While the definition of burnout might be the subject of great debate, is it burnout or is it depression, the research confirms that burnout is a genuine psychological and physical experience. Those who suffer from job burnout also experience the keys symptoms of depression, as someone who’s been through it that is of little surprise. The modern experience and work environment promote neurosis and burnout is but one example.

Are you exhausted. annoyed, pissed off, ready to throw in the towel and questioning your career, degree and life altogether? I know that feeling well. It typically signals impending burnout.

Not the type of sick burnout I could get by building boost and dropping my Subbie into gear. No, this is the type of burnout that makes you exhaust your sick days, question the value of your degree, skip the gym and eat large quantities of Oreos.

A recent Gallup poll (2012) found that 87 percent of employees are “not engaged” or are “actively disengaged” from their jobs. That’s 2 burnt out employees to every one engaged one.
Traditionally, we know that burnout is caused by working too many hours and enduring too much stress, but that’s an oversimplification of a matter that is anything but. Some people might actually rely on pressure to perform at a high level, for some an email inbox with 250 emails is unconquerable for others it’s just another Monday. The point is, there’s no one-size-fits-all cure or prevention for burnout. Here are some strategies for treatment and prevention burnout:

1. Figure out what kind of burnout you have

The Association for Psychological Science reports that burnout comes in three flavors and treatment will vary based on which one you fit in:

1. Overload: The frenetic employee who works toward success until exhaustion, is most closely related to emotional venting. These individuals might try to cope with their stress by complaining about the organizational hierarchy at work, feeling as though it imposes limits on their goals and ambitions. That coping strategy, unsurprisingly, seems to lead to a stress overload and a tendency to throw in the towel.

2. Lack of Development: Most closely associated with an avoidance coping strategy. These under-challenged workers tend to manage stress by distancing themselves from work, a strategy that leads to depersonalization and cynicism — a harbinger for burning out and packing up shop.

3. Neglect: Seems to stem from a coping strategy based on giving up in the face of stress. Even though these individuals want to achieve a certain goal, they lack the motivation to plow through barriers to get to it.

2. Schedule some social time

This is one I have to put real work into accomplishing. Spending time with people you neither work with nor sleep with is very important for emotional fulfillment.

This doesn’t have to be overly complicated, a guys weekend in Vegas might be too much and just add stress, but brunch with people you don’t see everyday is a great place to start. The point is to expand your social horizon and destroy the feeling of being stuck in the same place doing the same thing with the same people day after day.

3. Know when to say No

Every time you say “yes” you add another responsibility to your plate which takes more energy away from you. If you take on too many commitments, work on saying “no.” Have too many ideas, find the wildly important ones and dump the rest. Suffer from information overload, start scheduling downtime. Answer emails, voicemails and schedule meetings at deliberately set times. Turn off your phone from time to time, or better yet put it one a shelf and walk away.

When my previous boss told me her expectation was that I be on call 24/7 I told her that wasn’t going to happen, period. The world didn’t and hasn’t ended.

4. Stick with your fitness routine

Working out sounds like the worst thing on earth when you’re facing burnout. Getting through a day at work is an effort unto itself. But, the feeling after a good workout can erase a lot of the negativity that builds throughout a shitty day. That and fitness builds grit. The mental satisfaction of knowing that you’re taking good care of yourself can go a long way, don’t let that slide because in your life, you are the only constant.

5. Don’t worry about staying positive

If you’re experiencing burnout, you’ll likely be too exhausted to stay positive. So don’t.

When I was facing burnout last year I tried at first to stay positive but I was so mired in my negative emotions about work that the effort of trying to stamp them out was only making things worse. Instead, I felt the negativity and recognized that I wasn’t the source of the shit. I couldn’t banish the shit. So I took action alongside the emotions I was feeling. I effected positive change in the places I had power to do so and didn’t worry about the areas I couldn’t. The negativity usually dissipated quickly and even if it didn’t I had at least moved forward and accomplished something.

6. Stop trying to be perfect

Trying to maximize every task and squeeze every drop of productivity out of yourself is a recipe for disaster. Be realistic.

Sacrificing your health, well being, relationships and sanity to try and live up to impossible standards will lead to dangerous behaviors and, ironically, procrastination. Instead of saying “I’ll stay at work until X is done”, try saying “I’ll work until X time and then stop.” You might end up needing an extension or turn in less than perfect work, but you’re worth it. In the long run, making time for sleep, exercise, relationships and yourself will play an essential role in your having a productive career.

7. Write your manifesto

What do you want out of life? Would 4 year old, high school or college you be proud of what you’re doing with your life? It’s really easy to lose track of time and get into a dangerous groove and that makes it easy to forget what makes you glad to be alive. Take some time and write your manifesto, your declaration of life purpose. Keep it to yourself and live to your standards.

This is a great exercise for finding your intentions and purpose and also will help you put the stresses of the moment into perspective.

8. Don’t overload your downtime

A lot of people treat vacation like a job. You have time off so you have to pack as much crap into that time as possible, otherwise you’re wasting your time off. Vacations themselves can worsen burnout, with high-stress travel situations, high expectations, sleep interruptions, poor eating, and constant worrying about what you’re missing at work.

Make vacation flexible. Will you shit the bed and see your vacation as ruined if you don’t get up at 5am to see the sunrise? Effective vacations give you the choice and freedom to choose what you want to do and when you want to do it. Drop the rigid itinerary and just enjoy places, people and things.


9. Have an escape plan

What do you need to do to escape the situation that’s driving you nuts? Need to leave a committee, give up responsibility, take a demotion? Do it. Maybe you need to submit your resume to a new opportunity or draft a letter of resignation.

You might never follow up on the items on your escape plan, but the process of putting one together lets you know you’re not stuck and that you do have options. Maybe they aren’t the greatest options, but they are options. If you aren’t looking to see what jobs are out there, if you don’t have an updated resume, etc… you don’t have any flexibility to pursue alternative opportunities.

10. Stop making excuses

Is your burn out all because of your boss, partner, or employees? Getting caught up in how everyone else is screwing up will put you on the fast track to burnout town.

Accept responsibility for that which you have the power to change, and forget the rest.

11. Make other people laugh

During the hardest times I make sure my employees are fairly well protected from the harsher realities trickling down from the top. Humor is often what keeps me sane, even through the most stressful of times. Laughter is fun and it instantly reduces stress. Better yet, finding ways to make other people laugh doesn’t just reduce the stress of the group it allows you to see yourself as a source of laughter and fun. You don’t have to be a comedian either, in a dry work environment a simple fart joke can really lighten a place up.