Cartoon showing two workers pushing together blue jigsaw pieces with battery levels on them in a burnout recovery concept.
Image: © yellow_man/

How to recover from burnout

14 Jul 2023

There is no quick fix to recover from burnout, but talking to someone you trust can help you figure out what kind of changes you need to make.

As we already discussed in a previous article in our series on workplace burnout, the condition is recognised as a chronic syndrome by the World Health Organization. Like chronic stress but more serious, burnout aggravates our mental and physical health. Sometimes people can be lucky as they realise that they are a candidate for burnout before things get too serious.

But other times you or a loved one can be in the throes of it before the problem is spotted. It is not easy to recover from burnout, but it can be done. It takes time, rest, a change of habits and more than likely a visit to a doctor to get some professional advice. (If things are serious, a article will not be the only help you need – take it from us).

Admit there’s a problem

The worst thing you can do is power through burnout, but if you are experiencing it, chances are you aren’t able to think straight. It can be really, really hard to admit you are struggling at work; burnout can play havoc with your mind and make you feel like you can never do enough.

If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone in work, consider telling a close friend, family member or spouse. This can get things off your chest initially before you proceed to make a plan to get help.

Of course, it is often more difficult to admit to yourself that you are suffering. But ask yourself: are you sleeping? Eating? Constantly tired? Irritable? Anxious? Brain foggy? These are the classic symptoms of burnout.

Identify your stressors

While it is impossible to avoid stress at work 100pc of the time, being able to anticipate what aggravates your fight or flight responses will help you avoid burnout in the future. What bothers you at work or what makes you feel most unable to cope? Whether it is the thought of opening your email inbox, the workload you are expected to shoulder or a personal conflict with a colleague, you need to hone in on the problem and try to address it.

Kind of like the point on admitting there is a problem, once you have identified what stresses you the most about your work, you should talk to someone about it. Everyone has areas they need help with so don’t be reticent about seeking advice from a boss, mentor, colleague or HR.

Set some boundaries

Often, burnout can strike because people don’t know when to switch off, or they feel like they can’t or shouldn’t due to workplace pressures. If you work in an environment where colleagues expect you to go above and beyond your work duties – skipping lunch, working late constantly, taking tasks home etc – please know that that is not normal or acceptable. Don’t be afraid to say no politely but firmly. You can always find another job so your physical and mental health aren’t a price worth paying for it.

For leaders, burnout can occur when they invest too much of themselves in their job. Responsibility is overwhelming in and of itself at times, so try not to be too self-critical if things are going wrong. Sometimes things happen that are outside of your control. Make time for regular breaks and periods away from the daily grind. As Thane Lawrie, a former CEO, found when he was experiencing illness he believes was induced by workplace stresses, having a good support network is very helpful.

Change your habits

You cannot continue on the same trajectory that may have caused you to suffer from burnout in the first place. Look at the areas of your life where you are not following conventional health advice – are you getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night; are you eating a healthy diet; are you taking regular exercise; are you taking time away from screens to just decompress…

If you’re not doing any of those things, it is time to start. Don’t think of them as more things to add to your never-ending list of things to do. Instead, think of them as ways of investing in yourself and your health long-term. If you have appropriate workplace boundaries in place then you will have time to devote to yourself – even if it isn’t a huge amount.

Enjoy the simple things in life from time to time, like a walk in the park or a coffee with a friend. Be kinder to yourself and take the advice your doctor gives you on board.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea joined Silicon Republic in 2021 as Careers reporter, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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