Seeing our loved ones in distress is never fun, but if you’re looking to understand how to help someone with burnout, then know that there are things you can do to ease their stresses.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with work and caregiving responsibilities, no matter our age or occupation. Learning how to balance and manage our stress is a key part of staying healthy. However, burnout is a serious condition that often needs time, patience, and sometimes outside help such as therapy or counseling, to overcome.
If you’re watching a loved one suffer from burnout, then it can be hard to know what you can do to help them recover from burnout and avoid it again in the future. To find out how to help someone with burnout, we spoke to a team of mental health experts, who have put together practical actions you can take to be there for a loved one in need.
How to help someone with burnout
1. See them face to face
If you’re going to approach someone suffering from burnout, then it’s important you try to see them. Not only does it show that you care about their wellbeing, but it can be easier to gauge how someone is coping than if you were to have a conversation over the phone.
“Good relationships with ourselves and others are important. Social contact is nature’s remedy to stress,” says Sarah Challacombe (opens in new tab), an integrative humanistic therapist. “Talking, especially face to face, with a good listener is a fast way to calm someone’s nervous system, relieving stress.”
There's even research from the Yale University School of Medicine (opens in new tab) to support this. The review examined multiple studies on the subject and found that, in all cases, there was a strong link between poor social support and poor physical and psychological health. Those who did have access to "rich and functional" social networks were found to be less at risk.
2. Listen without judgement
“If someone is suffering from burnout then acknowledge how they are feeling and don’t attempt to minimize their experience by saying things like ‘everyone has stress’, or by talking about your own experiences,” says leading psychologist Dr Alison McClymont (opens in new tab).
“Burnout is personal and whilst you may have felt similar feelings in the past, everyone’s experience is individual. If they have not acknowledged they are burned out maybe you could simply share what you have seen, heard, or noticed and see how they respond. Don’t be afraid to say ‘I am concerned' as this can help people to open up.”
If you want to know how to help someone with burnout then it's also important to be aware that burnout isn't just linked to workplace stressors. There are also many different types of burnout, including relationship burnout, so go into the conversation with an open mind and consider the other possible causes of their stress.
3. Take some of the weight off their shoulders
It can be hard for someone amid burnout, especially habitual burnout, to see a way out of their situation, so coming up with practical solutions that will directly help them deal with stress can help.
“Where possible, take some of the burden of the day-to-day from someone who is suffering from burnout,” says Challacombe, who works with the Resilience Zone (opens in new tab), a mental health support service. “If they’re feeling overwhelmed, this can impact their decision-making at home and stop them from taking care of themselves.”
Women, in particular, can often find themselves in the caregiver role in the household. So making sure that the load is equally shared, whether they are looking after children or elderly relatives, is crucial.
“Gender inequality is a very real issue at play in many heterosexual parenting couples,” explains career coach Selina Barker (opens in new tab), author of The Exhausted Person’s Guide to Thriving in a Fast-Paced World. “The weight of this mental load on top of a demanding job can be a big contributor to burnout. Women also have far greater expectations and pressures put upon them by society to be in that primary caregiving role," she says.
Challacombe agrees, “To help, simple things such as preparing a meal that requires minimal cooking effort or sorting household chores can help to alleviate some of the day-to-day stresses that they probably find difficult to manage,”
4. Focus on helping them rest
“The National Sleep Foundation (opens in new tab) says that sleeping less than six hours each night is the best predictor of on-the-job burnout,” says Kate Merrick (opens in new tab), a UKCP psychotherapist (opens in new tab). “Sleep promotes physical recovery and cellular healing and the recommended seven to nine hours sleep each night is vital in supporting our cognitive function, regulating our nervous systems, and for our overall wellbeing.”
Those struggling with burnout, particularly burnout from work and exercise burnout, will find it difficult to rest when they are juggling various commitments and deadlines. So to help them get quality rest, you’ll need to help them learn how to sleep better by allowing them time to sleep. Running errands for them at lunch while they have a nap could be useful, for instance. If sleep issues are severe, then they will need to see a specialist or consult a GP.
5. Help them set SMART goals
Reframing a task can be a really helpful tool in making something seem less overwhelming. Once your loved one feels able, it can be helpful to sit with them and offer them support in tackling what’s on their mind.
“Help set daily or weekly SMART goals,” says Challacombe. “This means goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. You can use chunking to break down tasks into bite-size chunks makes them less overwhelming to complete.”
6. Help them set boundaries
If someone is struggling with burnout, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they should quit their job or abandon a relationship. It's entirely possible to learn how to avoid burnout without quitting your job and boundary setting is a really useful tool within this that can help people protect their wellbeing.
“Have a no work email policy after a mutually agreed time with your employer,” says Alejandra Sarmiento (opens in new tab), a complex trauma specialist at The Soke (opens in new tab). “This could be, for example, after 7pm. A work email curfew could be extended into the weekend. This is already legally the case in some countries.”
7. Suggest mental health resources
“Feeling burned out and overwhelmed can also indicate that there are bigger issues beneath the surface,” says Dr Elena Touroni (opens in new tab), a consultant psychologist and founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic (opens in new tab). “In these cases, finding a therapist can help them make sense of and address the underlying factors that may be contributing. They can help your loved one get to the root of what’s causing their burnout, so they can take steps to get better.”
8. Check in regularly
Feeling supported is hugely important to someone who feels overwhelmed, so making sure that you check in with them regularly, even if they seem like they're managing well now, is really important.
9. Make sure they're eating well
Nutrition can often fall to the wayside when you’re struggling with your wellbeing, so if you have the time and facilities, then offering to cook for someone can be a really useful way of helping someone with burnout.
“A healthy and balanced diet supports our cognitive function, balances our hormones, boosts our immune systems, and regulates our mood states,” says Merrick. “People suffering from burnout should try to avoid foods that are known to cause inflammation and stress such as refined sugar, processed foods, caffeine, and alcohol and instead opt for nutrient-rich foods such as omega 3, protein and complex carbohydrates.”
10. Be patient and understanding
Burnout isn’t something that can be fixed overnight. Sometimes, it can take weeks for people to fully recover, so don’t expect your loved one to feel better overnight.
“Burnout is not something that can just go away with a long hot bath or a relaxing weekend,” says trauma specialist Sarmiento. “By the time someone is feeling burned out, the roots are deeper than just being tired.”
What to say to someone who is burnt out
People suffering from burnout can struggle to open up about their emotional distress. They might be embarrassed to ask for help or wonder how they found themselves in this situation. They may even resent the fact that they are struggling, so it’s important that you listen to their worries or concerns first, before you offer solutions.
Here are some helpful things to say to someone suffering if you want to know how to help someone with burnout, as suggested by Alejandra Sarmiento.
- How are you feeling? I would really like to understand.
- You are not weak. We are not designed to live feeling stressed out for long periods of time.
- How can I help? - Ideally, suggest specific ways of helping someone such as doing their food shop, folding their laundry or cooking them a nutritious meal.
- You are good enough. Life is not a race. It’s ok to slow down.
With five years of experience working across print and digital publications, Stacey is a journalist who specializes in writing about the latest developments in health and wellbeing. She has also previously written for Women’s Health, Get The Gloss, Fit & Well, Stylist, and Natural Health magazine, covering current health trends and interviewing leading figures in the wellness space.
When she’s not talking to health experts, you can probably find her hiking somewhere in the Welsh countryside or near the coast. Her favorite two ways to switch off are a Pilates class and a glass of wine with a home-cooked meal.