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Dealing with burnout? 5 simple ways to help you cope.

Experts weigh in on how to manage burnout. (Getty Creative)
Experts weigh in on how to manage burnout. (Getty Creative)

Are you suffering from burnout? If you’re feeling chronically stressed and exhausted, the answer could be yes.

Burnout, while not an official medical diagnosis, is “a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” Natalie Christine Dattilo, a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Yahoo Life. Dattilo says the three main features of burnout are feelings of exhaustion, feelings of cynicism related to one's job and reduced professional effectiveness. More and more people are reporting symptoms of burnout, with a 2021 American Psychological Association survey finding that nearly 3 in 5 employees said they’d experienced negative effects of work-related stress, including emotional exhaustion and a lack of motivation.

“We know that burnout contributes to negative feelings about work, but it also puts vulnerable individuals at greater risk for anxiety disorders, substance use, insomnia and clinical depression,” Dattilo says.

Seeking professional help, either through your primary care physician or a mental health professional, is key when you’re struggling. However, there are some simple things you can do to make sure that you don’t experience burnout in the first place. Here’s what experts recommend.

Schedule time for yourself

Dattilo tells patients that managing burnout is similar to managing a budget, only with energy instead of money. “When the demands being placed on us exceed our resources for too long, our energy ‘bank account’ becomes overdrawn,” she explains.

While it’s no fun to find ourselves overdrawn, we can manage our energy similarly to how we do our finances, Mason Farmani, a life coach in Palm Beach, Fla., tells Yahoo Life. Allocating your time into distinct blocks to separate work, relaxation and personal activities can “create a framework that facilitates productivity and safeguards against burnout,” he says.

Much like you would organize meetings on your work calendar, setting aside specific time for yourself can make you less likely to “neglect crucial aspects of your life, such as self-care and leisure,” Farmani explains. Not only should you write down your vacation days on your calendar (and make sure you’re taking all of them, of course), you could also try scheduling things like relaxing on the couch or taking a walk with a friend.

Try this breathing technique

First, some science around burnout: Arianna Galligher, director of the Gabbe Well-Being Office and the Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life that when we are confronted with a stressful or traumatic situation, our body and mind go into “fight or flight” mode — aka “the activation of the sympathetic nervous system in the body, which helps us respond quickly and decisively in a crisis.”

Galligher says that while “fight or flight” is helpful in short bursts in response to short-term stressors, human beings are not meant to exist in this state for long. But sometimes, she explains, “an accumulation of stress or an unexpected situation can put us on edge, and it can be tough to calm back down” and settle into the more relaxed “rest and digest” mode associated with our parasympathetic nervous system.

One way we can get back to “rest and digest” is through a simple breathing technique, Galligher says. She points to the “growing body of evidence to suggest that deep (diaphragmatic) breathing techniques offer a key mechanism for reducing stress and activating our parasympathetic nervous system so that we’re able to relax.”

Here’s how to practice it:

  • Focus on breathing deeply in through your nose, and breathing out slowly through your mouth. Focus your mind on your breath.

  • Put your hands on your belly and be aware of your hands moving up and down with inhalations and exhalations as you breathe from your diaphragm.

  • Start by exhaling any breath that you’ve been holding in due to tension.

  • Next, inhale slowly and deeply for four seconds.

  • Hold this breath for seven seconds.

  • Exhale slowly and completely for eight seconds.

  • Continue this pattern for five to 10 cycles of breath.

Build exercise into your day

Farmani says that exercise can be an important part of combating stress and burnout. Exercise has been linked to lower rates of anxiety and depression, and a recent study found that some workouts can be as beneficial for mental health as therapy or medication.

Farmani suggests setting concrete goals, such as “committing to at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily” — and remember that getting in exercise doesn’t have to mean joining a gym. Try taking a short walk on your lunch break, or taking calls on the go instead of sitting at your desk.

Try a gratitude practice

Ishan Shivanand, mental health researcher and the founder of Yoga of Immortals, says that incorporating a gratitude practice into your daily life can help you avoid burnout. Studies have shown that practicing gratitude can have major mental health benefits. It works by forcing you to slow down and reflect, which can be particularly beneficial when you’re feeling stressed and overworked. “Your focus will slowly shift from stress to serenity by expressing gratitude,” Shivanand tells Yahoo Life.

One way to incorporate a gratitude practice into your life is by starting a daily gratitude journal, either when you wake up in the morning or before you go to bed. You don’t have to write much: Simply jotting down a few things that you are grateful for, whether that’s the support of your spouse or a great cup of coffee, allows you to reflect on the positive elements of your life.

Check in with your doctor

Burnout is often a mental health issue, but sometimes, what we experience as burnout may have a physiological factor as well, explains Dr. David Spiegel, a psychiatrist with Stanford Medicine. If you are feeling exhausted all the time, a doctor can assess whether there’s something physical going on, such as a thyroid problem, which can cause fatigue.

A doctor can also assess if things like your diet or sleep schedule could be leading to exhaustion and create a plan to help you feel better. “You have to take care of your body before you can take care of what you need to do,” Spiegel yells Yahoo Life.