If you’re looking for how to avoid burnout without quitting your job then you’re in the right place. Burnout - otherwise known as chronic workplace stress - is more prevalent than ever, but not everyone can separate themselves totally from the source of their stress.
As a formal diagnosis recognized by the World Health Organisation (WHO) just three years ago, burnout should be considered an illness like any other that someone may have to take time off work for. But with careers to consider and bills to pay, giving up work even for a couple of weeks isn’t an option everyone has or wants to think about.
So if you want to know how to avoid burnout without quitting your job, whether you want tips on how to recover from burnout, expert advice on talking to your boss, or you just want to know the difference between stress vs burnout, this is what a psychologist and a career coach want you to know.
How to avoid burnout without quitting your job
1. Set clear boundaries
“Set boundaries around life and work, including defining your non-negotiables,” suggests Ayesha Murray (opens in new tab), career and work-life balance coach. “What aren’t you prepared to compromise on, where you need extra support, and where you are willing to be flexible,” she says.
“Start with your absolute ideal scenario. For example, committing to a 30-minute break once a day where you remove all distractions and give yourself some white space to just be.”
2. Prioritize your life
“Whether at work or in life in general, it’s vital that we prioritize tasks so that they don’t eat up all our time, leaving too few precious minutes for downtime,” says Dr Meg Arroll (opens in new tab), a chartered psychologist, and scientist and author.
She offers an easy guide if you want to learn how to avoid burnout without quitting your job, to help compartmentalize and deprioritize tasks that shouldn’t be causing you stress:
- Manage it: If something is urgent and important, such as a child being sent home ill from school, you have to manage it. “This means take a deep breath, work out a strategy, and stay calm,” she says.
- Focus on it: If something isn’t urgent or important, set aside time to focus on it. “An example of this would be developing your business,” Dr Arroll says, “Although you know it’s important to grow your business, this can often fall off the end of a to-do list as it seems less pressing than other tasks.”
- Limit it: This is last-minute meetings, favors for fair-weather friends, and calls from overly-demanding relatives, for example. “These should be limited and on your terms,” she says. “These are tasks which require strong boundaries so practice flexing your ‘just say no’ muscle here to avoid relationship burnout as well."
- Avoid it: This is procrastination at its finest. “Surveys from a store you once popped into, mindless internet browsing, watching an entire boxset at one time, and so on, are tasks akin to energy vampires. Avoid these, especially if you’re showing the signs of burnout.”
3. Make time for yourself
If you’re on the brink of burnout then you may feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day, let alone time for a bit of self-care. But there are numerous studies, including a review in association with Vita-Salute San Raffaele University (opens in new tab), that confirm self-care is a gamechanger when it comes learning how to avoid burnout without quitting your job.
The review, which considered several studies across various ages, genders, and ethnicities, looked at the impact of healthy eating, exercise, and sleep on the risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders. Overall, they found that there was a strong link between developing such conditions and unhealthy dietary habits, sedentary behaviors, and poor sleep hygiene, suggesting that these three factors are vital in self-care and maintenance.
"Regular exercise is another good example of something that seems to lack urgent but is important," says Dr Arroll, who works with Healthspan (opens in new tab), the UK’s leading supplements provider. "And no matter how busy you are, make time to eat as our engines can’t run for very long on empty. Choose foods that contain complex carbohydrates, include some protein to maintain energy and focus, and make sure to stay hydrated during the day.”
4. Ask for help
“We don’t have to cope with anything alone and if you don’t feel you have the right support network around you then there are organizations who can give you the support and guidance you need,” says Murray, who is also the host of The Parent Equation Podcast (opens in new tab).
Speak to your doctor if you're concerned you're experiencing burnout or you want to know how to help someone with burnout, as it's a serious condition that has wide-reaching impacts on your mental and physical health. If you're struggling mentally with burnout, you can also reach out to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) (opens in new tab) if you live in the US and if you're in the UK, reach out to Mind (opens in new tab). In an emergency, always dial 911 (USA) or 999 (UK).
5. Keep socializing
When you’re feeling so stressed you’re considering whether you’re burning out, it’s easy to drop the people around you. But evidence suggests that avoiding loneliness and talking about your feelings with those close to you can really help you to step away from the stressor itself.
Not only that, but being around others could actually make a neurological difference so you’re more adapt with how to deal with stress in the longer-term too. As a study by the Yale University School of Medicine (opens in new tab) explains, social support can may moderate genetic and environmental vulnerabilities, increasing our resiliance to stress, because of its affect on three different parts of the brain: hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) system, the noradrenergic system, and central oxytocin pathways.
Socializing doesn’t mean carving out a whole weekend with a friend or loved one though, as it’s still important to be realistic about the amount of socializing you can commit to, says Dr Arroll. “Over-committing and feeling like you ‘should’ attend a party or help out with a committee, or look after other people’s children can easily tip someone with an already packed schedule into burnout.”
If you want to know how to avoid burnout without quitting your job, start by prioritizing seeing someone for a quick coffee at lunchtime or dinner after work. Even the smallest bit of social contact can do wonders for your mental health, especially if you’re a woman and a working professional or student, confirms another study by Alborz University of Medical Sciences (opens in new tab).
6. Shift your mindset
One of the biggest signs of burnout is feeling apathetic and bored with your job, along with feeling hopeless about many areas of your life. While it’s very difficult to just ‘switch’ your way of thinking if you’re feeling stressed and perhaps dealing with some early signs of depression, focusing on the positive will help keep burnout at bay.
“Focus on what’s going well for you, what brings you happiness, and where you’d like to be in the next three to six months,” she says. “Start celebrating your successes and achievements, rather than focusing on what you think you’re failing at.”
How to talk to your boss about burnout
When you’ve decided to take things to the next level and talk to your boss about burnout, communicating with them is the first step, explains Murray. “Honesty and transparency go a long way, but it can bring out our vulnerabilities,” she says. “So take time to reflect on how you’re feeling about opening up and the benefits it will bring.”
Firstly, make sure you know what you’re asking for. “And know what you want the conversation's outcome to be,” she says, whether that’s different working hours, more working from home, or taking some time away from work.
Then be very clear about how you’re feeling and how you want to learn how to avoid burnout without quitting your job. “Reference the specific tasks or projects that are causing the issues and the impact they’re having,” Murray suggests. “Take ownership by sharing your desire to get back on an even keel and any thoughts you have on how to address the burnout. Use positive body language and language wherever possible and avoid finger-pointing, or drawing others into the issue.”
Unfortunately now, the ball is in their court but don’t be concerned about following up on the issue. “Give your manager the chance to help and if that’s not successful then look at who else you could turn to, perhaps someone in human resources, a trusted colleague, or even a manager from another department.”
A digital health journalist with over five years experience writing and editing for UK publications, Grace has covered the world of health and wellbeing extensively for Cosmopolitan, The i Paper and more.
She started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness. Everything from the best protein powder to sleep technology, the latest health trend to nutrition essentials, Grace has a huge spectrum of interests in the wellness sphere. Having reported on the coronavirus pandemic since the very first swab, she now also counts public health among them.
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