A person may experience burnout as a result of chronic stress. Ways to help an individual recover from burnout can involve changing patterns that contribute to stress, developing coping skills, and implementing lifestyle changes.

In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified burnout as an occupational phenomenon that results from chronic workplace stress.

Someone who experiences burnout can feel exhausted and distant or cynical toward their work, which may cause them to perform their job less effectively.

In clinical psychology, psychologists may also apply the term in nonwork situations. Clinical psychology focuses on the consequences, rather than the origins, of chronic stress, and how these affect a person’s thoughts and behavior.

Therefore, according to clinical psychology, people may experience burnout from work-related stress, stress that originates from personal circumstances, or both.

This article looks at seven strategies backed by research to help a person recover from and prevent burnout. It also considers why an individual may experience burnout, how long recovery might take, seeking help, and signs of burnout.

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Identifying the causes of burnout, or patterns that contribute to stress that leads to burnout, can help people make changes to recover and prevent future occurrences.

While it may not be possible to change all the patterns or factors that can cause stress, a person may be able to prioritize some.

These may include:

  • Working less: An individual may be able to reduce the time they spend at work or the amount of work they typically take on at a time. Recognizing that they may be spreading their time too thinly may help them manage their stress levels going forward.
  • Finding balance with other activities: A person can try to set boundaries that allow them to carve out time for areas of life besides work or their current situation.
  • Taking regular breaks: Stepping away from stressful situations to recharge and break the tension can help an individual avoid feeling overwhelmed.

A person may wish to speak openly with their people manager or human resources (HR) department about how they feel. They can also discuss business policies that might be able to help ease stress levels.

If someone finds their level of burnout is affecting their physical and emotional well-being or their relationships, this may be a sign that they need to make changes to their current situation, such as finding a new job.

Learn about taking stress leave from work.

A person can work on developing or strengthening particular skills to help them manage unavoidable stressors. This may make someone feel less overwhelmed and more capable, which can aid in burnout recovery.

Useful coping skills may include:

  • Time and organizational management: Improving time management and organizational skills can help reduce stress and help people feel more in control. These strategies can include:
    • creating and sticking to a schedule
    • automating tasks where possible
    • using planners and checklists
  • Cognitive restructuring: This is a psychological technique that involves identifying unhelpful beliefs and challenging them. A person can aim to replace beliefs that lead to stress and burnout with more positive or accurate thought patterns. This can help provide a more balanced way of thinking.
  • Conflict resolution: Conflict can lead to stress in both professional and personal settings. Conflict management may involve steps such as:
    • setting rules for respectful communication
    • encouraging active listening
    • discarding preconceived assumptions or opinions of other people

Understanding the effect of chronic stress on an individual’s thoughts and behaviors — rather than just its causes — may help people recover from burnout.

This can be especially helpful if an individual cannot change external stressors.

A person may benefit from attending mental health therapy such as counseling or psychotherapy. Counseling focuses on finding solutions to current issues, while psychotherapy can help address long-held patterns of thought and behavior.

Reaching out to friends, family, or colleagues to share and gain support may relieve the overwhelming feelings of stress and isolation that burnout may cause.

Sharing the burden, receiving advice, or simply expressing feelings can help a person feel less alone and detached.

Regular relaxation practices may help people reduce stress levels.

Individuals can attend group activities where a practitioner can guide them through techniques, use techniques alone at home, or follow along with an app or online video.

Examples of relaxation techniques include:

Physical activity can help relieve stress and protect against it, according to 2019 research.

Aside from improving a person’s overall health, regular exercise can positively affect mood and effectively lower stress levels. It can also help protect against stress.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week.

A lack of quality sleep can increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol. When someone does not get enough quality sleep, they can experience more stress, exhaustion, cognitive difficulties, and an increased risk of chronic disorders.

Taking measures to improve sleep quality may help a person recover from and prevent burnout.

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) suggests people can try to improve their sleep by:

  • spending time in bright light during the day, if possible
  • eating meals at consistent times
  • exercising regularly during the day
  • avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and heavy meals before bedtime
  • ensuring an optimal sleep environment by making the bedroom quiet, dark, and cool
  • using a consistent wind-down routine and maintaining a sleep schedule

For individuals that work during the night, they may benefit from the following additional tips:

  • blocking out the light using blackout curtains and wearing an eye mask
  • wearing earplugs to help reduce noise levels
  • turning off their phone to help avoid sleep disturbances
  • letting others in the home know how important this time is for sleep

Any situation that causes a person to experience prolonged stress can lead to burnout.

Although the WHO defines burnout as an occupational phenomenon linked to work-related stress, clinical psychology recognizes burnout as a consequence of chronic stress from any source.

People might experience burnout due to a variety of work and personal factors that can contribute to chronic stress.

These may include:

  • Work strain: Long working hours, unreasonable work tasks, and a lack of control over the amount of work a person must complete can all contribute to burnout.
  • Lack of support: People who do not have adequate support from friends, family, or colleagues at work or in their personal lives may be at higher risk of burnout.
  • Conflict: Individuals who regularly experience work-related and nonwork-related conflict may experience burnout.
  • Security in daily life: People who do not feel safe and satisfied with their living environment could be more likely to experience burnout.
  • Lack of leisure activities: Someone who does not spend time on pleasurable or relaxing activities could be at higher risk of burnout.

The time it takes a person to recover from burnout can vary between individuals.

A 2021 clinical perspective paper notes that previous research has found that many individuals with short-term stress recover within a few months and can recover within 3 months.

However, in severe cases of burnout, recovery can take longer than a year. A few studies have found that some people who have experienced severe clinical burnout did not fully recover after 4 years.

A person should seek help for burnout from a doctor or mental health professional.

A doctor may be able to recommend a mental health professional or provide a referral.

Alternatively, some work environments may offer counseling, which people can access through their HR department.

A doctor or mental health professional may be able to help a person arrange time away from work and begin to manage the stress and exhaustion of burnout.

Burnout has three main characteristics:

  1. Emotional exhaustion: A person may feel exhausted, unable to cope, and fatigued by the psychological efforts their situation requires of them.
  2. Cynicism or detachment: An individual may become detached or indifferent and feel as if they do not care about their work or situation. This can lead to irritability, inappropriate behaviors, and avoiding people and tasks.
  3. Reduced efficacy: A person experiencing burnout may perform less effectively in their job or duties and be less capable and productive than before.

Learn more about the symptoms of burnout.

Burnout is a psychological syndrome that people may experience due to prolonged work-related stress. It can cause overwhelming exhaustion and feelings of cynicism and detachment regarding work.

However, clinical psychologists also recognize that burnout can occur in situations unrelated to work. Chronic stress, whether in a professional or personal setting, can lead to burnout.

An individual may experience burnout due to chronic stress. Various circumstances can contribute to chronic stress, including work-related and personal factors.

Strategies to help a person recover from burnout include:

  • changing unhelpful patterns
  • developing coping skills
  • improving self-understanding
  • reaching out for support
  • using relaxation techniques
  • prioritizing exercise
  • improving sleep quality

A person should seek support from a doctor or mental health professional if they experience burnout.