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The Three Necessary Burnout Recovery Stages


Let’s face it: life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes the looming deadlines and seemingly never-ending to-do lists overshadow our everyday lives, making us feel exhausted, anxious, and even a little depressed. Maybe you’ve noticed your attention-span is getting shorter, you’re experiencing a loss of appetite, or you have worsening physical aches and pains from exhaustion. If any of these symptoms describe the way you’re feeling, you could be experiencing burnout and may wish to begin your journey towards mental exhaustion recovery

In this guide we’ll outline the three necessary burnout recovery stages individuals seeking burnout treatment should follow to introduce motivation, energy, and fullfilment back into their lives. 

What are the steps of burnout recovery?

Over 46% of employees in the U.S. have experienced job burnout at some point in their career, resulting in a nearly $300 billion loss each year through employee turnover, decreased productivity, absenteeism, and various medical, legal, and insurance fees. While you’re certainly not alone in feeling burned out, you don’t have to be a part of that statistic either. If you think you’re experiencing burnout, following the burnout recovery stages will help set you back on the path of experiencing joy in your work and personal life.

A burnout recovery plan can be broken down into three stages that will help you banish burnout and prevent it from happening again in the future. These include emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy recovery. 

Emotional Exhaustion Recovery

Emotional exhaustion recovery is the first of the burnout recovery stages. Emotional exhaustion can feel like you’re stuck in a draining, never-ending situation, and its symptoms manifest as a lack of energy, poor sleep, and decreased motivation. 

To easily calm this inner turmoil, create attainable goals and clearly indicate where to focus your energy. Start by reorganizing your goal hierarchy, putting your major goal at the top and the following steps, or subgoals, in layers beneath it. 

Once you’ve finished listing out all of the steps you need to take to reach each goal, pinpoint any unnecessary steps. Try to eliminate inefficient pathways and draw a direct line between the subgoals and major goals, visualizing the simplest pathway you’ll need to take. Feeling calmer yet?

After that, try to determine the attainability of each goal. Are there any subgoals that seem less likely to be completed? High-achieving individuals who experience burnout often set unrealistic goals for themselves, which only quickens the spiral of burnout. If any of your goals or sub-goals have a low attainability, you may exhaust emotional energy that can be used elsewhere. Redirecting your focus to more attainable goals will help make your mental exhaustion recovery process smoother and easier. 

Cynicism Recovery

Following closely behind emotional exhaustion is its nasty counterpart: cynicism. CynicismCynicism often manifests itself as the feeling of detachment from your workspace or coworkers, isolating at your desk when you used to enjoy joining the group during lunch break, or just overall pessimism about your work and personal life. Cynicism sucks the joy out of your life and makes you feel disengaged, doubtful, and distrusting. Prolonged emotional exhaustion eventually leads to cynicism, making cynicism recovery the second step in the burnout recovery plan

There are a few ways to approach cynicism recovery. One way to alleviate those icky feelings is to focus on building other people up. Something as small as offering words of encouragement or taking a coworker out to lunch has been proven to make a big difference in feelings of detachment the next day.

Another way to avoid those Grinch-like tendencies is to reframe your motivation. We know, this sounds way easier said than done, but it actually is pretty easy. Most burned out individuals think in terms of avoiding the negative instead of gaining the positive. This is known as avoidance motivation, or finding validation in the absence of negative outcomes. They play to not lose. While not losing sounds like a good thing, this way of thinking actually plays an important role in burnout. 

Instead, pivot towards approach motivation, which seeks out rewards, chases after goals, and creates better overall wellbeing. This motivational approach finds validation from positive outcomes. People with this mindset aren’t just playing not to lose, they’re playing to win.

Revisit the goals you wrote down during the emotional recovery stage and determine whether they are more avoidance-focused (avoiding negative outcomes) or approach-focused (seeking out positive outcomes). Simply reframing any avoidance goals into approach goals can lead to less procrastination and higher motivation. Sounds like a win-win!

Inefficacy Recovery

After tackling emotional exhaustion and cynicism, you’re ready to face the final battle along the burnout recovery stages. Inefficacy, the final stage of burnout, creates feelings of a depleted sense of self and the belief that you’re unable to complete your work. It can make you feel unproductive, distraction-prone, and hopeless. 

It can often feel like we aren’t achieving our goals because we’re unable, when in reality, we’re just unwilling. A lack of motivation and imbalance in goals can prevent us from reaching those goals, but luckily this is treatable.

Mental effort can be divided into two categories: “have-to” tasks and “want-to” tasks. A have-to task is something you must complete even if you don’t feel proficient enough to complete it. A want-to task is a rewarding or leisure activity like scrolling through social media or perusing online shopping sites. Have-to tasks usually need to be balanced with want-to tasks, and, when the scales are uneven, that’s why you feel inefficient.

Finally, revisit once more the goal hierarchy you reorganized during the emotional recovery stage and reframed in the cynicism recovery stage. Add up how many of the tasks leading you to your goals are want-to versus have-to tasks. Because want-to tasks keep us motivated, make sure you have an even number of want-to tasks to balance out your have-to tasks. By rebalancing your workload to make room for rewarding tasks that bring you energy and joy, you’ll drastically change the way you handle your workload.

Recover with Compassion

At the end of the day, simply showing compassion does wonders for your burnout recovery plan. Whether it’s to yourself or to others, celebrating small victories and showing appreciation for one’s work has proven to improve feelings of inefficacy and burnout.

So, there you have it. Addressing feelings of emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy are all necessary stages of burnout recovery. Following a burnout recovery plan step by step not only alleviates your mental exhaustion recovery, but it also improves your quality of work and life. Make sure to take care of yourself today and every day.

If you feel like you’re experiencing burnout and don’t know where to start, Joychiever offers a wide range of eLearning courses and resources to help you get started on your burnout recovery journey. Contact us today with any questions about getting started. 

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