Moving Past Burnout

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Let’s be real: burnout is exhausting, both mentally and physically. When moving past burnout, it’s perfectly normal to feel drained.

The key is to rest.

Give your body time to recover. Allow your mind a few days (or weeks!) of peace. Take your vacation time, or sick days, or whatever it is you need to simply chill out and disconnect.

“Recognize that burnout is creeping up on you. Our bodies are great at giving us indications that something in our system isn’t right. Listen to it. Bad sleep, feeling anxious, not being able to switch off, losing appetite, irregular bodily functions… are all signs of that dreaded B word. One of the worst things you can do is to ignore the signs and keep pushing through. The fear of failure, your own ego for wanting to succeed and not wanting to let your team down are all familiar factors for wanting to ignore these signs — don’t,” Manjul Rathee, Founder and CEO, urged.1 

Remote workers aren’t robots. We are real people behind the computer screens and telephones. We all have emotions, we all get sick, and we all need time to recuperate. It’s incredibly healthy to learn how to disconnect from work and revel in the time we have for ourselves.

However, in the process of moving past burnout, there’s something very important to note. Just because you’ve burnt out already, doesn’t mean it won’t happen again. If you bring a match to a can of gasoline, it will burst into flames each time. If you continue working under stressful or unhappy conditions and fail to acknowledge your own mental and physical demands, you will burn out each time. 

Don’t believe us? You might want to take a look at what comes next.

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If You Burnout Once, Will You Burnout Again?

A recent study surveyed more than 7,500 full-time employees about burnout. Could you believe 23 percent of those employees claimed they felt burnt out more often than not? Another 44 percent reported feeling symptoms of burnout sometimes.2 

To put those numbers into perspective, nearly two-thirds of full-time employees are burnt out at some point.

Another 65 percent of employees categorized as being at the start of the burnout cycle often or very often feel run down and drained of emotional or physical energy.3 Even more, a massive 63 percent of U.S. employees reported the stress from their job causes them to routinely engage in unhealthy behaviors.4 From a change in attitude to a neglect for basic personal needs, these negative behaviors can cause the lifecycle of a burnout to repeat. 

“Burnout used to be like an old wild and disruptive friend who would show up in my life at the most unlikely times. One summer in particular when I was on a vacation with my family, I was a wreck. … In the weeks and months leading up to that vacation, I had worked myself to the bone, was feeling under pressure on some personal family matters, and hit the proverbial wall. I had nothing left in my engine for myself or anyone else,” Danielle Droitsch, Certified Life Coach for Professionals, said.5

“Unfortunately, that wasn’t the first time burnout showed up. Through law school and then working in the nonprofit sector, I would work and work and work ignoring my building stress until I flamed out.”

For workers like Danielle, who continuously work themselves to the bone, that “proverbial wall” can be hard to miss. After all, if you continue the same habits, how can you expect a different result? And considering the majority of U.S. workers are constantly feeling run down or mentally exhausted, it’s unsurprising that burnout can rear its head multiple times for certain people.

Create a Mental Health Checklist

Stopping burnout before it spreads is a job best suited for managers, leaders, and founders. These individuals directly set the tone for their company, and their willingness to accept mental health issues head on significantly impacts their team. However, when it comes to moving past burnout, it’s time to take matters into your own hands.

“For me, early warning signs of impending burnout are some combination of restlessness, the feeling I should always be doing something, constantly checking social media, and prolonged absorption in whatever I’m working on to the exclusion of everything else. When I feel myself slipping into this state, I force myself to go on a totally unplugged day hike, ideally with unplugged friends, often around the redwood forests near my home,” Brad Stulberg, Author and Co-Founder, shared.6

“I almost always return from these hikes with a renewed sense of what actually matters to me — and how to direct my time and energy accordingly. Perspective allows me to see that ‘my’ world is tiny when compared to the actual world. I feel more open and energetic, and less burnt out.” 

Man with baseball cap sitting by a lake after a hike in nature

If hikes aren’t necessarily your thing, it’s paramount you find your own methods of unplugging. We like to call ours the “Mental Health Checklist” — a variety of steps to help reduce stress and give our bodies what they need. 

Traditionally, a variety of occupational factors add up to contribute to the typical burnout lifecycle. Understanding when and where to step in, and how to enforce personal boundaries, can help prevent burnout before it begins.

1. Re-Evaluate Your Priorities 

Burnout is an undeniable sign that something important in your life is not working. If you feel the tell-tale signs of burnout approaching, it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities. Are you dedicating too much time to work and neglecting something truly important to you? Use this moment as an opportunity to rediscover what truly makes you happy and to slow down and give yourself time to rest.

Likewise, consider nourishing your creative side a bit. Do something just for fun, not because you’re trying to impress your boss or hit your KPIs. 

“According to our recent research, 52% of professionals consider learning to be part of their self-care routine. And the majority of professionals (68%) say they are less likely to feel burnout when they are learning and growing in their roles,” Rachel Parnes, Senior Marketing Manager at LinkedIn, explained.7 “Learning can be inspiring and motivating. It recharges your batteries and gives you a fresh reason to keep moving forward.”

Try a new activity, resume a favorite hobby, or begin a new project that lets you use your hands or get outside. Any activities that have nothing to do with your work or what’s causing your stress can help you pause, unwind, and reflect. 

2. Create Breathing Room in Your Schedule

Though communication is key to an effective remote work environment, your day-to-day should not consist of back-to-back Zoom meetings, conference calls, and Slack messages. Remote workers have a bad habit of overcompensating, so we tend to overschedule ourselves. Our days can be brimming with work, appointments, and deliverables to the point we’re pivoting from one task to the next without a moment to breathe, eat, or even refill our water bottles. 

So, pencil some breathing room into your schedule. Avoid scheduling meetings back to back. Schedule a half-hour break each afternoon to do important catch up, like answer emails or send reports. Then, schedule a half-hour lunch each day to ensure you at least stop to eat something nutritious. When you can, schedule time for a quick 15-minute walk around your neighborhood.

“If you are so fatigued that you need a nap, and a nap is available to you, then by all means take a nap. Walking is fine if you work in a sedentary job, but find a route that is relatively free from loud distractions. Otherwise find a quiet place to sit or lie down,” Brad Buzzard, Content Creator, said.8

Woman laying on bed with a book relaxing as she tries moving past burnout

Your physical needs are just as important as your mental needs. A recent study discovered 30 percent of those who worked 51 or more hours per week often felt stressed, compared to 15 percent of those who worked 31 to 40 hours per week.9 Learn to give your body the time it needs to take a step back from work—and be sure to mark that time into your schedule until it becomes a habit for you to do so. 

“At the end of the day, look back on how you’ve spent your time. Do you feel good about your choices today? Did you spend at least an hour or two doing work you love? If not, what changes can you make tomorrow to get yourself back on track? Try to make tomorrow a little more balanced than today,” Dan Zigmond, Director of Special Projects, added.10

3. Establish Boundaries and Embrace Saying No 

Remote employees who burnout often report feeling like they must “do it all.” To protect yourself from the burnout lifecycle, and efficiently keep moving past burnout, you must learn to not overextend yourself and identify methods of lessening your stress. 

Set boundaries. 

Say no. 

“Often when I over-worked, I felt like I was trampling the boundaries of my family and friends and trying to make them adjust to my schedule. This was because my own boundaries were being breached by work commitments,” Jun Wu, Writer, said.11

“So, re-establish those boundaries. Go to your manager and set firm hours and tasks to be done, do them, and then go home. When you’re at home, set a schedule and put everyone on your social calendar. Have a regular weekly dinner with your family. Set a regular weekly hangout day with your kids. Make a regular date night with your spouse. Treat all of those appointments as non-negotiable.”

It may be difficult at first to learn how to protect your time and health. But remember that saying “no” to some things allows you to say “yes” to the commitments you want to make. In other words, look for opportunities to delegate demands to others, shift priorities off your plate, or delay obligations. In this way, you can realistically occupy your time. 

“Do not overwork,” Karolis Ramanauskas, Co-Founder and Software Engineer, urged.12 “It has been shown time and time again that productivity, which, in this case, refers to output, decreases sharply after 4 hours of focused work. It’s impossible to stay productive at a highly cognitively intensive job such as programming long-term, with a long number of working hours every day.”

4. Adopt Relaxation Methods While Working from Home

What’s the best thing about working from home? You’re working from the comfort of your own space. This freedom means that if you’re beginning to feel a bit stressed mid-day, there’s nothing stopping you from stepping away from your desk to complete 10 to 15 minutes of deep breathing.

If yoga or meditation is more up your alley, don’t feel ashamed to burst into a child’s pose or downward dog by 2:30 on a Thursday afternoon. Learn methods of relaxing your body and mind and routinely implement them. Take a brisk walk. Make yourself a strong espresso or whip up a nutritious lunch. 

Woman unrolling a blue yoga mat onto a hardwood floor

“To make it easy to reset throughout the workday, consider a sensory box: a personal stash of tools that can help reduce stimuli or enable a sensory reset,” Alexandra Samuel, Data Journalist, said.13 “A sensory box could contain earplugs or noise-blocking earmuffs, tinted glasses, a weighted lap pad, or tight vest, to provide a deep pressure ‘hug,’ some silly putty, and perhaps a soft, tagless shirt to slip on if it’s one of those days where even your clothing becomes a source of irritation.”

Yes, work is important. We’re not suggesting you halt your responsibilities whenever you wish. However, the only way to prevent burnout is to recognize when stress and irritability come creeping in. Having methods to de-stress in your back pocket (or sensory box) can make all of the difference when moving past burnout.

5. Learn to Unplug and Relax

Don’t be under the illusion you always need to be working to make progress. Sometimes, doing nothing at all is exactly what your body and mind need. Find time to recuperate by unplugging from it all. Taking real breaks—to eat full meals, sleep throughout the night, and decompress—can provide all the energy you need to remain productive and positive. 

Set a time each day when you completely disconnect and put away your laptop, turn off your phone, and stop checking email. Take a daily break from technology. Once your work hours end, you don’t need to be hounding your messages. Instead, get outside or spend time with your loved ones. Get back to doing what you love, not just what you’re paid for. 

“You should also try to cut down on screen time once you clock out, especially if you have a job that already requires a lot of screen time. The blue light emanating from your phone and computer can mess with your circadian rhythms, making it harder for you to fall asleep and leaving you feeling slightly jet-lagged,” Rebecca Fishbein, Author, explained.14 

“Screens can also cause eye strain, leading to headaches and increased feelings of fatigue. Consider swapping out your Netflix binges for time with friends, long walks, or other activities that keep you away from electronics for at least a few hours.”

At the end of the day, put yourself to bed a decent hour when you can get plenty of sleep. Feelings of exhaustion can exacerbate the onset of burnout by causing irritability and aggravating existing stress. Keep your cool throughout the day by getting a solid night’s sleep the evening before. 

6. Take Vacation Time (Even if You Don’t Think You Need It)

No one is too good for vacation time. 

You deserve time off of work the same as everyone else does. Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you’re not working yourself to the bone, and a staycation or trip out of the house can be just what the doctor ordered.

“Once you return to work, be sure to go to bed and get up at your normal times, and don’t try to make up for being gone by resuming work in double time,” Emily Underwood, Writer, said.15

“And here’s a useful trick to ease yourself back into the pace of office communication: Don’t announce that you’re back at your desk for a day or two, and wait to update your status and out-of-office message.”

Consider if Remote Work Really Works for You

While remote work advocates ourselves, we’d be fooling both you and us if we said remote work is a universally productive model. We are the first to recognize that remote work simply does not work for everybody. If you’re burning out multiple times, as opposed to moving past burnout, it might be time to look inwards at your situation and personal life and see if remote work is best for you. 

Whether you have a job that leaves you working long past business hours or one that is monotonous and unfulfilling, the most effective way to combat burnout is to acknowledge if the remote environment is playing a large factor. Focus on aspects of the job that you do enjoy, even if it’s just chatting with your coworkers on Slack. Perhaps you might prefer a physical office location where you can build more intrapersonal relationships. 

Do you enjoy setting your own hours? Has it been difficult to adhere to a healthy schedule in terms of sleeping, eating, and working? These are all items that you should happily enforce as a remote employee. If these aspects of working remotely are not working for you, a more structured in-person position may be more suitable. 

Woman sitting on couch looking distraught as she attempts moving past burnout

“Burnout is a real thing. It happens when you least expect it. You may toil for years at the same pace and suddenly found yourself in the middle of burnout without even seeing it coming,” Stacey King Gordon, Content Writer, said.16

“It’s good to love your work. But you have to love it in moderation, because if you don’t, burnout will make you hate it, and it’s harder — much harder — to bounce back from that.”

Remember that at the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong answer here. Remote work can provide countless benefits, but those benefits may not be worth it if the remote model conflicts with your personal life or preferences. 

“The social, mental and physical environments in which we work play a critical yet largely under-appreciated role in our overall well being,” Nabeena Mali, Co-Founder, said.17 “30% of founders suffer from depression and 27% suffer from problematic anxiety. Over 65% of startups fail as a result of co-founder conflict; which is higher than the divorce rate. Almost a third of failed startups cite mental health issues as a key to their failure.”

When your mental health is at risk, consider which elements of your work environment are stimulating to you and which seem to invoke your best mental state. Trust your gut and follow your instincts. If remote work isn’t working, it’s never too late to make a change. 

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  1. Rathee, Manjul. “7 Steps to Protect Yourself from Dreaded Burnout.” Medium, Medium, 11 June 2018, medium.com/@julixe/7-steps-to-protect-yourself-from-dreaded-burnout-f6156768abb6.
  2. Stevenson, Mason. “Employee Burnout Statistics You Need to Know.” HR Exchange Network, HR Exchange Network, 17 Jan. 2020, www.hrexchangenetwork.com/employee-engagement/news/employee-burnout-statistics-you-need-to-know.
  3. Statista Research Department. “Often or Very Often Felt Stress or Burnout Sypmtoms Adults U.S. by Burn-out Risk 2017.” Statista, 3 Sept. 2019, www.statista.com/statistics/675797/often-or-very-often-felt-stress-or-burnout-sypmtoms-adults-us-by-burn-out-risk/.
  4. Elflein, John. “Work-Related Stress Caused Unhealthy Behaviors U.S. 2015-2017.” Statista, 14 Jan. 2019, www.statista.com/statistics/807075/work-related-stress-caused-unhealthy-behaviors-us/.
  5. Droitsch, Danielle. “I Survived Burnout More Than a Few Times, and Here’s What I Learned.” Lifehack, Lifehack, 26 Feb. 2018, www.lifehack.org/616426/i-survived-burnout-more-than-a-few-times-and-heres-what-i-learned.
  6. Stulberg, Brad. “The Natural Cure for Burnout Is Profound and Utter Awe.” Medium, Forge, 19 July 2019, forge.medium.com/the-natural-cure-for-burnout-is-profound-and-utter-awe-bfa9f6b3e2d1.
  7. Parnes, Rachel. “The Surprising Way to Beat Burnout (as You Say Goodbye to Summer).” LinkedIn, Productivity Tips, 9 Sept. 2019, www.linkedin.com/business/learning/blog/productivity-tips/the-surprising-way-to-beat-burnout-as-you-say-goodbye-to-summer.
  8. Buzzard, Brad. “Avoid Burnout and Increase Awareness Using Ultradian Rhythms.” Medium, Better Humans, 7 Nov. 2017, medium.com/better-humans/avoid-burnout-and-increase-awareness-using-ultradian-rhythms-5e64158e7e19.
  9. Statista Research Department. “Stress Frequency Among Adults U.S. by Weekly Working Hours 2017.” Statista, 3 Sept. 2019, www.statista.com/statistics/675099/stress-frequency-among-us-adults-weekly-working-hours/.
  10. Zigmond, Dan. “How Buddha Might Fight Burnout.” Medium, Forge, 23 Dec. 2019, forge.medium.com/how-buddha-might-fight-burnout-dfef271403c8.
  11. Wu, Jun. “The Easy Way to Recover From Burnout as a Developer.” Medium, Better Programming, 17 Nov. 2019, medium.com/better-programming/the-easy-way-to-recover-from-burnout-as-a-developer-472ab4693a9c.
  12. Ramanauskas, Karolis. “Preventing Burnout for Programmers.” Medium, Medium, 10 Sept. 2020, medium.com/@karolisram/preventing-burnout-for-programmers-12b4968adbaa.
  13. Samuel, Alexandra. “What Autism Can Teach Us About Overcoming Digital Burnout.” Medium, OneZero, 8 Nov. 2019, onezero.medium.com/what-autism-can-teach-us-about-overcoming-digital-burnout-38446b47c17c.
  14. Fishbein, Rebecca. “How to Get Over Burnout When You Can’t Take Time Off.” Medium, Forge, 28 Aug. 2019, forge.medium.com/how-to-get-over-burnout-when-you-cant-take-time-off-7c465fe47f91.
  15. Underwood, Emily. “Yes, Post-Vacation Burnout Is a Thing.” Medium, Forge, 19 Aug. 2019, forge.medium.com/yes-post-vacation-burnout-is-a-thing-ef614bc7d49f.
  16. Gordon, Stacey King. “Let’s Talk About Burnout.” Medium, Noteworthy – The Journal Blog, 8 Dec. 2017, blog.usejournal.com/lets-talk-about-burnout-79461719d447.
  17. Mali, Nabeena. “Soulscape and Project Atlas Partner to Teach Leaders How to Thrive without Burnout.” Medium, Data Driven Investor, 12 Nov. 2018, medium.com/datadriveninvestor/soulscape-and-project-atlas-partner-to-teach-leaders-how-to-thrive-without-burnout-a6996688c2d1.

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By Remote Work Tribe