Feeling Burnt Out? These Coping Mechanisms May Help You Recover

By Anika Nayak

It’s the end of the day and you’ve been working on your screen for hours when burnout starts creeping up on you. Suddenly, your body starts to ache and you feel numb, like all of your energy is depleted. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you have experienced burnout –– a state of emotional and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. 

Burnout is completely valid and you’re not alone. A recent survey from FlexJobs and Mental Health America (MHA) reported that 75% of workers have experienced burnout, and 40% of those surveyed said it was a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic. This ongoing epidemic has been particularly intense for everyone and we’re all feeling burnt out in one way or another. 

However, there are healthy steps you can take to cope with your day-to-day stress and prevent yourself from reaching a point where you’re mentally exhausted. Here are five coping mechanisms from mental health experts you can use daily to overcome burnout. 

1. Start a morning routine 

Having some sort of structure in your day is linked to improved mental and physical health, according to this study. “Adopting a morning ritual or routine can be very helpful as it helps with anxiety and starts the day off on a positive and relaxing foot,” says Dr. Rebecca Leslie, PsyD, a clinical psychologist based in Atlanta, Georgia. “This can look like starting everyday with saying five things that you are grateful for and taking deep breaths for two minutes before turning on your phone.”

2. Take a mental health day 

Feeling emotionally drained? If you’re able to, just take the day off to focus on yourself, recommends Dr. Nekeshia Hammond, PsyD, an author, speaker, and psychologist based in Brandon, Florida. “Carving out time for your mental health is critical. Whether you can commit to an entire ‘mental health day’ or a ‘mental health hour’, choose time to de-stress and take some deep breaths. Fill your time with something fun or relaxing. Celebrate that you have taken the time to cope with the increased stress in your life,” she says. 

3. Use guided imagery 

Guided imagery is a powerful self-awareness tool that uses the mind-body connection to evoke feelings of relaxation. Specifically, it’s a process where you focus on a mental image to help move your stress away from negative feelings to promote healing. Brittany A. Johnson, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor says using guided imagery is her go-to coping mechanism when she’s feeling burnt out or stressed. “Anytime you can calm your body down it will automatically calm your mind. You can view tons of guided imagery programs on YouTube or even Pinterest,” she says. 

4. Practice a “half smile” 

If smiling makes you feel happier, you’re not alone. A 2019 paper found that smiling makes people feel happier while frowning makes them feel sadder. Sarah Belarde, LCSW, a therapist says one of her personal favorite coping strategies to use when feeling burnt out is a half smile. In order to do this, she recommends, “to relax your face ace and let both corners of your lips go slightly up. Even when feeling overwhelmed, practicing a half smile (even if it’s a fake one) connects your body to your mind and reduces emotional distress.”

5. Start a journal

Writing can be very therapeutic when it comes to channeling your inner thoughts and feelings, notes Kristin Meekhof, LSMW, a therapist and author of A Widow’s Guide to Healing. “I use writing in a journal as a way to prevent burnout. Sometimes I journal about my day. Other times I address a challenge I’m having, and I’ll write the next chapter to the story. My anxiety decreases, and I feel a shift in my energy knowing that I’m writing about a favorable result,” she says.