Recovering From Burnout: How to Reclaim the Fuel to Keep Going

What is burnout? In "car guy" terms, burnout is described as the practice of keeping the wheels spinning while remaining stationary. The overwhelming heat and friction cause the tires to wear and tear while simultaneously producing smoke from the burning rubber.

In a way, at least metaphorically speaking, this is also what physical, emotional, and mental burnout is. It is when you exert too much pressure on your mind and body to move forward, even though the heat and friction from doing so are already damaging to you, all the while remaining stationary.

Unfortunately, a poll conducted by Future Forum revealed that over 40% of professionals in several countries are are experiencing burnout. So, what exactly is this "occupational phenomenon," as coined by the World Health Organization (WHO)?

How much has it been affecting our productivity? And what are the things we can do to recover from burnout or avoid experiencing burnout altogether?

Burning Bright Shouldn't Lead To Burning Out: What Is Burnout?

Forgive me, but I have to be quite technical on the definition of burnout. After all, understanding the fundamentals of this affliction is key to recovering from it.

So, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) does not actually classify burnout as a medical condition. Instead, WHO states that burnout is a syndrome—the result of chronic stress in the workplace when not addressed properly (or successfully).

The keywords we must take from this are "workplace" and "stress." Prolonged stress, emotional exhaustion, a lack of positive emotions towards one's job, and a significant decrease in workplace efficiency are common indicators of burnout.

"But if I continue to be productive at work despite constantly feeling overwhelmed and stressed, does it mean I'm not suffering from burnout?"

Well, burning bright shouldn't lead to burning out. Even if we are productive, it's only a matter of time before we face the dreadful mornings of not wanting to go to work or even get out of bed.

This brings us to the question, "How do we avoid burnout?"  For starters, recognizing the stages of burnout will help you stay one step ahead. Let's talk about that below.

The Signs: What Are The Five Stages Of Burnout?

Think of your mind like a garden. Left unchecked, weeds and parasites will soon spread out and devour your treasured plants. That's how burnout develops.

The constant work-related stress we shrug off will eventually take its toll on our mental health, rendering us unable to conduct even the simplest physical activity at home or at work.

This is why recognizing the five stages of burnout is vital to keeping our overall well-being in check.

grátis Foto De Um Homem Apoiado Em Uma Mesa De Madeira Foto profissional

1. Honeymoon Stage

At this stage, enthusiasm, joy, motivation, and commitment are your primary driving forces in the workplace. You tend to be more productive, but it can be dangerous, too. Some people end up taking on more responsibilities when they're full of energy.

2. Onset of Stress

Upon taking on new responsibilities, you will start to experience frustration and stress, especially if the workload is beyond your capacity. This could also be the start of developing negative feelings about the job.

3. Chronic Stress

The work-related stress starts rippling out of your professional life, affecting your personal life. Here, you begin to experience physical manifestations of burnout, such as poor concentration, sleep disturbances, and difficulty managing your emotions.

4. Burnout

Failing to address chronic stress, various mental health concerns start developing, most common of which are anxiety and depression. The physical and mental exhaustion causes you to detach yourself from work, sometimes causing you to exhibit a negative attitude toward your co-workers.

5. Habitual Burnout

The final stage. At this point, you've essentially drained your will to carry on. Life becomes a war on all fronts and your body is the battlefield. This is where burnout recovery, rest, and self-care are not just optional but necessary.

The Steps: How Do I Recover From Burnout?

Burnout is caused by the snowballing of stress we experience at work. In other words, it's the culmination of weeks, maybe even months or years, of emotional distress we systematically ignored.

By that token, logic presumes that recovering from burnout is also a process, just as it was a process that got you in this position.

Ergo, it will take several destressing and relaxation techniques to initiate your burnout recovery and improve your overall well-being. I believe the most effective ones are as follows:

1. Try Seeking Professional Help

There remains a stigma around seeking professional help for mental health concerns, as evidenced by the 2021 Mental Health Million Project report.

The report shows that over 50% of people with clinical-level mental health risks do not seek help. Fair enough, burnout is not a clinical disorder, but it is a mental health risk nonetheless.

Seeking professional help when you experience burnout should help you wrestle with the overwhelming stress levels that come along with it.

2. Get Quality Sleep

After decades of research, scientists have finally concluded exactly how much sleep our body needs: "Just five minutes more!"

Jokes aside, Science Direct states that adults need 7 hours of quality sleep each night.

Poor sleep quality has been directly linked to burnout, and while long-term strategies are still necessary for recovery, that much-needed shut-eye is the initial antidote to effectively manage stress.

"But I can't fall asleep!" Yeah, I know how it feels. One of the things that has helped me through this is learning how to meditate in bedAdios, restless nights!

3. Communicate (And Do It Honestly)

Human beings, at least as far as we know, have not yet developed the ability to read minds. We can, however, read social cues that verify or reject each other's assumptions.

But when an individual is too caught up with their struggles and catastrophes, we can't expect them to take the time to analyze what we non-verbally say.

Therefore, the best way to others know what we're going through is to tell them directly. Whether it's your boss, colleagues, or family members, honest communication is how we can receive the support we need.

I understand that sometimes you don't want to be a burden, but burnout makes you feel as if you're carrying the world on your shoulders.

When that happens, the interactions you have with the people close to you (in a physical and metaphorical sense), will become unpleasant and heavier, which would likely make you a burden either way.

So, don't hesitate to ask for emotional support, file that request for time off, and call your friends and loved ones once in a while.

4. Establish Boundaries

It's been proven that saying "no" to responsibilities you can't shoulder provides tremendous mental benefits. After all, it's a form of self-compassion to distance yourself from the source of your burnout.

Therefore, no one, including yourself, should hold you accountable for not doing the tasks that are outside of your scope in the first place.

Learning to separate your professional life from your personal life is one of the many long-term strategies you need to employ to avoid burnout and keep your life balanced.

It's also one of the best ways to take control of your life and start prioritizing your own needs.

two men talking

5. Explore Stress Management Techniques (Must Try!)

When you experience burnout, your entire body is basically at war. One side is fighting to keep going, while the other side wants to give up.

It takes a calm mind to listen to your body and understand what's going on. For that to happen, you need to slow down and think things thoroughly (why are you in a rush anyway?).

And while numerous books and films have taught us to look ahead, "beyond what the eyes can see," we must also take the time to look within, because sometimes, that's where the calmness is.

So, whenever you feel overwhelmed, just pause and explore stress management techniques such as:

  • Meditation
  • Deep Breathing
  • Mindfulness Walking
  • Mindful Eating
  • Gratitude Practice
  • Social Media Detox

Ready to transform your life?

Join GoalsWon and get daily accountability coaching.
We'll keep you on track to your goals through tailored tactics and daily feedback.
Claim Your Free Trial

6. Untangle Your Thoughts With A Journal

You can't just ignore burnout for as long as you can and expect your body to magically be okay one day. Burnout recovery, as I've said, is a process, which means it takes a conscious effort on your part to grapple with the things that weigh you down.

It's uncomfortable, time-consuming, and sometimes disturbing, as all transformations should be. So, you really must face the elephant in the room if you wish to become the new you—one who's free from stress and worries.

There's this thing I call "stress diaries," also referred to as "brain dumps" where you can unload everything that is weighing on your mind!

Also, journals like this will help untangle your thoughts and create order amidst the chaos. It's also a way for you to reflect on how you react to situations and what you can do to improve them.

So that when a similar situation arises, one that you know could potentially lead to heightened stress levels and burnout, you'll know how to navigate yourself through it.

7. Share The Load

When we experience burnout, the last thing on our minds is to ask for help because we think that doing so is a burden and could potentially ruin the relationship.

However, did you know that one study conducted by Frank Flynn and Vanessa Lake from Stanford University found that asking for help can actually improve your relationship with other people?

When you ask for help, the helper will feel valued and appreciated. This enhances the closeness between you and the other person, leading to stronger relationships.

The bottom line is that when you share the load, aside from carrying lighter cargo, you might just end up having someone you can rely on when the going gets tough.

group of people sitting on front firepit

8. Even Machines Take Breaks

The personal computer, laptop, or cellphone you're reading this on is a processing machine. It continuously saves information, processes your prompts, and retrieves data whenever necessary.

However, if it continues doing so for hours non-stop, it'll eventually slow down and become sluggish. That's why downtime is essential to keep it functioning properly.

Now, if a machine designed to do exactly just that, needs to cool off once in a while, imagine what'd happen to you if you pushed through exhaustion to finish your tasks.

When you give your mind a chance to recharge, you become more productive and creative, primarily due to renewed energy levels and focus. It's also why relaxation is among the top habits of successful people.

So, the next time you feel exhausted and think of powering through it, remember: even machines take breaks, and for good reason.

9. Exercise

When you're at your wit's end, having lost the drive to go to work because of burnout, you'd think your body just needs to lay down in bed for a couple of hours and you'd be okay by then.

But remember: what you're going through is not physical exhaustion; it's fatigue, and fatigue is a brain-derived emotion.

Therefore, a day in bed may not necessarily be beneficial to your recovery process since it's your brain that needs revitalization, not your body.

One study suggests working out, particularly cardiovascular and resistance exercise. Now, I know what you're thinking. It seems counterproductive, foolish even, to engage in physical activity while suffering from extreme tiredness.

But exercise helps by releasing certain chemicals in your brain that recalibrate how it functions. Think of it as both the bulldozer and the builder. It demolishes the old, squeaky, crumbling house and builds a new one capable of withstanding the toughest storms.

10. Eat Healthy

It's not a hard nut to crack, really. Taking care of your body should be a piece of cake. You don't have to go bananas over it. You just have to eat like a (health-conscious) horse.

Okay. That's all the idioms I have on the matter. Enough of that. We have bigger fish to fry (oops!).

What I'm saying is that the adage remains true; You are what you eat. A healthy diet means a healthy you, and by "you," I mean you as the sum of your every aspect.

Burnout is an assault on your mind and body, and eating a balanced diet should provide you with the mental fortitude and physical prowess to keep the stress at bay.

cooked food

11. Shift From "Am I Good Enough?" To "I Am Good Enough."

The most pivotal moments in history, the kind that turn the tide and rewrite our collective narratives, often spark from a single phrase, a line of text, or the profound impact of a groundbreaking manifesto. These instances illuminate a simple yet earth-shattering reality: words wield unimaginable power.

So, what is my argument? Why am I telling you this?

It’s because I want to highlight just how mighty words can be—not just the grand, world-changing declarations, but the quiet conversations we have with ourselves. I'm telling you these because you have the power to create a magnificent world or initiate the collapse of an oppressive system within you.

It all lies in the words you say to yourself. Instead of constantly asking if you are good enough, believe, instead, that you are good enough.

The constant critic in your head then becomes a long-time companion. The newfound belief in yourself will help relieve stress and the mental load that self-doubt carries.

woman wearing brown leather jacket

12. Have Fun!

Let's approach this logically. Burnout takes the fun out of life. So, what do you do to address it? Make your life fun again!

Make it a habit to schedule a time for the things that make you happy. Let's say, one hour per day for reading, one day per week for watching movies, and one weekend per month for going out/traveling.

This way, you always have something to look forward to. These "rewards" significantly enhance intrinsic motivation, which is your shield against burnout.

If you always find it difficult to manage your time effectively and establish a work-life balance, maximizing some of the best productivity apps might help.

people sitting on chair eating food during daytime

Food For Thought:

  • When was the last time you'd had a good rest? How did it affect your disposition?
  • How do people react when you're honest about your needs? Does it help you and your relationship with them?
  • What are the things you do when you're feeling overwhelmed or stressed? Are they the best outlets for unpacking your emotions?
  • How do you think people feel when you show them that you care about them? Can you extend the same courtesy to yourself?

Burnout FAQs

What are the symptoms of burnout, and how do I recognize them in myself or others?

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. Here are some of the common symptoms to look out for:

  • Emotionally: You might feel drained, detached, increasingly negative or feel hopeless about your tasks or job.
  • Physically: Symptoms include exhaustion, sleep disturbances, and unexplained aches or pains.
  • Behaviorally: This could look like withdrawing from responsibilities, procrastinating more than usual, or using unhealthy coping mechanisms.

If these signs resonate with you, this is a clear indicator that something in your life needs attention.

How serious is burnout?

Burnout is a serious problem for both the individual and the company or organization. For the individual, it can lead to insomnia, gastric problems, musculoskeletal pain, and even cardiovascular disorders. For the organization, burnout causes poor performance from its employees, leading to decreased productivity.

How long does it take to recover from burnout?

Recovery time from burnout varies greatly among individuals and depends on the severity of their symptoms and the changes they're able to make in their lives. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, or even longer, that's why it's important to address it immediately in its early stages. The key is to be patient with yourself and focus on consistent self-care practices. That's why it's important to address it immediately in its early stages.

What is the difference between stress and burnout?

While stress is a response to a high demand that can still be managed with the right resources, burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. It's characterized by feelings of emptiness, lack of motivation, and a sense of ineffectiveness.

Can burnout affect relationships?

Yes, burnout can spill over into your personal life, affecting your relationships with friends, family, and partners. You may find yourself more irritable, less patient, and emotionally unavailable, making it important to communicate openly about what you're experiencing and seek support.

Am I burned out or just lazy?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines laziness as the unwillingness to do work or use energy. And there's an immense difference between not wanting to use energy for work and not having the energy to work. Burnout is the latter. Once you've addressed that (using the tips above, of course), the rest becomes a matter of setting goals and establishing habits that help you achieve them. If you're not sure how to start, you can try out our coaching free trial to take some pointers and see where you can make these difficult but necessary lifestyle changes.


Even Fyodor Dostoevsky, a novelist known for his rather dark (but highly influential) insights into the human mind, once wrote, "You will burn and you will burn out; you will be healed and come back again."

There's much to be said about our capacity to go beyond our limits, but the tradeoff should never be our spirit. We must stop using "success" and "productivity" to cloak our self-destructive ways and start glamorizing self-care instead.

The road to recovering from burnout is long and winding, but it's a path we must take to preserve our well-being. The tips above, along with your coache's support, will refuel the passion within you.