Career Advice

How To Know if You’ve Actually Overcome a Bout of Burnout

Photo: Getty Images/Jomkwan
When you’re stuck in a tough spot at work—you’re *this close* to burnout, you’re wondering whether your job is the right fit, your office culture could use a serious upgrade—who do you turn to? Your mentor, who has years of experience you can rely on? Your mom, who always keeps your best interests in mind? Or your BFF, who is dependable for a killer pep talk? Put all three perspectives in a blender, and you’ve got Good@Work, Well+Good’s career advice column.

Question:

People talk about being burnt out all the time, but how do I know if I've beat it? And if I know I haven't, do you have tips for how to overcome burnout? I'd love to know what habits and boundaries you recommend people adopt in order to heal from burnout and ensure it's a permanent part of their past.

Answer:

I’m so happy that you asked this question! Recognizing that you are dealing with burnout is one thing, but recognizing the progress that you’re making to reverse the cycle is also important and uniquely difficult in its own right. Since you won't overcome burnout after one nap or one day off, it’s important to recognize and celebrate your wins along the way.

How to tell if you've overcome burnout

There is no clear maker of having successfully beat burnout, so the best way to assess your situation is to consider whether you've reversed common symptoms. Here are four signs that you are on your way:

1. You have more energy 

Chronic exhaustion is one of the first and most common warning signs for burnout, so an increase in energy is a great indicator of progress. You will feel more rested and have the energy to handle the tasks of the day but also to connect with others and bring back those “optional” activities that bring you joy.

2. You feel a surge of optimism and are more receptive to others' opinions

Cynicism and detachment are common in the burnout experience. (Ever feel like everyone’s an idiot?) When you are on the course of overcoming burnout, you can expect to have a more positive and balanced outlook, regardless of the challenges that may still exist. You will be more open to others' thoughts and feedback and to collaboration. But, be careful not to mistake positive thinking for toxic positivity. It is important to recognize and process difficult emotions rather than allow the unhealthy denial that toxic positivity brings to permeate.

3. You are able to find healthy ways to process your stress

Vices can be an easy way to calm symptoms of burnout; however, they offer a numbing effect rather than truly allowing you to manage and process your emotions. Replacing unhealthy coping mechanisms with activities that support mental wellness is a great sign that you've at least begun your journey to overcoming burnout.

4. You feel clearer and better—physically, mentally, and emotionally

Cognitive fog is a frustrating component of burnout that can affect your productivity, performance, and confidence. As you make your way through the relief journey, it can feel like the fog is lifted, improving your ability to think clearly and process complex problems. The later stages of overcoming a bout of burnout can create an internal shift in your values and goals. Many people say that they “feel more like themselves” despite these shifts. This transformation is empowering and often comes with a renewed sense of confidence that you feel and those around you feel as well.

Habits and boundaries to adopt to keep burnout away

Burnout is the result of untreated chronic stress and has a nasty habit of repeating itself, so be careful not to fall back into the same routine that brought on burnout in the first place. Create your boundaries and take the day off from work—before you need a day off, that is. And if you can’t think of ways to fill your day, check out Hooky Wellness' list of 101 ways to spend a Hooky Day. It is essential to maintain those mental wellness habits and behaviors that help you feel better. Think of it as working to stay well versus to get well.

How to ensure you don’t slip back into burnout-welcoming behaviors

The absolute top tip for understanding how to overcome burnout and keep it at bay is to know thyself. Each burnout experience is personal, so it is important to identify how it shows up in your life. At Hooky Wellness, we created Burnout Bingo™ as an easy tool to monitor whether common symptoms are impacting you. (You can take a quick burnout quiz and download your digital tool here.)

It’s also important to know that work is not the only driver of burnout. So while a new job can bring an immediate sense of relief, pay close attention if you start to experience early warning signs of another oncoming burnout episode. If this is your experience, dig deeper into your values and priorities to better understand whether the drivers of your burnout experience are something other than a job.

Lastly, identify the burnout-busting wellness experiences that work for you. For instance, while yoga and meditation can be effective for mitigating stress, they are options that will best serve every person. If you do not enjoy what you are doing, maintaining a consistent practice will be that much harder. The great thing about mental wellness is that there are so many ways to practice it, and part of the fun is trying new things and finding what works best for you.

Overcoming burnout is one of the most empowering feelings you can have. Regardless of where you are in your experience, know that it is reversible. So, keep up the good work, and prioritize your wellness like it is a part of your job description.

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