How to Help Someone With Burnout

Burnout describes a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by chronic stress; this can be related to work, study, or even personal and familial responsibilities.

It’s important to catch burnout early on as untreated burnout can easily develop into more concerning mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety. If you’ve found yourself wondering how to help someone with burnout, keep reading below to find some answers.

How to Recognise Burnout in a Family Member, Friend or Colleague?

If you’re unsure how to recognise burnout, here are some key features to look out for:

  • Decreased motivation: Feeling a sense of detachment and reduced interest in pleasurable activities and/or work
  • Physical fatigue: A sense of being constantly exhausted, lacking energy, and never feeling rested or well-slept
  • Emotional exhaustion: Feeling drained emotionally, overwhelmed and unable to cope
  • Reduced performance: An inability to perform as before either at work or academically, including difficulty in meeting deadlines
  • Cognitive difficulties: Trouble with memory, concentration and reduced productivity
  • Loss of enjoyment: Losing interest or satisfaction in previously pleasurable activities
  • Change in sleeping patterns: Either difficulty sleeping or excessive sleep
  • Withdrawal from social interactions: Starting to isolate themselves, making excuses to avoid spending time with others and becoming increasingly distant
  • Neglecting self-care: Ignoring personal needs such as food, hygiene or sleep, neglecting hobbies and not making time to relax
  • Increased irritability: Becoming easily frustrated and angered, even in response to ‘minor’ inconveniences
  • Physical symptoms: Having headaches, stomachaches, or other physical complaints that do not have a clear alternative explanation
  • Feelings of cynicism and detachment: Feeling negative or cynical towards work, other people, or life in general

How Can I Help Someone With Burnout?

What to do in order to help someone with burnout depends on your role in their life, and what the source of their burnout is. For example, if you are a family member, and their burnout is coming from their work, it can be difficult to intervene. However, your caring presence and willingness to help can make a real difference in the ongoing journey to recovery.

Offer Emotional Support

The first step can be simply to offer a shoulder to lean on. It is important to show empathy and understanding by listening without judgement. This includes acknowledging their feelings and validating their experiences.

Remember that not everyone wants to hear ‘solutions’ or ‘why’ this is happening – if someone is experiencing burnout it is likely that they will blame themselves for whatever suggestions you might have.

It is also key to refrain from pushing them to ‘pack it in’ or ‘snap out of it’. Recovering from burnout and finding balance in life takes time, and is difficult to do.

Practical Steps

You might be thinking that’s all very well and good, but what can I do to help someone recover from burnout? The most practical step you can take is helping with tasks. Those with burnout often struggle to delegate to others, so taking some work on yourself to lighten the load can make a big difference.

This can be as simple as doing the dishes, or cooking dinner for them. Be sure you encourage them to take breaks when they can, and offer them distractions when they do make the time. Engaging them in activities that are novel, exciting, or relaxing can help to turn the gears in their brains off for a short time.

The ultimate key is to check-in with them regularly. Reaching out and letting your loved one know that you care goes a long way to providing comfort and reassurance. This also gives them multiple chances to speak up and ask for help themselves.

Seek Professional Support

Asking for help sometimes needs to go beyond the family or friend circle and needs to involve professional support. A psychologist or mental health professional is the best person to directly address the symptoms and root causes for those suffering from burnout. They will be able to provide skills and resources that not only support your loved one in their recovery, but also prevent the burnout from occurring in the future.

Some providers, like Clinic Les Alpes, also involve the family and friends of those suffering from burnout to ensure that the whole social unit is part of the long-term recovery. If you believe that you, or one of your loved ones, would benefit from professional help with burnout, please feel free to contact us for more information.

How Do You Comfort Someone Who Is Burnt Out?

The key to comforting someone involves providing them with a space that feels safe, empathetic, and non-judgemental.  Ultimately you want to aim to provide a relationship where the person suffering from burnout feels they express themselves and be received with love and understanding.

The most important step in doing this is to validate their experience – express that you understand why they feel this way, it is understandable why they feel this way, and you want to do anything you can to help them in their recovery.

How Can I Help My Friend With Burnout at Work?

It can be difficult to see a friend struggling at work, and often we can feel quite powerless or helpless to intervene when it comes to the question of work. Perhaps you have even expressed your concern and have been rebuffed or told not to worry.

Though it can seem frustrating, it’s important that the person suffering from burnout feels that they have a consistent and safe space to come back to in you and your friendship. Take some time to attempt to integrate the tools and techniques that are outlined above, and keep in mind our recommendations for what you should and shouldn’t say below.

What to Say to Someone Who Is Burnt Out

Burnout is a sensitive issue, and your approach to someone suffering from it can make a big difference to their wellbeing and how safe they feel with you. Make sure that you do:

  • Express empathy: Show understanding and let them know you are here for them
  • Listen actively: Allow them to speak their mind, and avoid interrupting or interpreting where possible
  • Validate their experience: Let them know that you believe they have burnout, and that it’s ok if they feel exhausted or overwhelmed
  • Encourage rest and self-care: Let them know it’s ok to take time off to rest, and to engage in activities that are designed to relax and be pleasurable
  • Offer help: Avoid telling them what you can do, and instead ask what they would find helpful, and how you can take some of the load off their plate
  • Recommend professional help: Suggest that they seek some professional support if they feel that their burnout is really affect them and their daily life

What Not to Say to Someone With Burnout

Some statements are likely to only make burnout worse, even if our intention is only to help. Make sure that you avoid:

  • Minimising their feelings: Do not make statements such as “Get over it”, “Toughen up”, or “It’s not that bad”. Invalidating the experience of burnout makes people feel isolated and dismissed
  • Blame or criticise: Those with burnout are likely already blaming and criticising themselves. Remember that burnout is caused by external factors, not personal failings
  • Offer unsolicited advice: Many people are not looking for solutions when they seek support. Give them the tools to make their own decisions about what to do
  • Pressure to perform: Those with burnout need time and space to recover. Adding pressure to their shoulders will only serve to aggravate the situation
  • Compare experiences: Everyone’s experience of burnout is unique, comparing your own experiences or those of others is not helpful.
  • Gossip about the situation with others: It is important to respect everyone’s privacy, and keep their burnout confidential unless they give you permission to share

Burnout is a serious matter, and can affect individuals on a physical, emotional, and psychological level. It is important to keep an eye on the potential symptoms and encourage those suffering from it to seek professional support before it develops into another more chronic illness.

When wondering how to help someone with burnout, the key will always be to approach with compassion, understanding, and care.

Clinically Reviewed By

Brittany Hunt

Brittany Hunt is an internationally experienced clinician, specialised in treating addictions and co-occurring disorders. Having worked in the public and private sector, she utilises holistic and evidence-based approaches designed to empower the patients in their recovery journeys. A graduate of The University of Auckland, she has a Bachelor of Health Sciences majoring in Mental Health and Addictions, a diploma in Psychology and Counselling and a Post-Graduate degree in Health Sciences, majoring in Addictions. She is a fully registered practitioner under the Drug and Alcohol Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (DAPAANZ).

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