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5 Ways to Recover From Burnout, According to Experts

Burnout. The word alone evokes candles snuffed, fires extinguished, flames slowly dimmed. But for those who suffer from the phenomenon, the notion of a bright light turned dark—whether that happens emotionally, physically, or mentally—is powerfully real. So what, exactly, is burnout? And how does one recover from it?

Understanding Burnout

Lawyer turned New York Times bestselling author and Happier podcast host Gretchen Rubin shares her definition: “It’s the feeling of being overwhelmed and feeling stale…. When you’re burned out there tends to be a feeling of resentment or that you’re at the end of your rope.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout isn’t just a mindset, it’s a syndrome. More directly, it’s “conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress.”

Natalie Azar, M.D., a medical expert and NBC contributor, elaborates: “I would frame it as you’re performing a job that you might have been doing for many years and you’re no longer deriving the same enjoyment, professional or personal satisfaction from it.”

What Is Workplace Burnout?

Workplace burnout is all too common. According to a Deloitte survey, 77% of professionals have experienced burnout in their current jobs, owing to three main culprits: lack of support or recognition from leaders, unrealistic deadlines or expectations, and working long hours, including weekends. The hustle has indeed lost its luster. Research conducted by Zippia cited burnout is the number one reason people in the U.S. leave their jobs. This was the story for yacht chef Kesi Irvin. After the Wharton grad landed a coveted role on Wall Street, she felt something was amiss. “I left my job because I knew I would regret not taking a career break to travel,” she says. “I had a very large wanderlust, and only having two weeks of holiday per year was not enough if I wanted to see the world.” It’s now been eight years, and Irvin hasn’t looked back. “My plan was to only take a one-year break, but I have not stopped traveling since 2015.” Irvin has shared her journey on her website, To and Fro, which encourages others to take their own career breaks. “I want to change corporate culture by helping Americans take travel sabbaticals so they won’t experience burnout,” says Irvin. “Travel is the ultimate teacher.”

Some people are more susceptible to burnout than others. In her book The Four Tendencies, Rubin identifies four foundational personality types people typically fall into: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. (Here’s a quiz to recognize your own behavioral patterns.) “People who are obligers are much more susceptible to burnout. So if you’re the type of person that agrees with the idea, ‘I keep my promises to other people but I have trouble keeping my promises to myself,’ that is a very big sign that you may have a problem,” says Rubin.

Physicians are especially prone to suffer from work fatigue. An article by the previous president of the American Medical Association (AMA), Jack Resneck Jr., M.D., named burnout as a growing “health crisis” for doctors and patients alike. When we speak on the phone, Azar shares her own experience with burnout. “The conversation about doctor burnout is everywhere,” she says. “I have amazing colleagues who've left clinical medicine to go into pharma and other things.” Research has shown that one in five physicians are expected to leave their current practice within two years, leading to an estimated shortage of 124,000 physicians by 2024. A survey from the AMA, Mayo Clinic, and Stanford Medicine shows an alarming 62.8% of physicians experienced symptoms of burnout in 2021, up from 38% the previous year—startling numbers accelerated by the “stress and uncertainty” of the COVID-19 pandemic. To combat the pressure, Azar reminds us we’re all on a journey. “The simplest and sort of most cliché way to say it is you have to think of your professional life as a marathon and not a sprint, or you will not have any juice left for the end,” she says.

How to Recover from Burnout

Burnout knows no boundaries, and it’s up to each of us to safeguard against it. Taking time for yourself is vital—a sentiment echoed by each expert. Here, Rubin shares her step–by–step guide to hitting the refresh button long before the flame goes out.

1. Identify the problem

“You [may] just have this generalized feeling of burnout, but what really matters is the why. So, if you’re like, ‘Oh, I feel so burned out at work’: Okay, so do you feel burned out at work because your team was downsized and you’re doing the work of three people? Do you feel burned out because you don’t trust your boss and you feel your boss doesn’t support you? Do you feel burned out because you don’t have the right tools for the job and everything is frustrating and annoying? Do you feel burned out because you have a really arduous commute? Are you feeling burned out because you’re working so hard that you have no time for other things that are important to you? Are you feeling burned out because you’re staying up late binge-watching TV, so you’re exhausted all the time and the day just feels endless?

There are many things you can do to address those issues, but they’re very different…. When you identify the problem you can be more successful about addressing the situation. And, weirdly enough, it’s very easy to not identify the problem. People use burnout as a sort of general explanation instead of drilling down to exactly what the problem is.”

2. Don’t Neglect the Body

“People will often go to complex emotional or social explanations on how to fix burnout. But if you’re not getting enough sleep, if you’re not getting any exercise, or if you’re not spending time outside—these are things that go directly to the energy of the body. Sometimes things that you would usually find fun or challenging in a good way feel overwhelming because you’re depleted physically. Make sure you get enough sleep at night and are getting exercise, because it’s very important for your energy and mood. You don’t have to train for the marathon but a 20-minute walk can really help you. Don’t neglect the body. Our physical experience always colors our emotional experience, so that’s a very obvious next step.

I’m all about how we can use our five senses. Part of the reasoning from my book Life in Five Senses is about turning to our senses for comfort and pleasure. Do something you really enjoy. If you love music, take a break in the afternoon to listen to a favorite playlist to recharge. It’s a treat, but it’s not an unhealthy treat. It’s the five senses, it’s your surroundings, and it’s about the experiences of your body.”

3. Say No to Say Yes

“Part of why so many people get burned out is they feel overwhelmed by people’s expectations and it’s hard for them to say no. So, one thing [to do] when you’re feeling burned out is to find ways to make it comfortable for you to say no to other people’s expectations. For instance, you can remind yourself, I need to say no to some people so I can say yes to others. I need to say no to my team when they want me to work late because I need to say yes to my family, who are expecting me home for dinner. I have to say yes to somebody and no to somebody and I get to pick who gets the yes and who gets the no.

4. Be a Role Model

“Think of your duty as a role model. If I work 24/7, I’m setting a bad example for my team because I really do believe that people should work and have leisure, and if I’m not doing that myself then I’m a bad role model. If I want my children to read for pleasure but they never see me reading for pleasure, they’re not going to associate reading with something a person does for fun. This is one thing I found—if one person goes to bed, the whole household moves to bedtime and if one person wakes up, it kind of wakes up the house. If you want other people to have regular sleep schedules, you should also have a regular sleep schedule as a role model.”

5. Put On Your Oxygen Mask

“If you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not going to be able to help anyone else. So if I’m feeling burned out, I might just play hooky all day and stay home and binge-watch old Friends episodes rather than do my work. That’s not good for anybody. I need to take care of myself if I’m going to fulfill my responsibilities to others.”

This article was originally published on Vogue UK.

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