We live in a world that breeds burnout. So how can you take small measures on a daily basis to prevent these symptoms from escalating? How can you prevent a full-on burnout crisis?
To start, consider which factors contribute to burnout in the first place. Then we’ll cover bite-sized ways to block these roots of burnout.
What increases your risk of burnout?
- over-extending yourself personally or professionally
- skipping meals
- only using passive relaxation
- lack of social support
- avoiding rest and downtime
- chronic illness or disability
- being a caregiver
- a stressful or demanding work environment
- home or family demands in addition to work
Burnout is when your body enters a state of exhaustion and energy conservation. It makes it hard to get going or keep going–let alone reverse the cycle of burnout. Instead of waiting until you’re charred to a crisp, take the prevention of burnout seriously–using these bite-sized measures.
Burnout prevention tips anyone can use, anytime
The prevention of burnout is about being proactive. That means taking bite-sized action at every chance you get.
As you try to prevent burnout, it’s more effective to take small steps whenever you can, instead of waiting until your body forces you to take a break.
Make sure you’re doing both active and passive relaxation
Anytime you’re not working or tending your responsibilities, consider whether you’re distracting yourself or recharging yourself. “Distracting” includes scrolling, watching TV, gaming, and similar pastimes. These are passive forms of relaxation, and better than nothing.
But what’s really recharging and protective against burnout? Active relaxation. Active relaxation includes:
- putting your body in restful positions (like in restorative yoga)
- burning off stress chemicals (like in exercise)
- letting your mind wander (like on a leisurely walk)
- actively tuning out your daily worries (like in meditation)
- doing activities that engage your body and mind (like dancing to music)
- using more than just the work part of your brain (like creating art)
Check out this TikTok on the topic: “Are you distracting, not relaxing?”
Breathe out longer than you breathe in
If you’re on the path to burnout, you’re likely not breathing deeply.
Shallow breathing is both a sign and cause of intense stress associated with burnout. However, the value of breathing for burnout prevention involves more than just oxygen.
Part of why breathing is so helpful for reducing stress, is that our breath sends signals to our brains about how relaxed we are. If we can consciously change our breathing to send a relaxed signal, it can help our brains follow suit. Luckily, it’s very simple to send this signal.
You don’t have to drastically alter how you’re breathing or follow any set rhythm. Just make sure your out-breath is at least 1-2 seconds longer than your in-breath. This will help your body actually enter parasympathetic or “rest and recharge” mode.
Recognize unreasonable demands in the moment
You may not be able to refuse the task, but it’s important to recognize when expectations are simply out of touch with reality. It’s not your job to work miracles, and trying to do so can quickly burn you out.
Of course, you can’t change the demands you receive at work (and “quiet quitting” isn’t necessarily the healthiest path away from burnout). You should still continue to do your best. However, you can make sure that you don’t guilt-trip yourself in response to unreasonable demands. Avoiding self-blame may help avoid burnout.
You may choose to communicate your concerns, but at the very least, make a conscious choice not to beat yourself up.
Take small steps to maintain positive relationships
According to Jack Shonkoff, the director of the Center On The Developing Child at Harvard, “Resilience depends on supportive, responsive relationships.” So, nurturing your healthy relationships – even in a bite-sized way – is a big part of burnout prevention.
Yes, this is extra effort when you’re already exhausted. However, this practice helps remind you of the support system you’ve built. Knowing that you can rely on those around you aids resilience against burnout.
Check in with at least one friend a day. It doesn’t have to be complicated. An emoji or TikTok link lets them know you’re thinking of them.
Exercise in order to feel less exhausted
Mentioned earlier, exercise is a burnout-recovery priority (even when you feel exhausted). It helps you burn off stress chemicals, while also giving you time to process your thoughts and emotions. Aside from the common-sense benefits of exercise, research shows that it’s clearly an effective burnout treatment.
According to a randomized controlled trial in Germany (meaning exercise was compared to other burnout treatments and placebo), “a single bout of acute aerobic exercise supports regeneration of cognitive flexibility performance and of subjective well-being. This holds true not just compared to artificial active control treatment but also compared to widespread leisure time activity, namely watching TV.”
Get things off your chest ASAP
Do you ever feel like you have to tell your coworker about some exhausting experience you just had? That’s an extremely healthy idea. Lean into it!
Anytime you go through an emotionally exhausting experience at work, avoid long-term burnout by getting it off your chest ASAP. This can be considered a form of social rest – which is important to get when you can’t rest at work.
One study published by The American Journal of Psychiatry reflects that confiding in others may help reduce the risk of depression by 24%. This finding is important for burnout recovery, because depression symptoms and burnout symptoms are thought to be almost indistinguishable.
Citing that study, Medical News Today concludes that “confiding in others is one of the best ways to stave off depression, while daytime napping and spending lots of time watching television appear to increase the risk of developing the condition.”
Remember that burnout can’t be prevented by self care alone
While it’s always good to take care of yourself and set yourself up for success, burnout is more than just a “you problem.” It’s known to be, at its root, a workplace problem–not an individual one.
If you find yourself burned out or exhausted, try not to blame yourself for not trying hard enough. Some people use all of the above burnout prevention strategies, and still burn out due to workplace conditions.
Sometimes burnout is bigger than you and requires more than just self care resources. If you’re looking for more ideas, resources, or help finding a path forward, Supportiv chats are available 24/7 to help.