6 min read


Mariah Parker

Preventing Burnout: What Therapists Want You To Know

Across generations, burnout is sometimes talked about like it is a fact of modern work (and life). However, it is possible to prevent and recover from burnout. We talked to our therapists, who wanted to share their best tips on how to prevent burnout and reduce work-related stress to support you.
Preventing Burnout: What Therapists Want You To Know
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If you’re a millennial, you’ve probably read about burnout recently. Burnout is a state of mental, emotional, and/or physical exhaustion caused by chronic work stress. Our generation is all about finding meaning in work, and working hard. With such a hardworking ethos, it is important to take a step back every so often to check in on one’s mental, physical, and emotional health.

While we millennials have been described as the burnout generation, burnout is not just a millennial problem. Across generations, burnout is sometimes talked about like it is a fact of modern work (and life). However, it is possible to prevent and recover from burnout.

We talked to our therapists, who wanted to share their best tips on how to prevent burnout and reduce work-related stress to support you. Read on to learn how to tell if you’re at risk of burnout, how to reduce stress, and when therapy can be helpful to prevent burnout.

(If you are feeling burned out, you are not alone and we’d like to help. We know how overwhelming it is to look for help when you’re already feeling exhausted. Our therapists shared their wisdom about how to recover from burnout and feel better here. If you would like more support from a therapist, our personalized questionnaire makes it simple to find your perfect therapist match.)

Why should I make preventing burnout a priority?

“We hear so much about self-care and prevention of vicarious stress and trauma that it almost turns into a platitude. It is really frustrating because companies will have seminars about taking care of yourself, but will then push you to work until 10 PM. This sends the message that self-care is only superficially important. This is not true! Self-care and prevention of burnout can be the difference between a psychologically sound and happy life versus reaching a breaking point of exhaustion, irritability, and sadness/hopelessness. Preventing burnout will not only improve your overall functioning and relationships through increasing patience and satisfaction, but it will actually increase your work productivity. This means you can stop powering through exhaustion to complete all of your work by 10PM, and instead work efficiently and effectively so you can get out of work at a more realistic hour and still have energy to engage with family and friends.”

- Alyssa Ashenfarb

“If we don't address burnout head-on, we are risking losing a sense for our values, how to pivot personally or professionally if needed, and how to make sure we are living intentionally in a way that is authentic to ourselves.”

- Julia Colangelo

“I've never worked with a client who enjoyed being miserable in their career. Preventing burnout can protect you from letting everyday workplace stress compound until it seeps into other aspects of your life such as your physical and emotional well-being.”

- Veronica Chin Hing

“Similarly to stress, burnout is a serious health concern that can impact a person’s interest and desire to work in their chosen profession. Stress and burnout in the workplace is a common occurrence and can lead to negative outcomes and experiences. “

- Marian Cooper

How can I prevent burnout?

“Some tasks, situations, and people require more battery life than others (think FaceTime battery drain versus texting battery drain). This is okay and normal, but definitely requires some self-awareness to know which things require more energy than others. Once you begin building this awareness, it becomes easier to direct your energy in a more productive and efficient way. Another good way to prevent burn out is to stop ruminating! When you leave work for the day, be sure to distract yourself with outside-of-work tasks. When your brain is thinking of work all day every day, your body thinks it is actually working, which just increases the likelihood of burnout.”

- Alyssa Ashenfarb

“First, make sure that you're experiencing alignment in your professional roles. This means that your values and actions are working in accordance with one another and you're mindful of how you're relating to your work, relationships and stress.”

- Julia Colangelo

“Self care, getting enough sleep, participating in enjoyable activities, using vacation time, exercising, and taking lunch breaks are ways to limit burnout symptoms.”

- Marian Cooper

“According to the ICD 11, burnout is a syndrome characterized by feelings of energy depletion, increased mental distance from one's job, and reduced professional efficacy. Recognizing red flags, setting healthy boundaries, developing strong coping skills, and establishing ongoing self-care routines are four ways to prevent burnout and thrive in your career.

Recognize red flags

“Similar to having relationships with people in your life, you have relationships with your jobs. Think back on every occupation you've ever held. What feelings come up around certain positions and companies? Maybe you remember unlimited PTO at a cool start-up, or the revenue-driven pressure that kept you away from home for weeks on end at another firm. In the same way that you learn from people, learn what you're willing to tolerate in the workplace. Recognizing when you’re in a toxic work environment can help keep you from internalizing everything that's wrong with your workplace and preserve your confidence.

Set healthy boundaries

“Wellness is about being honest with yourself and openly sharing your needs with others. Overextending yourself at work is often not sustainable, and can absolutely lead to feelings of burnout. Think about why you continue to spread yourself so thin…  are you a people-pleaser, a perfectionist, a procrastinator? Your motivation for making these stressful decisions is the answer to changing for the better. A perfectionist has to give themselves permission to make mistakes. Someone who is a people-pleaser needs to learn how to say ‘no’. I’ve found that saying ‘no’ with a gentle smile and offering an alternative solution can soften feelings of rejection and help people feel less defensive while setting healthy boundaries for yourself.

Develop strong coping skills

“Perhaps you work in a high-stress field that has no room for setting healthy boundaries. Realistically, not everyone has the freedom to decline a task or avoid working on projects outside of their job description. What do you do then? You might be tempted to end your evenings with a happy hour or a glass of wine or three. Since alcohol carries incredibly dangerous long-term health risks when consumed on a daily basis, I highly recommend not drinking to unwind because you'd be surprised at how fast your body can become dependent on the depressant. Instead, invest time in an activity that releases stress-relieving  endorphins... sex, Krav Maga, a nighttime jog with your pup-  your body and mind will thank you.

Establish ongoing self-care routines

“Be proactive! If your career carries stress, carve out time several times each week to strengthen your overall wellness. Take your lunch break, even if it's just to get your daily dose of vitamin D for the day. Leave work at work. If work is stressing you out, then you go home to vent to your pet for the rest of the evening, you're working overtime for free. Check in with a therapist to process work stress and alleviate symptoms of burnout before they impact you. Schedule facials, reflexology, acupuncture, whatever you need to feel rejuvenated each week. Financial wellness can impact self-care routines, so consider what salons are offering specials during the week. Maybe a body scrub from your favorite apothecary is within budget and just as stress-relieving.”

- Veronica Chin Hing

What warning signs should I look out for to know that I’m at risk of burnout?

“When clients come in stating they are exhausted, irritable at seemingly small issues, feeling "stuck," do not have time to work out or be with loved ones, or are unhappy with the amount of money they are spending on takeout, the first thing I typically lean towards is psychoeducation about burn out. After all, when your battery is on empty, you cannot recharge others' batteries.”

- Alyssa Ashenfarb

“Burnout doesn't typically just happen. First, you'll experience stress, then layers of chronic stress, then burnout which occurs when chronic stress becomes permanent. You'll start to notice that you're emotionally exhausted, fatigued, and not as connected to your work and the meaning of your work and a greater sense of purpose.”

- Julia Colangelo

“Burnout can be extremely detrimental to professionals, and if left untreated can lead to physical, emotional, and mental strain. Burnout has also been connected to depressed mood, substance use, pain, and sleep issues. Symptoms can include increased calling out sick or not showing up to work, increased substance use, increased anger and irritability, increased motivation to not carry out job responsibilities.”

- Marian Cooper

Should I go to therapy for work stress before I am burned out?

“Therapy and coaching are great options to seek if you're noticing any signs of stress or ongoing stress. By preemptively developing more awareness and actionable skills in therapy or coaching to manage stress, you'll prevent falling into the spiral of actual burnout.”

- Julia Colangelo

“Coming to therapy before you have reached your limit, is a great support to process if self care can assist in getting you back on track or if it is time to explore new employment opportunities.”

- Marian Cooper

“I have found that talking about work stress is one of the most common reasons for seeking therapy. In my therapy practice, I assist people with identifying being at risk of burnout and preventing burnout in many different ways. Increased self-awareness and identification of feelings or thoughts that tell you that you might be headed toward a breaking point is very important. This increased awareness of yourself will help you to set appropriate boundaries and feel more empowered to say no to things that will push your limits. The ability to prevent full burnout will help you to perform better at work and prevent the negative physical and emotional consequences of burnout. Your overall life satisfaction suffers when you are burned out and if this can be prevented it can really be life-changing. Therapy is a space to increase mindfulness including mindfulness of having gratitude and focusing on your strengths, this positive energy helps to reduce the risk of burnout. On a bigger picture level therapy can help you slow down that racing mind enough to really think about the reasons for doing what you are doing. When you are doing something and understand the big picture reason for your work it makes it easier to put up with the day to day stress. However, if there isn't a meaningful reason for the work that you do, therapy can help empower you to consider making bigger lifestyle changes so that you can be intentional about your decision making to prevent burnout.”

- Jeremy Litfin

Ultimately, there are many ways you can relieve stress and prevent burnout. You can choose the options that resonate most with you, and try a variety of things to see what works best.

However, it’s important to remember that burnout is not your fault and its not a sign of weakness. We all need a little bit more support at different times in our lives to deal with stress. If you could use more support right now, reach out below.

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About the author

Mariah was Head of Growth at MyWellbeing. She is a marketing expert in the areas of content strategy, digital advertising, business growth, and anything related to helping therapists grow their practice.

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