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Ways to Combat Burnout

Psychology Today defines burnout as “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress”. While it’s a common issue in many professions, it continues to be a serious problem among therapists and others in the helping professions. Below are some strategies to consider when preventing or mitigating the effects of burnout.

Establish and consistently evaluate your boundaries

Boundaries can help us avoid burnout because they help us to gain clarity on what’s important to us. When I counsel clients who are overworking themselves, I often hear issues such as poor sleep, working for free without acknowledgement (such as salaried folks working more than 40 hours per week), taking on too much, or lack of time with family.

Try to identify things that are important to you, and evaluate if you need to set a boundary around it. These could be basic things like valuing a good night’s rest. Some boundaries to set could be sticking to a bedtime or limiting screen time in the evening. You might identify bigger things such as valuing your time around work and family. A firm boundary might be working no more than 10 hours per day (and ensuring that you’re getting paid for your time!), and prioritizing family time by sitting at the dinner table with them.

If you need some helpful boundary-setting statements to use with others, WebMD has a great article which includes examples and expands on the benefits of healthy boundaries.

Implement a self-care plan outside of work

If you’re finding yourself constantly drained either after or before a workday (or both!), you might need to evaluate your self-care routine. Many careers in the helping professions can be quite demanding physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. When I worked in a group home, I had evenings where I would leave a late-night shift, and would feel too exhausted to do anything more than just sleep during my “off” hours. My sleep schedule was often disrupted, and I made little time for physical activity, socializing with friends, or grocery shopping for healthy foods.

Try to think about the things that you can put into place that would help you to feel more energized for workdays. Does having a clean space to come home to help you to feel relaxed? Does having nourishing food planned and prepped out for the week help to cut down on decision fatigue and actual fatigue? Does proactively planning out your vacations and time off in advance help you to have things to look forward to? Take some time to create a self-care plan. See what happens when you stick to it!

If you need more ideas for implementing a self-care routine, check out my blog post on self-care.

Implement small things to self-care at work

This one might be a bit challenging to accomplish depending on the work environment that you’re in. When I worked in a regular office, it was easy for me to take breaks by walking to the kitchen to grab a drink, going for a quick walk outside, or just briefly chatting with a coworker. On the other hand, when I worked in a group home, some days were so chaotic and busy that I was lucky if I got a bathroom break before my shift ended.

Something small I did for myself to feel a bit more grounded is arriving a few minutes early, sitting outside, and taking some mental rest. I’d allow my mind to wander, do a quick meditation, or mentally recite a few affirmations. Depending on the weather, I sometimes had a coffee with me to feel a bit more relaxed. Other ways of sneaking in some pockets of self-care might include keeping a treat on you (like dark chocolate squares!), having some tea available at your desk, keeping a journal handy to jot down some thoughts, or just ensuring that you’re wearing comfortable clothes at work.

Consider making changes at work

When I counsel folks about work burnout, I first like to ask about things that might be immediately within their control that they can change. Are you feeling unchallenged and therefore unmotivated at work? Have a talk with a manager about your need for a challenge. Are you feeling overwhelmed with tasks that just never seem to get done? Consider what tasks could be delegated to another person. Do you feel like you don’t have enough hours for your personal life? Think about reducing from a 40-hour work week to a 36-hour one.

Consider quitting and/or changing jobs

If you notice that taking time off of work isn’t cutting it, consider whether it might be helpful to take a leave of absence. If you’ve tried to make changes at work and either the burnout persists or the work environment cannot meet your needs, you might want to consider another position. This might involve finding another position at your company, or moving on to another company entirely. I’ve worked with therapists that decided to move to a different work setting. Even though they are still doing therapy, the change in environment can offer a wonderful reset. And if you happen to land a job with a company that supports the wellness of its employees, BONUS!


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