How To Actually Recover From Burnout Without Quitting Your Job, According to Burnout Experts

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In the year 2024, burnout feels like a part of the societal fabric. It’s been five years since the World Health Organization (WHO) added burnout to the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), recognizing its legitimacy as an occupational phenomenon, and over four since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which increased burnout levels in every generation of U.S. employees. And still, HR consulting firm Mercer’s 2024 Global Talent Trends report found that more than 80 percent of employees are at risk of burnout this year, making it imperative for us all to learn how to recover from burnout.

Experts In This Article

Defined by the WHO as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” burnout can manifest as a lack of productivity, generalized exhaustion, cynicism, and/or a lack of interest in parts of your life that used to feel exciting. If you’re burned out, you might also withdraw from friends, family, or coworkers and fail to accomplish once-easy or mundane responsibilities in your home or personal life. And all of the above can have a seriously negative ripple effect on your mental (and physical) well-being.

Below, burnout experts share how to spot burnout, what causes it, and how to actually cope with and recover from it.

How do I know if I’m burned out?

Burnout is marked by three dimensions, and according to Paula Davis, founder of the Stress & Resilience Institute, you must have them all to be deemed burned out: chronic exhaustion, chronic cynicism, and frustration and inefficiency.

In practice, burnout might look like “regularly feeling exhausted at the beginning of the workday” or “losing confidence that you are doing important work and doing it well,” says organizational psychologist Michael P. Leiter, PhD, co-author of The Burnout Challenge: Managing People’s Relationships with Their Jobs. It also might show up as actively disliking activities that you previously found fascinating and enjoyable.

The key thing to note with burnout, however, is its pervasiveness. All of us can get exhausted occasionally or might sometimes feel cynical about things we once enjoyed—but these experiences are only problematic (and indicators of true burnout) when they happen regularly, says Dr. Leiter.

You can tell you’re burned out when you’re encountering ongoing physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress, says burnout coach Erayna Sargent, founder of workplace wellness organization Hooky Wellness. That’s to say, burnout is an all-encompassing experience and takes place over a period of time.

What causes burnout?

A commonly cited model for burnout is called the Areas of Worklife model1, which was developed in part with research co-authored by Dr. Leiter2. It defines six causes of burnout, all of which point to imbalances between an employee and their job:

  1. An unmanageable workload (meaning, you regularly have more work on your plate than you feel like you can reasonably tackle)
  2. A lack of control or autonomy (or, feeling like you’re constantly being micromanaged, mistrusted, or unable to exert any agency over your work)
  3. A lack of appreciation, reward, or recognition from others for the work you’re doing
  4. A lack of community, colleague support, or sense of belonging at work
  5. A misalignment of values (or, feeling like your own values don’t align with those of the company you work for, or that the company isn’t standing up for its values)
  6. A lack of fairness at work (whether caused by bias, favoritism, or other workplace politics)

Though the number-one cause (being overworked) is perhaps the most common driver of burnout, it’s important to note that any one or more of the above causes can trigger a case of burnout. (Burnout can even happen at a job you like, if any of the above imbalances are true.)

According to Sargent, similar mismatches within these same aspects of work—workload, agency, reward, community, values, and fairness—can occur within other areas of our lives, too, leading to various types of non-work burnout, like parental burnout, social burnout, exercise burnout, and hobby burnout. Indeed, “burnout, whether it's from work, social settings, hobbies, exercise, or parenting, often stems from similar root causes,” says Sargent.

Perhaps the top factor amplifying or worsening a case of burnout is isolation or feeling unsupported. “A supportive community acts as a buffer against burnout,” says Sargent. “This is true in workplaces and just as critical in social settings, hobbies, parenting, and exercise.”

Signs of burnout

Common mental symptoms of burnout tend to mirror the symptoms of depression, according to research conducted in 20213 on the effect of burnout on mental health.

Mental burnout symptoms include:

  • Loss of interest or pleasure
  • Depressed mood
  • Fatigue
  • Impaired concentration
  • Feelings of worthlessness

Though, again, anyone may experience any number of these symptoms on a temporary basis and not be burned out, the presence of any or all of these symptoms over a prolonged period of time is what signals burnout. When it comes to fatigue, for example, being burned out is more than just feeling tired after a long day. “It’s a profound, bone-deep weariness that doesn’t improve with rest,” says Sargent.

“It’s a profound, bone-deep weariness that doesn’t improve with rest.” —Erayna Sargent, burnout coach

Someone who’s experiencing a loss of interest or pleasure might also wind up neglecting their basic needs, adds Sargent, which might look like skipping meals, forsaking exercise, or passing on personal care because you feel too busy or too indifferent to bother. “It's like watching your phone flash ‘low battery’ and choosing to ignore it until it powers down,” says Sargent.

The ripple effects of feeling worthless or experiencing a low or depressed mood can also lead a burned-out person to disconnect from loved ones and to begin to doubt their own skills or talents. Achievements that once brought pride might now seem pointless, says Sargent. “It’s like reaching the top of a mountain and feeling lost rather than triumphant.”

At the same time, according to research conducted in 20164 on person-job fit and physical well-being, experiencing burnout can also result in physical symptoms, much like how other forms of prolonged (and unmanaged) chronic stress can affect the body.

Physical burnout symptoms include:

  • Recurrent headaches
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Gastrointestinal upset

12 tips for how to recover from burnout

Coping with and learning how to recover from burnout can feel difficult, but it’s important to keep in mind that it is possible to recover from burnout (without quitting your job) if you embrace certain habits and tap into the right tools and resources. Below, you’ll find 12 expert- and research-backed strategies for overcoming a case of burnout.

1. Take intentional breaks

You might’ve suspected that taking some time away from work would be the number-one item on this list—after all, an unmanageable workload is a primary cause of burnout. And granted, taking a full-scale vacation is an amazing thing to do when dealing with burnout, if you can swing it. But there are also ways to incorporate bits of mental downtime into your schedule right now, no time-off request required.

Sargent recommends adding intentional break time into your work calendar—and it’s something she’s taken to doing personally. “Proactively prioritizing time off has been a crucial element of my relief journey and how I support my clients,” she says. “These are short periods where my only focus is to do things that help me feel better mentally, physically, and emotionally.”

2. Advocate for yourself at work

Speaking up about your feelings of burnout to your boss or teammates, if possible, can help initiate a change in workload or workflow that frees up a bit more of your time. Perhaps there’s work you didn’t realize could be done by someone else on your team, or maybe there’s a way to shuffle your schedule so you’re on fewer meetings during the hours when you feel most productive. In any case, it’s easier to instigate change if you alert others as to how you feel.

Not to mention, the act of advocating for yourself can help restore your sense of agency at work—and given that a lack of control is one of the main drivers of burnout noted above, even just reclaiming your power to use your voice can help mitigate feelings of burnout.

3. Set clear work-life boundaries

Part of what you might propose to your manager when you discuss your feelings of burnout will likely have to do with boundaries, which are crucial to dealing with and recovering from burnout.

Perhaps you need to set a boundary for the hours when you’ll be reachable because you’re finding that your work time is creeping into downtime and contributing to your burnout. Or maybe, with the approval of your boss, you need to set a clear boundary for the number of work tasks you take on in a given week or the number of clients or projects or team meetings (insert: your work-related thing here) you’re assigned to handle in a given month or quarter—after which point you commit to turning down new items.

If you can’t meaningfully modify your work hours or workload, perhaps the boundary just looks like wearing headphones, if you work in an office, to signal “do not disturb” to people who might pass by your desk, says Sargent. Or, a work-from-home boundary might involve simply shutting the door to the room you’re working in to ensure you’re not getting pulled into other tasks during the hours you’ve set aside for work. “It’s about carving out mental and physical space to get things done without distraction,” says Sargent.

4. Lean into a community of support

“Burnout isn’t a solo sport,” says Sargent. It’s important to lean on your family and friends who can love and support you through it—especially because the symptoms of burnout (like depressed mood and feelings of worthlessness) can make you do just the opposite and self-isolate, kicking off a vicious cycle of burnout and disconnection.

Instead, Sargent recommends building a “burnout battle team” by making a list of the people who make up your closest support system (whether they’re friends, partners, family members, or all of the above) and reaching out to them to express how you’ve been feeling. While they might have solutions or suggestions to help, chances are, you’ll also just feel better after speaking to them, as they can offer the appreciation and support you may be lacking at work or otherwise.

5. Find (at least a bit) of meaning in your work

If you take stock of your professional life and reflect on your work, you may be able to notice the aspects of it that really drain you and perhaps the bits that feel fulfilling or satisfying, too. Dr. Leiter suggests taking note of what you find fulfilling and what you find overwhelming or frustrating each day for a couple weeks to get the lay of the land. From there, “your problem-solving job is finding ways to spend a bit more time on the enjoyable work and less time on the unenjoyable work,” he says.

Shifting the ratio toward meaningful work can actually lessen feelings of burnout, even when you’re still doing the not-so-great stuff. In a 2009 study of faculty members5 at a medical center, those who spent at least 20 percent of their time on the elements of their work that they deemed most meaningful were significantly less likely to be burned out. (So, if you can dedicate just an hour and a half of a typical eight-hour workday to something that fulfills you, you’ll have a better chance of beating burnout.)

6. Dive into journaling

A regular journaling practice can help you break down your day and create a container for your feelings, which may help you feel like you have more of a grip on your burnout and what exactly is behind it. (Remember the upsides of feeling in control and having agency?)

Journaling for a couple weeks and then reading back through entries can help you both uncover patterns (Is it the same type of project or work dynamic that seems to be causing me stress again and again?) and also track how your mental health is progressing or changing over time while you’re working on recovering from burnout.

7. Eat more nutritious foods

It’s easy to wind up neglecting your basic bodily needs when you’re in the throes of burnout, so here’s an important reminder: Eating helps your body work properly. Generally speaking, it will be nearly impossible to function and recover from the burnout you’re experiencing if you’re not nourished physically.

In fact, prioritizing a diverse variety of nutritious foods—like lots of vegetables, fruits, and white meats—has even been shown to be associated with lower levels of burnout in a 2021 study of more than 600 employees6 in Finland.

To get into a routine of healthy eating (easier said than done when dealing with burnout), consider meal-prepping a few go-to snacks and meals on a Sunday or another day of the week when you’re not as bogged down by work. This way, you don’t have to use your already depleted brain power to also plan out nutritious food ideas during workdays.

8. Integrate a meditation practice into your daily routine

Starting or ending your day with a brief meditation can provide a much-needed moment of calm amid the overwhelm and exhaustion triggered by burnout. And over time, the effects of a regular meditation practice can also go much deeper, helping to mitigate some of the stress that underscores burnout in the first place.

Indeed, extensive research has outlined the capacity of mindfulness-based practices (like mindfulness meditation) to help reduce anxiety, depression, and stress7. And studies on meditation and burnout, specifically, have demonstrated similar benefits: In a 2021 study8, teachers who received instruction on transcendental meditation (which involves the repetition of a mantra) and then practiced it twice daily for 20 minutes over a four-month period showed improvements in burnout versus a control group; and a 2023 review of studies9 assessing the benefits of mindfulness training on nurse burnout found a positive effect, as well.

As for why? Researchers suspect that the benefits of mindfulness-based interventions and meditation have to do with their power to bring you into the present moment (so much stress involves fretting over the past or worrying about the future) as well as tamp down your physiological reactivity to stressful events.

If you don’t know where to start, consider downloading a free meditation app, or look up meditation tracks on Spotify or YouTube.

9. Prioritize getting good sleep

Multiple research studies10 have found connections between insufficient sleep and burnout11—which makes sense: Sleep and mental health have a reciprocal relationship, such that loss of sleep can worsen mental health, just as mental health problems can also lead to insomnia and sleep disturbances.

To put an end to that vicious cycle, it’s extra important to actively prioritize sleep when you’re dealing with burnout—even if it feels like the last thing you have time for. If you’re dealing with anxious or racing thoughts at night due to work, be sure to carve out periods during the day to address (and even journal about) those concerns. (This way, they’ll be less likely to crop up when you’re just trying to doze off.)

10. Spend more time in nature

There’s nothing quite like a walk in a natural setting to give you some broader perspective on the work stress you’re dealing with and put you into a calmer state of mind. And it’s not just about the fresh air and the mild exercise of the walk itself, either (though both of those things can certainly help mitigate exhaustion and stress). The kind of visual stimuli found in nature—like flowers, greenery, and wooden tree trunks—has actually been shown to have a physiologically calming effect on the brain12. Just what you need when burnout is threatening to get the best of you.

11. Do non-work activities on the weekend

In a 2021 research study13 wherein 250-plus participants rated their burnout level on a Friday and the following Monday and also recorded their weekend activities, those who did work-related activities on the weekend had a lower recovery experience than those who did social, physical, or creative activities. Which is to say, if you can, it’s important to avoid work stuff on the weekend (and to psychologically detach your brain from work) when dealing with burnout, and to fill those days instead with things you enjoy doing in order to reap the maximum recovery benefits of those two days off.

12. Practice positive self-talk and self-compassion

Remember how burnout can show up in the form of worthlessness and depressed mood? Those feelings can lead to a negative spiral where you begin to feel like your inefficiency or lack of productivity is somehow your fault, and you’re never going to actually achieve your goals as a result. In this mindset, it’s difficult to even motivate yourself to care for your basic needs.

To avoid that negative chain reaction, it’s important to give yourself some grace. You’re only human, and there are only 24 hours in a day; you don’t have to be perfect or do all of the things all of the time, and you deserve (and need!) time to recover from work-related stress. Just reminding yourself of these truths can be a helpful exercise in self-compassion when you’re working to recover from burnout.

What to do when you feel burned out but have to work

Getting away from the very stressors that are causing your burnout is an obvious strategy to recover from burnout—but it’s often not possible to put your work completely on pause (or to do so for long enough to feel restored). If you have to continue working while burned out, Sargent recommends going into “low power mode,” to use a smartphone analogy.

For people, operating in “low power mode” involves doing what you need to do while preserving what little energy you have left, says Sargent. Typically, that looks like knocking off not-totally-necessary items from your running to-do list and limiting any passive tasks (like mindless swiping or scrolling) that can contribute to draining your battery power.

The difference between fatigue and burnout

Oftentimes, fatigue is conflated with burnout, but the two concepts are not one and the same. It’s very common to experience fatigue (an overwhelming sense of feeling worn down, versus just a bout of sleepiness or tiredness) when you’re burned out, but it’s not the only element involved in being burned out. (See: all the signs of burnout above)

“Fatigue is one symptom,” says Sargent, “whereas burnout is a syndrome or a collection of symptoms.”

How long does it take to recover from burnout?

The timeline for burnout recovery depends on the person and the situation, says Sargent. A 2021 research article14 reviewing psychological interventions for burnout notes that research has found those experiencing the effects of shorter-term work stress tend to recover within six to 12 weeks, whereas those with prolonged work stress and burnout may take longer than a year15 to fully recover (in terms of regaining work efficiency and cognitive functioning).

“New habits and behaviors take time to develop, and the things learned for burnout recovery are no different.” —Sargent

That’s to say, there’s no one answer for how long it should take to recover from burnout, and everyone will respond differently to the coping strategies noted above. “It’s important to give yourself grace along the way as you learn and unlearn some fundamental things,” says Sargent. “New habits and behaviors take time to develop, and the things learned for burnout recovery are no different.”

How do you mentally reset after burnout?

Sargent recommends continuing the supportive practices that have helped you find relief during burnout as you come out on the other side of it. “Mindfulness practices, journaling, and meditation can be strong ways to [mentally reset],” she says. Not to mention, keeping up these restorative practices as a regular habit can help to stave off future episodes of burnout, too.

In some cases, an intense period of burnout can seed an internal fear of repeating the experience, says Sargent, which can keep you from engaging in productive work. She says that if you notice this fear bubbling up in you after recovering from burnout, it’s important to seek care from a mental health professional who can help you understand it and give you the tools to overcome it.

When to seek professional help

According to Sargent, you should seek professional care for burnout if any of the below are true for you:

  • Your symptoms of burnout (such as chronic exhaustion, cynicism, and a sense of inefficacy) persist or worsen despite taking the above steps to recover
  • Your burnout begins to severely impact your ability to perform at work, maintain relationships, or care for your personal needs
  • You find yourself feeling trapped in a cycle of stress and exhaustion
  • Your burnout triggers or worsens an existing health challenge (e.g., anxiety, depression, physical ailments)

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
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  2. Maslach, Christina, and Michael P Leiter. “Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry.” World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) vol. 15,2 (2016): 103-11. doi:10.1002/wps.20311
  3. Pereira, Henrique et al. “Mediating Effect of Burnout on the Association between Work-Related Quality of Life and Mental Health Symptoms.” Brain sciences vol. 11,6 (2021). doi:10.3390/brainsci11060813
  4. Brandstätter, Veronika et al. “Motivational Incongruence and Well-Being at the Workplace: Person-Job Fit, Job Burnout, and Physical Symptoms.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 7 (2016). doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01153
  5. Shanafelt, Tait D et al. “Career fit and burnout among academic faculty.” Archives of internal medicine vol. 169,10 (2009): 990-5. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.70
  6. Penttinen, Markus A et al. “The Association between Healthy Diet and Burnout Symptoms among Finnish Municipal Employees.” Nutrients vol. 13,7 (2021). doi:10.3390/nu13072393
  7. Khoury, Bassam et al. “Mindfulness-based therapy: a comprehensive meta-analysis.” Clinical psychology review vol. 33,6 (2013): 763-71. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2013.05.005
  8. Valosek, Laurent, et al. “Meditation Effective in Reducing Teacher Burnout and Improving Resilience: A Randomized Controlled Study.” Frontiers in Education, vol. 6 (2021). doi.org10.3389/feduc.2021.627923.
  9. Wang, Qi et al. “Effects of a mindfulness-based interventions on stress, burnout in nurses: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Frontiers in psychiatry vol. 14 (2023): doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2023.1218340
  10. Saintila, Jacksaint et al. “Association between sleep duration and burnout in healthcare professionals: a cross-sectional survey.” Frontiers in public health vol. 11 (2024). doi:10.3389/fpubh.2023.1268164
  11. Söderström, Marie et al. “Insufficient sleep predicts clinical burnout.” Journal of occupational health psychology vol. 17,2 (2012): 175-83. doi:10.1037/a0027518
  12. Jo, Hyunju et al. “Physiological Benefits of Viewing Nature: A Systematic Review of Indoor Experiments.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 16,23 (2019). doi:10.3390/ijerph16234739
  13. Ginoux, Clément et al. “”What did you do this weekend?” Relationships between weekend activities, recovery experiences, and changes in work-related well-being.” Applied psychology. Health and well-being vol. 13,4 (2021): 798-816. doi:10.1111/aphw.12272
  14. van Dam, Arno. “A Clinical Perspective on Burnout: Diagnosis, Classification, and Treatment of Clinical Burnout.” European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology vol. 30,5 (2021): 732–741. doi.org10.1080/1359432x.2021.1948400.
  15. Eskildsen, Anita et al. “Cognitive impairments in former patients with work-related stress complaints – one year later.” Stress (Amsterdam, Netherlands) vol. 19,6 (2016): 559-566. doi:10.1080/10253890.2016.1222370

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