5 Helpful Steps When You are Starting to Feel Burnout

Posted on July 1, 2016 by Shawn Friday, MEd, LPC, CEAP

Updated May 15, 2023

Starting BurnoutBurnout Better Dealt with ASAP

Something in the title of Monique Valcour’s article on burnout in the Harvard Business Review struck me immediately.  The title is Steps to Take When You’re Starting to Feel Burned Out and what struck me as crucial was the word “starting.”

With many problems, the earlier you become aware, the easier it is to manage.  For example, you may feel stressed when you notice a tension in your back, neck or shoulders. Another person may not even know they are stressed until a migraine headache has begun. Assuming stress was the cause of the tension or headache, they might have headed it off by recognizing the subtle signs of stress at an earlier point than the full-blown pain.

burned out docIn the case of anxiety, a person noting anxious thoughts early can begin coping strategies to minimize it. Others may not recognize anxiety until symptoms of panic hit, some times out of the blue. Couples who are mindful of their interactions can see negativity between themselves earlier than those operating on “automatic pilot” and can keep minor problems from turning into major problems.

By frequently taking “inventory” of how we feel in our jobs, relationships and other areas, we notice when we have gotten off-track much earlier than we might otherwise. So, you see why taking steps when starting to feel burnout is going to work much better than when you are knee-deep in it (or waist-high, neck-high or in over your head!).

Recognizing Burnout

We know burnout will not just go away on its own, so what can we do?

Step number one is to recognize the problem. What are the signs of possible burnout?

Valcour provides a picture of burnout vs. engagement at work. Burnout is feeling once “challenging” tasks are now “insurmountable.” Burnout is exhaustion, cynicism and feeling overwhelmed, while engagement is energy, involvement and high performance. Burnout occurs when a person’s resources are not enough to meet demands faced on the job.  Factors such as heavy workload, high pressure, conflicting or unclear expectations, uncivil behaviors by others and a host of other situations can set the stage for possible burnout.

How to Address Burnout

Valcour describes five steps in her article:

  1. Make self-care and personal resource replenishment a priority. Good habits in the areas of sleep, diet, fitness and doing enjoyable activities help you be your best. You handle stress better and will be more effective. A few hours of work when you are at your best will be superior to more hours of work when you are exhausted and overly stressed. Consider taking some time off. Build in breaks throughout the day.
  2. Analyze your current situation. Track your activities to determine the value of particular tasks and how you feel doing them. This information will help you decide what changes to make to maximize nourishing activities and minimize draining ones.
  3. Reduce exposure to job stressors. Use the above analysis as a guide to limit exposure to draining tasks and people. Delegate what you can. Disconnect from work after hours (a.k.a. putting away the iPhone). Work on letting go of perfectionism.
  4. Increase job resources. The previous step focuses on detaching from draining or negative things. This next step actively seeks more connections with people you find supportive and stimulating, and discovering your most energizing tasks (this may include trying on new duties).
  5. Take the opportunity to reassess. The author mentions a concept I find key when dealing with difficult situations; determine what is in your control and what isn’t.

By implementing the above steps and psychologically letting go of areas where you do not have control, you may find yourself on a better path in your work. For some people however, a reassessment of the situation might lead to the conclusion a job or career change is in order. Burnout is sometimes the motivator for this type of change.

Additional strategies can be found in other articles: Rebecca Knight, How to Overcome Burnout and Stay Motivated in the Harvard Business Review and Jeanne and Robert Segal, Burnout Prevention and Recovery in Helpguide.org.

We Can Help

If you find yourself overly stressed or experiencing burnout, we can help by connecting you to a counselor or peer coach who understands your situation. Contact VITAL WorkLife at 877.731.3949 or through the VITAL WorkLife App to access your well being resources today.

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