time.

It requires time, patience, and persistence, and your consistent and patient support can make a significant difference. Be there for them throughout this journey, reassuring them that things can and will get better.

Encourage professional help

Lastly, if your support is invaluable or not working, there may be times when professional help is necessary. Professional intervention often provides the person with new perspectives and science-based coping strategies to deal with their situation.

While burnout is a severe condition that requires attention, it’s also an opportunity for growth and transformation. As a supporter, your presence, understanding, and patience can significantly affect their healing journey.

However, don’t forget to look after your well-being because helping others with burnout can also affect your mental health. You can only help others if you can do so.

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What are the five stages of burnout?

Burnout progresses through five stages. First, the “honeymoon phase” is when you’re enthusiastic about a new job or role. Then comes the “onset of stress” stage, where you notice a few difficulties and increased stress. The “chronic stress” stage is when these issues persist, leading to a decline in your health. The “burnout” stage is when the symptoms become severe enough to affect your daily activities. Finally, in “habitual burnout,” these symptoms become embedded in your lifestyle, causing significant issues in life and health.

What happens to the brain after burnout?

Burnout impacts the brain in profound ways. Research has shown that chronic stress from burnout can lead to shrinkage in areas of the brain related to memory and learning, such as the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. This shrinkage could result in cognitive difficulties like impaired focus, memory problems, and decreased ability to manage stress (45).

Do you sleep a lot after burnout?

People respond differently to burnout; some may experience insomnia, while others may deal with hypersomnia, where they sleep excessively. Both instances may imbalance a healthy sleeping routine and cause severe health problems.

What is the 42 percent rule?

The ’42 percent rule’ suggests that for optimal health, we should devote approximately 42 percent of our time to rest. In a 24-hour cycle, this equates to roughly 10 hours, which can be an average across a week. Rest can include sleep, relaxing chats, exercise, and mindful eating. Neglecting this rule might increase exhaustion, raising the chance of burnout and other health problems.

What happens if you don’t treat burnout?

Untreated burnout can lead to serious health consequences. Chronic physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach pain, and a weakened immune system can emerge. It can also significantly harm mental health, possibly causing depression, anxiety, and low self-confidence. Ignoring burnout can create a worsening cycle of bad health, more burnout, and less productivity, underscoring the importance of recognizing and addressing burnout early.

Summary

Recognizing the signs of mental burnout—like constant fatigue, cynicism, and a sense of dread towards responsibilities—is crucial in identifying our battle with life’s constant pressures.

Burnout, if ignored, can transition from a fleeting experience to a persistent issue, threatening our health and mental well-being.

However, the clouds of burnout bear a silver lining.

The journey to recovery from exhaustion doesn’t have to be a strenuous climb but can become a voyage of personal growth. The healing from burnout can begin by embracing self-care, seeking professional aid, and redefining our work-life boundaries.

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Amy20MD 1

Medical reviewed by Amy Rogers, MD MPH FACPM

Preventive Medicine, Public Health, Lifestyle Medicine, Pandemic Response, Global Health

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