Are you feeling mentally exhausted? You’re not alone. This year has been intense and many of us are feeling distressed, anxious, or even afraid. In short, we’re all burnt out.
Burnout is a state of emotional and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. Too much stress can feel like a never-ending circle –– causing emotional and physical effects that prevent you from effectively carrying out day-to-day activities.
If we’re going to move forward, we need to find better coping mechanisms instead of staying in a stressed-out state. Here are seven coping mechanisms recommended by mental health experts to help you recover from burnout.
Schedule “Worry Time”
There’s definitely a lot to worry about these days, but thinking about all of it can leave you feeling drained. Annie Miller, a psychotherapist, advises making a specific time during the day to worry and plan. Designate a time each day to just think about your stressors and use your coping mechanisms to calm yourself down.
“Scheduling worry time trains your brain to have a contained time during the day to think about difficult things. The idea is to minimize worry and stress by scheduling it into your day. Acknowledge anything you are worried about and make plans for addressing any issues. Choose a time that is far enough away from your bedtime so that your brain has time to settle before you go to bed. After your worry time is over, put the stressful things aside and remind yourself that it’s not time to worry right now and move onto other things. Your brain will eventually get used to this new routine and it will start to be able to let worries go more easily,” she says.
When you feel overwhelmed, it may be helpful to open up a page in a notebook and write about your thoughts. Not only will this allow you to recognize your emotions at the moment, but also keep track of them over time. Taking a pause to document how you are feeling can result in positive health outcomes, says Kristin Meekhof, a therapist and author of A Widow’s Guide to Healing.
“I use writing (longhand) 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. In other words, I’ll write as if there was a positive outcome. So I’ll start with “It feels like a miracle happened. This was resolved….” and I’ll write in as much detail as I can how things worked out. My anxiety decreases, and I feel a shift in my energy knowing that I’m writing about a favorable result,” she says.
Nurture a Hopeful Attitude
You may be having a lot of uncertainty about what the future will hold, but this can be tackled with a hopeful attitude. Start thinking about the positive highlights of your day instead of brooding over what is to come. Be your personal cheerleader and motivate yourself to succeed.
Dr. James Zender, a clinical and forensic psychologist says, “My training analyst who was a Holocaust survivor used to tell me he would often fall into fits of despair and would tell his aunt about how hopeless his situation was. She would listen quietly and when he finished telling about his woes, she would simply say, “We will prevail, we will prevail.” We all need this kind of person in our lives who can remind us “we will prevail.” Research has demonstrated the power of visualizing yourself as being successful or victorious. Try it. It does not cost anything. It does not cost to dream and imagine the life you would like to have or the person you would like to become.”
Relax Your Muscles
When feeling burnt out, you may start experiencing fatigue and or aches in your muscles. A consequence of chronic stress can result in long-term physical pain as well––but it can be prevented. Take a few minutes each day to relax your muscles whenever you feel anxious or stressed, says Dr. Rebecca Leslie, a clinical psychologist.
“Progressive muscle relaxation helps you to notice where you are holding the tension and then helps you relax the tension in that area. When you do progressive muscle relaxation an added benefit is that you are not in your head worrying, but present and focused. You can start by tensing your toes, holding this tension for several seconds, and then relaxing them. You do this with all the parts of your body, from your toes to your head. It is a great way to relax your body,” she says.
Research shows that our connection to nature influences our mental health and wellbeing. A study found that people who spent at least 120 minutes a week in an outdoor setting were more likely to optimize their psychological and physical well-being compared to those who did not. There are endless ways you can soak in sunshine and nature to capture these invigorating benefits, recommends Dr. Nekeshia Hammond, a clinical psychologist, author, and speaker.
“Enjoying nature comes in many forms. Time in nature might include a quiet walk by yourself or taking the time to watch the sunrise or sunset. Spending time in nature can be as easy as walking outside and appreciating a short period of fresh air. Feeling adventurous? Head for a run or a hike in a new place. Nature has many healing benefits for your mental health,” she says.
Take a Deep Breath
Don’t you just wish you can take in all of your worries and have it magically disappear? Well, you can with mindful breathing. Slowly inhale all of your negative thoughts and exhale, thinking about the most positive and hopeful things in your life. Whenever you feel exhausted, try taking deep breaths to trigger your body’s relaxation response.
Sarah Belarde, a psychotherapist, says, “Deep breathing or diaphragm breathing can help us cope with burnout by lowering our heart rate and cortisol (stress hormone) levels. When we practice 15-20 deep breaths we are slowing ourselves down and increasing oxygen levels in our body allowing us to enter a more relaxed and focused state.”
See a Mental Health Professional
If you feel like you are not able to control your emotions, it may be time to seek professional help. Speak to your healthcare provider about seeing a mental health specialist to work on effective strategies to deal with burnout. Coping mechanisms like mindfulness or journaling can be helpful adjuncts to any treatment, but they are not therapy, says Dr. Aimee Martinez, a clinical psychologist.
“Burnout is a slow burn. Part of treating burnout would be to work with someone in identifying feelings and experiences that get evoked when they become overworked. Developing an understanding of the deeper feelings that are evoked can help get below the symptoms to a deeper meaning. One of the wonderful benefits of a psychoanalytic treatment (anywhere from 1-4x per week) is the experience of being filled up emotionally to help get ahead of or combat symptoms of burnout,” she says.
Anika Nayak is a Florida-based freelance journalist specializing in lifestyle, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. Her articles have appeared in dozens of publications including Architectural Digest, Business Insider, Elite Daily, Greatist, HuffPost, Rewire, SELF, and The Lily.