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What I Do When I’m Feeling Burnt Out, According to 7 Therapists

Here are the tactics the professionals use when they're feeling overwhelmed.

The world is a high-pressure place, especially right now, and especially for parents. When balancing work, parenting, financial worries, extended family care, and other such issues, the risk of parental burnout is high. If you don’t recognize the signs and take active steps to mitigate your stress, it’s only a matter of time before it overwhelms you, leading to you feeling physically and emotionally drained. 

There are plenty of therapist-recommended tips to prevent burnout or to help those around you handle it. But we wondered: What do therapists do when they’re feeling burnout? What tactics do they go to when they feel the creeping threat of exhaustion? We asked eight therapists to fill us in. Here’s what they said. 

I Plan Things to Look Forward To

*I have things that I look forward to each day. This helps me refuel my wellbeing tank. These are usually small scale items, like watching “Wicked Tuna” on Disney Plus after my daughter goes to bed, making a nice dinner for my family. Anytime my husband cooks I know it’s going to be amazing. Talking with my mom on the phone before I start my day. It’s nothing on a grand scale, but these things bring me joy and I make sure to have at least one thing scheduled each day. For me, when I am looking forward to something, it helps my mood and makes a very busy day go by with more ease.” –Angela Ficken, Psychotherapist

I Write My Emotions Down

“I get a pen and paper and write down any negative or unwanted emotions that I am feeling. Once it is on paper I can then be disconnected from these thoughts which means I can look at it objectively and rationally. Burnout happens when you try and control everything that happens in your life. You want to predict and plan everything. Unless you are a fortune telling, you cannot control the outcome of what is going to happen. Therefore I let go of the past and the future to focus on the here and now.” –Jacquie Case, Emotional Health Consultant 

I Work to Close My Stress Cycle

“Think about your natural tendency to respond to stress and then do the opposite. Ironically, we tend to respond to stress in ways that are the least helpful to us. For example if you’re a person that naturally withdraws and isolates when stressed, make an active effort to connect with others. Consider the seven ways to close the stress cycle as proposed in the book Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski: Physical activity, breathing, positive social interaction, crying, laughter, affection, and creative expression. Find which of these seven strategies works best for you. I know that for me, I do best with crying, laughter and positive social interaction. When I get any of these three things — or even better a combination of them all — I feel better and more capable of continuing on.” — Jessica Small, licensed marriage and family therapist

I Take Breaks

“Take a break. The human mind is way more efficient than robots and computers but, it still requires a reset. Exhaustion can break down your cells and, your brain will be auto shut. To take a safety measure, relax. Go on vacation. Focus on self-care and prioritize the well-being of you and your family. Take a day out and spend time with your family, cooking in the backyard and reading to your kids, singing to your partner, and taking a walk down memory lane with parents.”  — Amelia Alvin, psychiatrist

I Have Different Coping Skills At the Ready

“Professionally, I encourage my patients to try one or two new coping skills for a few weeks to see if they work. Coping skills aren’t going to work overnight and might not work in every situation. For instance, there are times when reading doesn’t do it for me and I need to pull out a different coping skill. That’s okay, Find a few coping skills that work for you and do them. Remember, not all coping skills work the same. For instance, some people love working out. If you asked me to work out as a coping skill I would laugh. That is not relaxing or recharging at all to me.” —Dr. Nicole Lacherza-Drew, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist

I Turn Down the Volume on Self-Judgement

“Perhaps the most pertinent coping skill for me is turning down the volume on self-judgment for external limitations on getting where I feel I ‘should’ be by now.  Some would say this is giving up or letting go of our standards; to me, it is being selective and distinguishing what is important and deserving of investing our emotional energy into.

Being able to distinguish the values that require this energy is a strength. Owning where I am and my limitations when it is not where I want to be is very uncomfortable. I have learned that taking the time to practice the pause, will help me to regenerate my emotional, mental, and physical energy as well as allow room to reintroduce the point of why I chose this career or life path. We continue to grow and evolve with a shift in perception with every new experience or goal, so I try my best to accept and enjoy each day from a moment to moment basis. By being mindful of the various moments that constitute an entire day, I am then able to see the full range in the reel of pictures.” — Habiba Zaman, Therapist

I Acknowledge the Feeling and Refrain from Powering Through

“When we’re feeling burned out, first and foremost, we need to acknowledge it. We can often worsen our condition when we keep trying to “power through” and ignore our symptoms. Much of the time, clearing out your schedule, if only for a day, can be a really helpful refresh. Having a day that doesn’t have a single meeting on it can be incredibly helpful. Some other tips that are helpful include getting fresh air at least once a day, cutting back on alcohol and substance use, and having phone-free time. Know as well that burnout can resolve. When we’re in the thick of it, we often feel like the burnout will never go away. It does — but you need to commit to implementing the changes you need for both short-term and long-term changes.” — Dr. Lauren Cook, Therapist