How To Recover From Burnout When You Can't Take A Break

August 17, 2022

Hustle culture has been spiraling out of control for years now. Whether it is the romanticization of the corporate world or economic hardships, almost everyone is affected by it. You might be working long hours, working two jobs, or even monetizing your hobbies. With this grind mindset going on for years now—American working hours have been getting longer while Europeans now work over 2 months less than us each year—it is no surprise that burnout and “quiet quitting” are trending conversations.

Chances are, either you or those close to you are dealing with burnout. Over recent months, I’ve had numerous conversations with my friends and family about struggling with burnout. Yet the most common frustration is not knowing what to do about it. Because almost everyone is dealing with it, including our own supervisors, burnout has become the status quo. It’s just a part of ‘adult life.’ This makes many feel they have no choice but to just muscle through it. So how do we heal and recover from burnout when we have to keep working?

Two women working together on a laptop in front of a brightly-lit window

Burnout is officially recognized by the World Health Organization and is classified as “chronic stress.” This is a big part of why a better night of rest doesn’t solve the fatigue symptom of burnout. This chronic stress and high levels of cortisol trigger our survival instincts, which, when around for long enough, leaves us constantly tired. This is why finding a way to manage work stress and implement boundaries will do a lot more for your burnout than chasing PTO days—although a holiday or staycation can be an excellent reset coupled with proactive habits!

The easiest habits to build will be the ones that you have will be the ones you have the most control over, and those will most likely happen outside of the workplace. A study that followed 183 employees found that those who worked on mastering something non-work related, like cooking or a new sport, after hours felt “more energetic and enthusiastic the next morning.” Another study found that employees who spent their time after work doing things they actually wanted to, rather than something they were obligated to do, felt more energetic.

With longer work hours and responsibilities waiting for us at home, deciding what to do with our free time isn’t the easiest thing. Something that has been working for me recently has been to list the things I’ve been craving to do and then actually schedule “me” time on my calendar! I found that if I don’t make concrete plans with myself, it is easy for me to just keep working or end up doom-scrolling and feeling even worse the next day. Since I started this, I’ve read more books, spent more time with friends, done more yoga, worked on my creative hobbies, and explored more places in my city. And I feel more fulfilled!

Another habit that seems simple but makes a huge difference is retraining our mindset. Although I generally consider myself a pretty positive person, I can get into negative spirals when I’m feeling stressed, or things seem to keep taking wrong turns at work. Researchers that ran a study on burnout in the education field found that employees who connected with their purpose or ‘why’ generally experience lower stress levels than those who didn’t. Your purpose doesn’t have to be aligned with your company’s mission statement. In fact, it can be something like, “I’m here because I want to save up enough money to buy a house for my family,” or whatever is driving you to work. Keeping this goal in mind can help you move through the daily bumps and keep you energized for the future.

Another finding of the study identified that employees who focused on positive work experiences also were less likely to experience severe burnout. Think of this like a gratitude practice but at work! I like doing this every week and thinking of something that made me feel proud or a good conversation I had with a coworker. Writing these down and journaling about how they made me feel gives me a different perspective on my work week, and it’s a much nicer way to wrap up my week.

Harder habits to build are ones that affect your daily work routine, but talking to a supportive leader or an HR team member can help you establish these. The first is to create boundaries; clearly communicate your workload and how much more you can or can’t take on. A great way of doing this if you don’t want to directly tell people no is to ask them what the priority of this project is. After they answer, let them know how many high-priority tasks you have ahead of this request. Another tip is to spend your breaks mindfully. Try to leave your workspace if you can. You could take a walk, sit outside, or even go to a different part of the building. This makes it easier to have an uninterrupted break and gets you out of the work mindset, even if it is just for a little while. For those working at home, this can be even harder, so do the best you can to create a separate space for work to distinguish between work life and home life. A good way of doing this is to push yourself to wear work clothes that you change out of at the end of the day, which signals to your brain that the work day is over.

Burnout is something that most of us deal with, and with hustle culture becoming the new normal, it can feel impossible to change. It’s important to have honest conversations with those around us, whether that is friends, coworkers, family members, or leaders who will inspire change and support in businesses to help their employees manage burnout. However, just like eating healthy foods and exercising to keep our bodies healthy, we must do the same with our minds. Just because we might not be able to change our jobs or work shorter hours doesn’t mean we are powerless in supporting our own happiness. We have more control than we think; it is just about empowering ourselves to use it for good.

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Photo: KOBU Agency on Unsplash

Iga is a freelance writer based in Colorado, but originally from Poland. She follows the vegan, sustainability and zero-waste movements while trying to live a practical lifestyle! When she’s not writing she likes to practice yoga, read, play with her dogs and just be outside in nature. You can find more of her work at her website


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