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How to combat burnout, which one therapist says is at an all-time high

Therapist and burnout expert Kelley Bonner’s best strategies for combating burnout.

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Have you been frustrated about your job, co-workers, or boss? Seen a dip in your work performance? What about recurring, stubborn headaches? Like millions of Americans this year, you may be experiencing burnout.

The World Health Organization defines burnout as a syndrome "resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." Essentially, it's what happens when you're not able to deal with the daily demands of your job

It's a common condition: More than three-quarters, 76%, of full-time employees experience burnout at least sometimes, according to a 2019 Gallup report. And the pandemic hasn't helped. Fully remote workers are actually experiencing more burnout now than those working on site, Gallup found.

Licensed therapist and burnout expert Kelley Bonner says burnout is at an all-time high and that millennials, women and people of color are at the highest risk for burnout. Besides additional stresses that women and people of color can experience in the workplace, millennials "like to feel connected to our job, feel purposeful, and feel like we're part of something bigger," she says. "Nothing makes you feel less than a part of something bigger when you're working from your couch, or when you're not connected to other people." 

Here are her tips for what you can do to avoid burnout, or bring yourself back from it, during the winter months. 

Give yourself a break 

More people need to remind themselves that things are not normal, Bonner says. No one was expecting to live through a pandemic.

If "we're in a high-stress situation or not coping well ... it's OK to accept those feelings and sit with them," she says. 

Set 'microgoals' for yourself 

In the beginning of the year, you might have set a list of goals you wanted to accomplish, like traveling the world, getting out of debt, or buying a house. It's important to recognize that some big goals might not be within reach this year due to circumstances outside your control, Bonner says.

To stay on track and avoid getting discouraged, break up big goals or projects into smaller steps or "microgoals." That can give you small wins to celebrate and help you track progress toward that bigger goal.  

VIDEO6:0206:02
How to avoid burnout at work during the pandemic

Video by Courtney Stith

Develop a healthy self-care practice 

Self-care is "more than a massage, more than a vacation," Bonner points out. Her philosophy of self-care is that it should be free, take less than 15 minutes, and hit on one of the five pillars: body, mind, heart, soul, or work. Under that broader definition, self-care could be practicing gratitude, doing a kind act for someone else, or as simple as taking a few minutes to do something that makes you happy.

To combat feelings of burnout, it's also crucial to incorporate your self-care practice for home into your workspace, Bonner says. It can be as easy as taking time to eat lunch and decorating your desk.

"Even if you're using a makeshift kitchen table, put something around it that makes you feel cozy, or makes you feel connected to what you love about your job and what you love about your life," says Bonner. 

[Self-care is] more than a massage, more than a vacation.
Kelley Bonner
Licensed therapist and burnout expert

Build work-life boundaries

Rethink your relationship to work, she suggests, so that you're not always available. The first step of that process is to put limits on your hours during the day. Schedule wellness breaks, she says, because "there will always be more work than [you] have time to do." 

Have a firm time for logging off every day, too. Erin Halper, CEO of business coaching firm The Upside, previously told Grow that boundaries like those help her maintain work-life balance: "I decided that at 5 p.m., give or take, my work whistle blows and I'm on with my kids. The phone's away, the computer is away, the emails are away."

The second step is to figure out what brings you to work. When you do that, Bonner says, you can find the meaning behind the job, gig, or side hustle.

It becomes less about "getting these tasks done," she says, and more about "I really love the mission of this company," or "I'm doing this side hustle because I have these goals."  

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