Burnout is a very real problem, but it’s not always easy to recognise when you’re heading towards it, and many people fail to treat it with the seriousness it deserves.

While it’s not an official medical condition, burnout is recognised by the World Health Organization, which characterises it as “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion”, “increased mental distance from one’s job”, “feelings of negativism or cynicism”, and “reduced professional efficacy”.

This definition centres on work, but stress at work may also lead to burnout in our personal lives, or vice versa. This more all-encompassing form of burnout can leave you feeling overwhelmed, unable to get things done, stressed, anxious and more.

Whether you think you have reached the point of burnout or you are on the way to it, the solution is all about taking time to take care of yourself.

This phrase has become a little overused in the age of Instagram and ‘self care’ mantras, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

What should you do while you take this time out? Here are five suggestions that will prevent or alleviate burnout (please note that if you are struggling with depression or severe anxiety you should seek professional help).

1. Reduce your guilt

Your busy life may involve you caring for other people who rely on you, leading you to feel guilty about taking time for yourself. You need to address this feeling early on in order to get the most out of the rest of the points in this list.

A good way to think about it is to remember the instruction you’re given on a flight: help yourself before helping others. Taking time out for yourself is certainly about helping you live a happier and healthier life (in fact, that’s the most important thing!), but it will also make you more stable, productive and good-tempered for those around you. Tell people in your life how you’re feeling and what you plan to do; they are sure to be supportive.

2. Know what you can and can’t control

Find some time, even if it’s just fifteen minutes before bed, to sit with a pen and paper. Draw a line down the centre of the page, and add the headings ‘Things I can control’ and ‘Things I can’t control’. Write down a list of things that are worrying you under each heading, leaving some space in between. The points should be deep or ongoing stresses rather than your to-do list for the next day.

Then go back through the list: next to every point that you can control, write a step you’re going to take towards tackling it, no matter how big or small. Next to the things that you can’t control, either think of a reason why things aren’t as bad as they seem and write that down, or write one thing you’re going to do that could help you mentally handle it (like calling a friend to discuss it, or learning more about the issue).

It can be intimidating to see all your anxieties down on paper, but it can also help clear a jumbled mind and ease feelings of being overwhelmed.

3. Treat yourself

Another phrase that is overused, yet so important! You might not be in a position to jet off to the Caribbean alone for a week, but it’s still so important to book in something to look forward to (when it’s possible to do so, of course). A relaxing spa day can do wonders for the mind, or if not an entire day then a massage, treatment, swim or stint in a sauna. Leave your phone at home and make sure you commit fully to slowing down your overworked mind.

4. Eat and drink better

Your physical health affects your mental health: you know it, but are you doing enough about it? Drink two big bottles of water a day, and do it from a stylish bottle if that helps you. Spend a week with only healthy snacks in the house, or take on a challenge like a dry month (doing things in chunks of time makes them feel more manageable). Meal prep where you can, with a focus on nutritional balance – there are so many resources online to help with this, so find one that makes sense to you.

5. Take regular breaks and keep moving

Taking even just ten or twenty minutes away from your desk or workplace to prep and eat lunch, ideally finished up with some fresh air and a quick walk, will boost your afternoon productivity and give you time to process what you’re already accomplished.

It’s also crucial to get up and stretch your legs every hour at the very minimum, and to get your heart rate up every day (if you’re really swamped, this can be as simple as sticking on some great music and spending five or ten minutes doing jumping jacks or jogging on the spot).

When combined, all of these activities can leave you more fulfilled, productive, healthy and less at risk of burnout. Remember, they all inform one another – don’t feel guilty about treating yourself, don’t neglect your health just to get through your to-do list, and don’t waste time overthinking problems you can’t solve. The people in your life deserve it, but most importantly, so do you.

If you're an adult carer living in Gateshead, you might be eligible for a grant from the Carer Wellbeing Fund. If you're a young carer, you can apply to the Young Carer Wellbeing Fund.

Lily is a freelance writer and a passionate advocate for mental health. From a young age, Lily volunteered her time at local care homes, to help provide some companionship, and was inspired by the dedicated staff she met. When Lily isn't writing, you can find her getting stuck in to a book, or walking in the countryside with her dog Griffin.


Lab Spa: How to eat better at home this new year

World Health Organisation - Burn-out an "occupational phenomenon"

NHS: Why we should sit less

And thanks to Maureen Kew from the Young Carer Service for her input