What is burnout?
Burnout is when you feel exhausted — mentally, emotionally, and physically — due to a prolonged period of intense stress. Western culture glamorizes the idea of constant work; it’s all about how to be more productive, more wealthy, more switched on, more of, well, everything. But all this work without adequate recovery can leave you feeling wrung-out, and it’s only getting worse. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7362153/ In a survey of 1,500 U.S. workers, more than half (52%) reported feeling burnt out in 2021, up from 43% before the Covid-19 pandemic.https://www.indeed.com/lead/preventing-employee-burnout-report
If you feel like you’re running on the hamster wheel but you’re depleted of all energy, don’t panic. You can implement various lifestyle changes to get a handle on your exhaustion and start to feel in control of your life once again. Read on for 7 proven ways to deal with emotional and mental burnout.
Symptoms of Burnout
When you’re mentally and emotionally burnt out, you may feel certain physical symptoms, including: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/44428/9789241500272_eng.pdf;jsessionid=93C8DEFED3A13A33E99AE990CC1DDB17?sequence=1
- Fatigue and low energy
- Digestive problems
- Trouble sleeping or oversleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Low sex drive
Mental and emotional symptoms of burnout include:
- Feeling unmotivated, hopeless or overwhelmed
- Emotionally drained
- Struggling to carry out simple daily tasks
- Relationship conflict
- Negative attitude toward work
- Low productivity
What to Do About It
Our culture tends to glorify productivity and working nonstop. Taking time to rest, however, isn’t lazy – it’s essential. Here are ways to deal with emotional and mental burnout:
1. Prioritize Rest
Take rest as seriously as you do work. Start to track when you have energy dips throughout the day, and take those times to recover and rest. Maybe that means lying down for 20 minutes after lunch, or going for a gentle stroll mid-afternoon after a busy day of meetings.
Don’t forget to include adequate sleep in your rest plan. When you don’t sleep well or enough, your brain function and sense of wellbeing takes a hit. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21075236/ In a 2018 study, 24 hours of sleep deprivation led to a 30% increase in anxiety levels. https://news.berkeley.edu/2019/11/04/deep-sleep-can-rewire-the-anxious-brain/
Ways to sleep better:
Turn off electronic devices two hours before bedtime.
Sleep in a cool, dark room. Blackout blinds are a great investment.
Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before going to sleep.
2. Ask for Help
When you feel burnt out, the impulse to withdraw from others is strong. But reaching out to family and friends and talking through your feelings will help you feel less alone. Your support network can help in tangible ways, like a friend watching your kids for a couple of hours so you can rest. While social media is a great way to keep in touch with friends, it may not offer the deep connection and support you need. If you can, rather pick up the phone and call a loved one or arrange to see them in-person.
3. Move Your Body
It may feel like the last thing you want to do when you’re exhausted, but exercise can in fact give you more energy. Aerobic exercise like swimming, running, or biking releases endorphins, brain chemicals that attach to your brain’s opiate receptors, easing stress and pain.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5928534/ Working out may also increase levels of GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid), a neurotransmitter that lowers nerve activity, leaving you feeling calm. http://www.jneurosci.org/content/36/8/2449.short
Working out can also decrease stress, both physically and mentally. When you’re under stress, your body prepares itself to deal with the stressor by releasing the stress hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. This puts your body in fight-or-flight mode, activating your nervous system to ready your body to face the threat. Exercise lowers stress hormones, and that, coupled with the release of endorphins, leads to feelings of relaxation.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4013452/
You don’t need to run a marathon to feel the stress-busting benefits of exercise. Aerobic exercise at any intensity has been shown to improve mood.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27423168/
4. Talk To a Professional
Sometimes it helps to talk to a therapist or counselor who has experience working with clients suffering from emotional and mental burnout.
Often stress is a result of faulty thinking. For example, your boss asks you to hop on a Zoom call and your mind automatically jumps to the worst-case scenario: “I’m about to be fired!” A type of therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps you figure out and change thought patterns that are negatively impacting your life. The process actually rewires your brain — regularly thinking in a different way fires up new neural pathways. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19622682
If finding a qualified therapist seems overwhelming or seeing one is too pricey, therapy apps are an easy and affordable option. Online companies like Talkspace and BetterHelp allow you to consult with a licensed therapist over text message, phone, or video chat.
5. Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Meditation is one of the most effective ways to lower stress and bring a sense of calm to your daily life. It’s also one of the easiest – all you need is a quiet spot and five minutes to feel the difference.
In one study, four 20-minute sessions of mindfulness meditation — when you simply notice your thoughts without trying to interpret them — thickened gray matter in regions of the brain related to emotional regulation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979/ Another study found that mindfulness meditation lowered anxiety by activating parts of the brain involving emotions, decision-making, and impulse control. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4040088/
A meta-analysis of nearly 50 additional studies found that mindfulness meditation decreased anxiety and other forms of psychological stress. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1809754
If you’re unsure about how to start, meditation apps like Headspace and Calm are a good option for beginners. Choose your meditation based on type, length, or instructor. This meditation from Insight Timer is specifically aimed at relieving pressure from burnout. Bonus: It’s free!
6. Take Supplements
When you’re burnt out, you may have difficulty concentrating and your brain might feel like it’s perpetually switched off. Certain supplements can help:
- Nootropics are a class of brain supplements that can help you feel more alert, focused and relaxed. Take this quiz to get your own personalized nootropics formula.
- L-theanine is an amino acid found primarily in green and black tea that can promote relaxation and lower anxiety.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0301051106001451?via%3Dihub When paired with caffeine, L-theanine has been shown to increase reaction time, focus,
and improve memory. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18006208/ The easiest way to get the benefits of L-theanine is to drink a cup or two of green tea a day.
- Rhodiola is a herb with adaptogenic qualities, meaning it helps your body adapt to stress. Research shows that supplementing with Rhodiola can significantly improve symptoms of burnout. In one study, 118 participants were given a daily dose of 400 mg of rhodiola over 12 weeks. After the first week, participants saw an improvement in burnout symptoms, including a decrease in emotional exhaustion and less stress. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5370380/
7. Change Your Diet
Your brain and your gut are constantly communicating with each other. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4662178/ If your gut microbiome is out of whack or your stomach is irritated, it’s going to impact how you feel, both mentally and physically. Changing your diet to include a variety of healthy fats and whole foods is a powerful way to combat burnout.
In a 2021 study of 630 female workers, a diet high in vegetables, fruit, and high-quality protein and dairy led to fewer burnout symptoms. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8308766/
What to eat for more energy and a better mood:
- Good fats: Think fatty fish, avocados, walnuts, pasture-raised eggs, and high-quality dark chocolate. Fat keeps you feeling full for longer and stabilizes your blood sugar, leaving you with steady energy throughout the day.
- Cut down on sugar: Sugar overload causes your blood sugar to spike and drop, leaving you with low energy and cravings. Bad bacteria in the gut also feed off of sugar, contributing to an imbalanced gut.
- Eat more fiber: Load up on leafy greens, root vegetables, and prebiotics like green bananas and coffee.
When you’re burnt out, you may worry that you’ll never feel energized and joyful again. By trying some of these strategies, you should steadily start to feel better and ready to conquer the day once again. Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t immediately see results – it takes time for your mind and body to heal after periods of chronic stress.