How to Manage Burnout: 5 Essential Tips

Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop. – Ovid

Do you feel exhausted when you get home from work?

Do you go about your day feeling numb and as though you’re just going through the motions?

When you get right down to it, do you feel ineffective and maybe even helpless?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you might wonder what’s wrong with you. But it may be something you haven’t even thought about: burnout.

Did you know that burnout can occur just about anywhere in our lives, not just at work?

Here are three aspects of burnout according to leading researcher Christina Maslach:

1. Exhaustion.

I’m an avid crossworder and when the clue is “exhausted”, the answer inevitably is “used up.” That’s what exhaustion feels like – being used up. It describes both physical and emotional depletion.

2. Depersonalization.

We use this technique to try and put distance between ourselves and whatever is causing our stress. So, if you work with customers or clients in your job, you might find yourself ignoring the unique qualities of each person and thinking of them as just a number to be served or a case to be managed.

Likewise, if you are burning out in other areas of your life such as family, friends, or other groups you are a part of, you might find yourself becoming cynical or indifferent when around those people.

3. Inefficacy.

This refers to a reduced sense of personal accomplishment.

It can feel like any or all of these things:

  • You’re not getting things done no matter how hard you try.
  • You just don’t have the time and resources available to complete the tasks you are expected to do.
  • You rarely get any positive feedback for what you are doing.

So, this is a pretty nasty trio: Feeling used up, cynical, and ineffective/unappreciated.

You may have had a job where you experienced this, but I’m sure you can also see where burnout can occur in other spheres, too.

Maybe you feel like you have to be the perfect mom or a superdad.

Maybe you’re under pressure from high expectations to get excellent grades in school or university.

Or maybe you have a chronic illness and are tired of putting up a “brave front” so that the people around you don’t get discouraged.

Whatever the situation, burnout is a bad place to be so let’s look at some ideas to keep burnout away in the first place as well as some ideas what to do if you’re in the midst of it.

1. Pay attention to yourself.

It’s easy to get so caught up in the world and what needs to be done in it that you end up being alienated from your own experience. To get more in tune with yourself, ask:

  • How does my body feel? Am I tired? Do I have enough energy?
  • How am I feeling emotionally? Am I getting cynical? Am I being snarky with others?
  • Am I overwhelmed? Do I feel like things are piling up to the degree that I’ll never be able to catch up? Do I feel appreciated for what I do?

2. Ask yourself if it’s worth it.

Is what you are doing worth the physical and emotional drain on your body and mind?

When it comes to a job, sometimes we don’t have much choice, but if you are feeling burned out in other areas of your life, does it really matter so much that it’s worth harming yourself emotionally and physically?

Maybe it’s time to let go of people in your life who bring you more stress than support.

3. What if you didn’t . . .?

What would happen if you didn’t do whatever it is that is stressing you out?

Would the sky fall in if you didn’t make the Easter dinner this year, didn’t volunteer at your son’s school for a few weeks or months, didn’t pack every hour of the work day with clients? If you took a day off to read a book or watch movies all day, would you really get that far behind?

4. Be assertive.

Yes, I’m sure you sensed this one was coming: Just say no.

It’s okay. You can do this!

When Junior’s teacher asks you to be the parent monitor at his class’s monthly birthday party (for the umpteenth time because she knows you’ll say yes), say, “I’m glad to bring cookies for the party, but I can’t be the monitor.” That’s it. No need for an excuse. Just “I can’t.”

At work, it’s not a particularly good idea to say “no” or “I can’t”; instead, you may want to sit down with your boss and express your concerns about your work load or unreasonable expectations you feel from management.

Talk to him about your symptoms of burnout – exhaustion, cynicism, and/or feeling ineffective and helpless.

5. Don’t ‘should’ on yourself.

Please don’t allow burnout to happen to you because of ‘shoulds.’

“I should be able to handle this.”

“I shouldn’t feel this way.”

Who said?

Try not to put any more pressure on yourself than you already feel. Trust your own experience with your body, your feelings, and your mind.

When those things combine to say “enough is enough,” it probably is.

What is your experience with burnout? Please share in the comments.

Psychotherapist Bobbi Emel helps you bounce back from the significant challenges in life. Download her FREE e-book, Bounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs. You can also follow her on Facebook for more cool stuff.

About the author

Mary Jaksch

Mary is passionate about helping people create a happy, purposeful, and fulfilling life. She is the founder of GoodlifeZEN and also the brains behind, one of the biggest blogs for writers on the Net. Mary is also a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

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