7 Strategies to Deal with Burnout

Burnout is not something to be taken lightly. It’s easy for stress to creep up and accumulate within you, and the effects can be far-reaching. You may be physically harming yourself, and you may not be as available to those you love, including your wife and children. You may be avoiding the unhappiness that needs to be addressed, rather than  continuing to push it back to the far reaches of your heart and psyche.

I want you to consider these 7 strategies in assessing and dealing with your burnout. There may be more, and they may be unique to you and your situation, but I think it’s important to really have a grasp on the mere fact that there’s burnout happening to you, and that you can do something about it.

Being in the dark, or being in denial about being burned out, compounds the problem so much more It’s not just important to know how to deal with burnout situationally, it’s key to develop a system for yourself to deal with it periodically throughout your life, because the same conditions that create your burnout will appear over and over again.

  1. First assess your situation by asking yourself these questions:
    • Is it burnout that I’m experiencing? How do I know?
    • What symptoms am I experiencing that feel like I’m burning out?
      • Signs to look for: irritability, mental/physical/emotional stress lethargy, anxiety, depressed mood, lack of interest in things, emotionally-based pain in the body – shoulders, stomach, head, heart
      • What can my body tell me about my possible burnout? Am I in touch with my body to really know?
    • What are those closest to me noticing about my condition that might indicate burnout?
    • When have I felt better, or less burned out, and what were the conditions happening then?
    • How could I be taking better care of myself, and what’s getting in the way of that happening?
  2. The Four Basics: eating, sleeping, exercise and stress management
    • Laying the groundwork to dealing with burnout: the base of the pyramid
    • How do you regularly take care of yourself in these areas of your life?
    • If you’re not taking care of yourself in these four ways, why not?
      • What are you eating? Stress-extinguishing or stress-promoting food
        • Sugar/alcohol/caffeine/nicotine: are they having negative effects on your well-being?
        • Reliance on fresh, whole, plant-based foods that keep your energy high, as opposed to fried foods, fast foods, processed foods or a lot of refined carbohydrates that will drag your energy and mood down
    • Are you getting the right quantity and quality of sleep? Exercise or stress management can help you sleep easier, and get the 7-8 hours of sleep you need to be on top of your game.
    • Do you have a regular exercise routine that you do 3-4 times a week? If not, why not? What gets in the way?
    • Do you have a reliable way to relieve stress, that you can go to when burnout happens? If not, why not?
    • Do you have models of others in your life that know how to take care of themselves? What habits or traits can you take from how they do it?
  3. Emotional burnout
    • In dealing with your negative emotions underlying the burnout, you deal with burnout from the root level. Part of this is understanding what your emotions have to do with your stress. Some people feel exhausted; others angry, sad or just plain exhausted.
    • For men, it’s habit to push those emotions away, like a good soldier, and push through the demands of our daily responsibilities. Unfortunately, not dealing with the emotions doesn’t mean that they’re not there anymore.
    • The better you can identify the emotions that underlie your burnout, the quicker you can start to deal with them and move through them, which is to say let them go; you can’t let them go by avoiding them or dealing with them “later”. It doesn’t work that way, even if you’ve convinced yourself of such.
    • Professional counseling can help you identify what those are, especially if you’ve never learned how to identify and work through difficult emotions. There also may be undiscovered, or unconscious, emotions that are out of your awareness, that you don’t know about.
    • Talking through those emotions – just verbalizing them to a friend or spouse – begins to loosen them up and helps you let go of them a little bit.
  4. Dealing with work burnout
    • On taking on too much work: ask yourself why you’re doing it? Is it the expectation of your work or employer that you take on that much, or is it your own expectation of yourself?
      • Some men fall into people-pleasing, or not wanting others to be upset with them, so they overextend themselves for approval/admiration/praise.
      • Some men find their true worth as a person with taking on too much work. I would ask you to consider this, and see what’s lacking for you in other areas of your life, where you might not feel as valuable to yourself, or to others.
    • Learn to start saying ‘no’ where you can: learn how to draw healthy boundaries with others, and with yourself. If you don’t learn to start saying ‘no’ where you can, no one else will step in for you to say it.
    • Start working on letting go of your work identity to deal with burnout: many guys – like myself – strongly identify with the work side of their life, sometimes to the exclusion of the other parts of their lives. If you have all of your “eggs in a basket,” you’re not diversifying your happiness and sense of meaning around the other areas of your life.
    • Deal with your possible workaholism issues: Do you live to work? Are you avoiding other parts of your life on purpose (or unconsciously)? Are you not wanting to be at home or around your family for other reasons? Why not?
  5. Identify what is fulfilling for you in your life, outside of work
    • Is it your family? Are personal pursuits enriching, or just time spent in the outdoors?
    • What fills you up, rather that takes away from you (burnout)? Are you incorporating those things into your daily life?
    • Do you have friends that you can call or contact when you need them? Why not?
    • Have you let friends or friendships go in your life? Can you make efforts to repair or regain those friendships?
  6. Get regular help to support you: you can’t do it all yourself
    • Assemble your own personal team: spouse, friends, family, doctor, spiritual/religious community or leaders, mentor, coach, other health specialist
    • Hire/get the right people to help: personal trainer, massage therapist, yoga instruction; sometimes it takes spending money to help yourself deal with burnout, so be prepared to pay to help yourself. If you can’t – or have a hard time with this – think about the “soft costs” or longer-term costs associated with your burnout (e.g. less quality time with your loved ones, more health care costs, unhappiness, less work productivity)
    • Ask for help: it’s often difficult for guys to ask for and receive the help they need, so take a risk and ask those who can help you for a little assistance. They’ll probably be happy to oblige. You can’t do it all on your own, even if you thin you can.
    • Talk it out: just the activity of “holding it all in,” something men are notoriously know for, can cause stress and a host of other problems. Try talking it out to someone who you feel comfortable talking with. Getting it off of your chest can take some of the steam out of the burnout you’re experiencing.
  7. Make commitments and execute them
  • Create rituals or routines that last: make them easy to accomplish, but not too easy. Find “the Goldilocks zone,” making it not too easy or not too hard to employ these strategies, or ones of your own. Reward yourself after successful accomplishment, like miles walked, hours worked, or the like.
  • Seeing stress and health for the long road of your life, not just to alleviate burnout for now and have it come back later. If you see it in these terms, you’ll adjust your behavior to change now, to affect the future. Try to see it as a long-term strategy, like retirement investing.
  • Dealing with unconscious “roadblocks” that get in your way of progress and execution of health-promoting habits to combat your burnout

Again, there are certainly other strategies. These are the ones I use in my own life, and ones that I’ve seen work well with the numerous men I’ve talked with. You have to know yourself, your body, and what works for you to deal with stress and burnout, and you have to really get clear about what is health and what is maladaptive in your own life for it to effectively work.

I’ve found that no one model will work well for me completely, but it’s a case of trial-and-error, especially with things like diet and exercise. It’s that tweaking process that lasts a lifetime, and changes based on where you are in your current stage of your life. Make it enjoyable, and see the benefits that keep you motivated to continue to employ these strategies.

About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
This entry was posted in Anger and Stress, Mens’ Mental Health, Stress and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *