Worker burnout is common.
If you’re feeling burned out at your job, you have plenty of company.
An array of reasons for worker burnout
There’s a multitude of reasons why people experience work burnout, says Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist in New York City and director of Comprehend the Mind, her New York City-based mental health counseling service.
A loss of control
Feeling a loss of control over your work hours, your assigned tasks, the amount of labor you are called to contribute and perceiving a lack of fairness in the workplace can all contribute to work burnout and anxiety, Hafeez says. Fortunately, there are specific actions you can take to improve your work situation.
1. Talk to your supervisor.
Keep in mind that most companies don’t want to lose quality employees. Hafeez suggests compiling a list of work-related changes and talking to your direct supervisor about the two that would make the biggest impact on your life. “Figure out a way that you can make changes that will lead to a better quality of life for you without negatively impacting the company.”
2. Take physical breaks.
If you have an office job, chances are you spend several hours a day hunched over a computer. Spending hours each day sitting in front of a screen can contribute to your stress. Get up from your desk every hour and stretch, Hafeez advises. “If you work in an office, take a walk around your workplace just to get the blood flowing and prevent muscle stiffness. Take a walk to get lunch instead of driving to pick it up or having it delivered.”
3. Set boundaries.
It’s important to set boundaries and adhere to them, says MaryBeth Hyland, CEO of SparkVision, a Baltimore-based company which works with companies and their leaders to create thriving, values-driven cultures. For example, you should start and end work at a certain time, take an hour for lunch and regular breaks.
4. Try the ‘just this’ mantra.
Mantras are words or short phrases that can be used repeatedly to help you focus on your intention. “They are a powerful tool for your mind to remind yourself of what’s true when you get pulled away from stress,” Hyland says. “Repeating the mantra ‘just this’ will help you close down the multitasking and focus on just what you have in front of you. Just this paper to write, just this conversation to have, just this email to respond to.” The mantra can help you focus on living in the moment and executing the next task in front of you.
5. Ground yourself in your breath.
You can only breathe right now — not in the past or in the future. “When you ground yourself in your breath, you are also grounding yourself in the present moment,” Hyland says. “And when you’re mindfully in the present moment, suffering melts away.”
6. Take time off to recharge.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are working remotely rather than going into an office. “That means that work is no longer a place,” says Joel Steinhaus, CEO and co-founder of Daybase, a New York City-based firm that is developing a network of local, on-demand work spots in neighborhoods across the country. The firm was launched by former WeWork executives. “People can therefore plan longer travel and enjoy more of the benefits of integrating their working hours into the rest of their lives.” Be as vigilant about planning and taking time off as you are about your work schedule.
7. Ask for a flexible schedule.
Tens of millions of people began working from home when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in 2020. “That proves that talent can work from far and wide, and that the ability to do so created a new definition of work-life balance,” Steinhaus says. He notes that a survey commissioned by Harvard Business School Online found that 81% of nearly 1,500 professionals polled “do not want to go back to the office or would prefer a hybrid schedule going forward.” The polling firm surveyed employees who worked remotely from March 2020 to March 2021.
8. Respect your down time.
When you’re working from home, it’s easy to fall into the trap of working extra, uncompensated hours. Try to maintain a regular work schedule, starting and ending at the same time each day, taking an hour for lunch and regular breaks, Hyland advises. Check and answer your work email and Slack messages during work hours. Working too many hours can lead to burnout.
9. Consider therapy.
Talking to a therapist about your work-related anxiety and frustrations can be helpful, Hyland says. Therapy can help you process your anxieties in a healthy manner and assist you in developing strategies to deal with them.
10. Don’t let your work frustrations boil over.
Don’t wait until you’re at your wit’s end to speak to your supervisor. “Chances are by that time, your mental health has suffered and your work product is showing it, so it’s a lose-lose situation,” Hafeez says. Talk to your supervisor about your concerns before your frustration boils over.
To recap, here are 10 strategies to combat burnout at work:
Talk to your supervisor. Take physical breaks. Set boundaries. Try the “just this” mantra. Ground yourself in your breath. Take time off to recharge. Ask for a flexible schedule. Respect your down time. Consider therapy. Don’t let your work frustrations boil over.
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Update 04/13/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.