The length of time it takes to recover from burnout varies between days, months, and years. It depends on how long your burnout has been building, how intensely you have fallen into a burnout, and how quickly you can remove or better cope with your burnout triggers.

In this article, we’ll go deep on the signs to look out for that signal you could be at risk of burnout and the recovery process. If you are an individual or company seeking bespoke support with burnout, contact burnout expert Emma at emma@defeatburnout.com. I offer a range of 1:1 coaching options, self-study courses, masterclasses and voice note and text coaching to help you collapse time on your recovery.

This article does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing a severe health condition, then you should consult a medical professional.


The signs of burnout

Burnout is the name we use to describe a condition of extreme stress that can result in a mental and physical breakdown if left untreated. The symptoms can sneak up on us over time and are easy to associate with other things, and therefore, dismiss.

Christina Maslach, a leading burnout expert, categorises the symptoms of burnout into three areas.

  1. Physical and emotional exhaustion – involving extreme fatigue of the kind that can not be cured by a good night’s sleep.
  2. Cynicism and detachment – feeling increasingly pessimistic about your job, and perhaps your home life. You may start to hide away from others, and possibly become irritable or tearful.
  3. Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment – it starts to feel harder and harder to do activities. You may experience brain fog and other unclear thought processes. You may start losing your short term memory.

burned out woman

Can you recover from burnout?

When I was first treated for burnout by a psychiatrist, I asked whether I was broken for life. He told me that it would take time, but that I would make a full recovery. In his experience, the length of time that the burnout had been brewing was how long it took to come out the other side.

That’s where I then drew a blank. I’d always worked in high stress, high-pressure environments, and up until now, I thought I had thrived in them. Just when had that switch happened?

At the time, I found it hard to believe that I would recover, but my psychiatrist was right, I did recover. It happened very slowly, with minor improvements in the following months, culminating in significant improvements within three months and then six months. By my first anniversary, I felt like a whole person again.

But that’s my experience from a severe burnout that led to complete breakdown.

If you have experienced a few of the physical symptoms and listen to your body immediately, it hopefully won’t reach that stage. Chronic stress levels leave clues. Early on, it could be the case that all you need is to listen to your body, take a weekend off, have a holiday, or talk to someone. If you feel your symptoms easing, then you know you’ve found a routine and resources that work for you.

Some busy executives manage to keep their stress in check simply with a morning exercise routine that gives them perspective and balance.

Workplaces are increasingly aware and supportive of employees’ wellbeing needs and mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, which are connected to burnout. If you feel overwhelmed by your to-do list, there is strength in reaching out for support. If it’s impossible to do that with your colleagues, see if your company offers a confidential employee support and advice line.

How to recover from burnout

The best way to recover from burnout depends on how severe your symptoms are. For example, with a less severe job burnout, you may feel immediate benefit from:

  • prioritising rest, whether that’s longer nightly sleep, reducing your work hours or taking a holiday.
  • regular exercise, especially yoga, which has strong mental health benefits.
  • eating nutritious food.
  • spending less time on social media and work communications.

If your burnout is more severe, for example, overwhelming stress, exhaustion, and heart palpitations, then you may need expert medical attention. Your burnout recovery may include:

  • seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist
  • cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)
  • medication for anxiety or depression
  • working with a burnout mentor or coach for support with your recovery
  • time off work for medical leave
  • a phased return to work with fewer hours and responsibilities
  • ultimately a change in career or job role if there is no way for you to reduce your stress to an acceptable level in that environment
  • nutritional guidance for overall well being
  • time to reconnect with things that bring you joy
  • an exercise plan tailored to your energy levels and adapted at various stages of your burnout recovery. For example, initially short walks and building to more strenuous activities over time as your exhaustion decreases.

No matter what level of burnout you are experiencing, you can be proactive in your own recovery.

I offer the following support options to help individuals collapse time on burnout recovery:

Happy woman

My story

I experienced a serious burnout in 2017. In hindsight, it had been building for some time. I’d been working flat out in my career for years and neglecting to take proper care of my mental and physical health in the process.

I was in a very dark place with little to no energy for at least three months. The extent of my illness meant that working was not an option, and I had to see a psychiatrist, take medication, and go to weekly cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) sessions.

I did not see it coming, and I struggled to comprehend how it had happened to ‘someone like me’. I’d prided myself on being a tough cookie who was incredibly resilient and a career powerhouse. Now, I wasn’t sleeping, and I was in physical pain. Everything felt impossible and scary.

At that stage, I was pretty much convinced that my life was over and that I’d feel this broken forever. I am now writing this article three years on, and I can safely say that is not the case. However, burnout has changed me. It led me to leave the corporate world and be my own boss to more easily balance my needs with my need to achieve. I’m also now far more conscious of the need to be kind to myself and be more empathetic to others. I now realise there are times when individuals can’t pull themselves together; I was one of them.

I’ve realised that time is limited, and I only want to spend my time on things that feel meaningful.

How I recovered from burnout

Medical professionals guided my recovery due to its severity and because I was unable to work initially. However, I also did my own research and built some additional recovery strategies based on my mindset.

I realised that I had developed some negative thoughts about the world and lost my confidence and motivation. While CBT helped with this a little, I found a better answer within the personal development literature. The things that helped me to improve my thoughts and feelings included:

  • Journalling. For the first time in my life, I forced myself to spend time with my feelings and let everything come out. I even ended up writing my burnout story in a book that I plan to publish to help others.
  • Time with loved ones. While it was great to receive some support from the team at work, my family were the people I felt I could most be myself around without putting on a mask. They were there for me at every step of my recovery.
  • Finding new ways to make my brain work. After always being a high flying professional, it was tough to stop working, and I lost a sense of my self-worth in the process. I filled the gap by taking baby steps to learn new skills as my energy and concentration allowed. During the early stages of my recovery, I could not read or concentrate on a TV programme. As my wellbeing improved, I would read for short periods, and then progressed to taking a self-development course that connected me with a new network of people and the satisfaction of learning something new.
  • Gentle exercise. I had always been a fan of pushing myself hard to burn the maximum calories. Burnout forced my body to stop and then take baby steps to get it fit again. I progressed from gentle walks to gentle yoga, which I found helped me to regain some control of my mind and stop it spinning with too many thoughts.
  • Reframing my thinking. Burnout taught me how to focus on and be thankful for what I had, rather than mourning the lack of what I used to have. In this way, I set new goals for my life that have ultimately led to me being far happier and satisfied than I was when I put all my self-worth and energy into my corporate career. I realised that there were very few aspects of it that I missed, and that I had missed out on so much life outside of the office, which I began to rediscover.
  • Investing in coaching and mentorship to find myself again and come out the other side stronger. For me, that path involved rewiring how I think and completely changing my career to one that now lights me up and is easy for me to be at my best in for the long term. That’s why I am now so passionate about working with individuals to help them do the same. Find out more about working with me as your burnout mentor.

Get support to break free from burnout

If you are reading this and dealing with a burnout, trust that you will recover. If, like me, you find it hard to believe at this stage, borrow my belief that it will happen.

I offer the following support options to help you to collapse time on burnout recovery:

And the following free resources:

Video: Can I recover from burnout?

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