From feeling like you just can’t get out of bed to genuinely feeling sick to your stomach when you’re thinking about work—burnout is REAL. Particularly as the lines between our work and home lives become increasingly blurred, it’s super easy to get burned out from work or school.
If you’re feeling burned out, you’re not alone! Take it from someone who literally ended up in the hospital years ago from being overworked; I know how much of a toll it can take on you! I felt super burned out a couple of weeks ago and had to take a step back and reset myself. Luckily, over the years, I’ve figured out how to spot the signs of burnout and address them before things get too bad.
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First of all, what does it mean to be ‘burned out’. Basically, burnout just refers to any physical or mental symptoms one experiences as a result of overwork. A lot of people suffer from burnout from work or school, but burnout can also occur as a result of caring responsibilities or even spreading yourself too thin socially!
Burnout is different from just having a stressful period or being a bit overwhelmed; its more of a chronic issue rather than an acute one. If you’re more temporarily feeling overwhelmed, check out this article.
Now, I’m going to go through some of the symptoms of burnout below and, you may notice a lot of them are similar to symptoms of depression. If you are unable to cope with any of the burnout-related symptoms you are experiencing, if they are interfering with your day-to-day life and responsibilities, or they’re just not going going away, please, please, PLEASE reach out to a professional.
For more resources check out this page.
In order to recover from a burnout, we first need to learn how to recognise when we’re feeling burnt out. Here are some of the most common burnout symptoms (that I personally tend to suffer from!).
When you’re burnt out, you may feel like you can’t even get out of bed in the morning. You may also have trouble getting to sleep at night or staying asleep. Often, once you’re burnt out, your normal tiredness remedies like coffee won’t even feel like they're helping.
You may be snapping at your partner or your colleagues more than usual. You may be more annoyed by little things strangers do than you ordinarily would.
When you’re burned out, it might feel like a HUGE struggle to do just about anything—even something simple like sending an email or emptying the dishwasher.
This is a big one. Things like feeding yourself and taking a shower may feel like monumentally difficult tasks, leaving you feeling like you can barely even take care of yourself. Loss of appetite in general can be another sign of burnout.
Now, you may always hate your job or your degree (though, I hope not!), but, chances are, usually you’re able to see at least SOME positive aspects of it. When, you’re experiencing burnout, your job / school may feel like it’s ALL bad. You may temporarily stop enjoying ANYTHING about it.
Often, when you’re burnt out, you’ll just feel a sense of near-constant general malaise and dread. You can’t really point to anything specific that's wrong with you, but you just generally feel like poo.
Often, burnout can manifest as physical ailments as well. You may experience symptoms like stomach-aches, intestinal distress, or headaches.
If you stop feeling like doing or enjoying things that normally make you happy, you may very well be burned out. Similarly, if you can’t find the motivation to do anything at all (and all you want to do is stay in bed all day) you could be burnt out.
If you’re struggling with motivation in general, check out this article.
So, what can you do if you’re burned out from work or school? Here are my top recovery tips for beating burnout as quickly as possible.
Sleep is ESSENTIAL to recovering from burnout (or anything for that matter). Whether it’s taking a nap during the day or just making sure you get AT LEAST 8 hours overnight, sleep is one of the easiest ways to make yourself feel better.
Now, if you read my blog, you may very well be a bit of an overachiever like me (my partner likes to say I’m a bit of an ‘Amy’ from Brooklyn 99 haha). But, sometimes, you have to slack off a little bit. If you’re feeling burnt out and you can’t get time off, figure out what you absolutely have to get done and don’t bother with anything else for a few days.
I used to have to do this occasionally at my old job. I was working super long hours in a high-pressure environment (you can read more about how I handled this here).
If you’re not comfortable (or you think it will negatively impact you) telling your boss you’re taking a mental health day, just tell them you’re sick and leave it at that. They’re not legally allowed to ask you what’s wrong. If people do ask, just say you have food poisoning or a stomach bug or something. Chances are, no one will want to know any more details about your diarrhea and vomiting 😂.
While you’re off, do your best to avoid checking your emails or doing any work. I know it can be tempting (and you may feel pressure to do so), but it’s really important to spend some time fully unplugged to recover.
I know it can feel like your job will fall apart if you’re not there (particularly if you have impending deadlines), but, chances are, someone will figure out how to pick up anything urgent that comes in. Especially if you’re earlier in your career, they’ll absolutely be able to get by without you for a day or two (or longer!). It’s much better for you to take a day off now than be off work for months after having a complete mental or physical breakdown!
If your burnout is a result of simply having too much work on, talk to your manager or supervisor about your workload. In some cases, you might find you’re putting extra pressure and expectations on yourself unnecessarily. I was incredibly worried recently about my turnaround time on a paper, only to find out the deadline was SUPER flexible.
Crying can be cathartic and, sometimes, all you need is a good cry to feel like you’re back in control and able to handle life again.
When you’re recovering from burnout, ASK FOR HELP FROM OTHERS. I know it can be hard (and I am notoriously bad at asking for help myself), but it’s necessary. Order in takeaway or ask your partner to cook dinner. Hire a cleaner if you can afford it (even if it’s just for a one-off clean). Ask your flatmates to take care of doing the dishes for a couple of days. As long as you’re not taking the piss (which you aren’t if you’re genuinely burnt out!), people are generally more than happy to help you.
This one honestly helps me so much. Whenever I feel on the verge of being burned out or breaking down, I put on Bob’s Burgers. It helps me calm down almost instantly.
The podcasts Stuff You Should Know and the Dollop (which I also listen to as I’m going to sleep) also always help me feel better.
It can be difficult to actually get going but taking a walk and getting out in nature can really help you feel better. Often, when we’re overworked or burned out, we’re spending all our time working and not getting outside enough. Get some fresh air and sunshine and you’ll definitely feel at least a bit better.
If you’re super introverted, this one might not help you as much, but I find socialising can be a big help in recovering from burnout. Going out with friends helps get your mind off of work (or whatever is burning you out). It can be hard to actually get out of the house when you’re not feeling great, but I try to tell myself I’ll feel better once I go.
*Disclaimer* this isn’t a healthy tip and I don’t recommend it, but sometimes it just happens. If you go out with friends, being hungover or tired the next day may even force you to do the bare minimum work-wise and rest the next day.
Sometimes when you’re burnt out, you tend to feel stuck in a rut. Trying to shake up your routine a bit can help. Try taking a different route to work, trying a new meal for dinner, or waking up at a slightly different time to help your brain ‘reset’ itself.
If you need a week off, take a week off. You can either take holiday or you can get a note from your doctor giving you sick leave. I had to take a week of sick leave once at my old job (largely due to my mental health) and there’s no shame in it!
However, if that doesn’t work, you may need to consider quitting your job or taking a break from your degree. After my job in law I was so burnt out, I took 6 months off of working. And, for the first couple of weeks, I sat around doing nothing but watching the Simpsons. Then, I slowly but surely got my motivation back and actually spent the rest of the 6 months focusing on myself (I wrote a novel, wrote a cookbook, learned to code, took some online courses, got back into climbing—I basically did all of the things I’d wanted to do for years but didn’t feel like I had time to). Honestly, it was the best decision I ever made (and I wouldn’t be doing my PhD now or be anywhere near as happy as I am if I hadn’t!).
So, now that (hopefully) you’ve learned some tips for addressing an ongoing burnout , how can you avoid getting burned out from work or school in the first place? Here are the top things I do to avoid burnout.
If you feel like you need a break, don’t feel guilty about taking one. Just TAKE it. Particularly now, when everyone’s working from home, it should be easier to take a break here and there. Don’t wait until you can’t possibly do any more work—learn what the signs of burnout are for you and take a break before it’s too late.
Get into a good sleep routine to avoid burnout. Not sleeping is SO BAD for you and makes it SO MUCH harder to cope with everyday stressors (check out this book that explains why (U.S. link)…if you live in the UK, find it here). If you’re sleeping enough, you’re less likely to get burnt out.
In addition to sleep, make sure you’re moving your body, drinking enough water, and feeding yourself properly. I know this sounds super basic, but when you’re overworked, taking care of yourself can easily fall by the wayside. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re more likely to get burned out more quickly.
If you don’t have any more capacity to take on work, say so. Saying ‘no’ is one of the most important ways to avoid burnout. Especially early on in your career, people WILL try to take advantage of you and overwork you. You need to be able to stand up for yourself.
This one is super important. As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, my limit is simply lower than a some other people’s. While some people can sustain working 80 hours a week for months (or even years!), I simply can’t. Not that that’s ever healthy, by the way, but you know what I mean.
I know where my limits are and I know how long I need to get things done. If someone’s pressuring me to take on more than I can handle (or to do something more quickly than I can handle) and it’s not a life or death situation, I push back.
I hope this article helped you deal with being burned out from work or school and gave you the tools you need to avoid or handle burnout in the future. Let me know below if you have any more tips to recover from burnout or share your experience with it.
Interested in more uni or early career advice? Check out my articles here and here.
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