Working from home or from a coworking space can lead to more flexibility and autonomy in your career. However, it can also come with unique challenges, like feeling isolated, struggling to set boundaries, and experiencing work burnout. A staggering 86% of full-time remote workers experienced burnout last year.1 Many are asking themselves how to deal with burnout working remotely.
Burnout can affect your productivity, performance, and well-being. If you want to know how to deal with burnout as a remote worker, keep reading. We’ll discuss what burnout is (and what it isn’t), how to recognize the signs of burnout at work, and some tips on how to deal with burnout as a remote worker.
What is burnout?
Burnout is not just feeling tired or stressed. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is characterized by three main symptoms:2
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
- Increased negativity and cynicism about your job; feeling “checked out.”
- A feeling of not being good enough at your job anymore.
In other words, burnout is a combination of exhaustion and a generalized negative feeling toward your work and your ability to perform well.
What burnout isn't
The three symptoms mentioned above by themselves aren’t burnout. For example, you may think you’re burnt out just because you’re extremely exhausted, but as Dr. Christina Maslach, Ph.D., explains:
“…exhaustion is part of burnout…but it [burnout] includes more than just exhaustion. We will see people who have exhaustion, because they have way too much to do… but they still like their job; they feel good about what they’re doing…” 3
It’s also good to know that burnout isn’t a medical condition. It’s an “occupational phenomenon,” a type of response to stress at work. This means that medication isn’t typically needed to treat burnout, which is great news. A simple change in your habits is usually enough.
Signs of burnout at work
How can you tell if you’re experiencing burnout? Noticing the three symptoms of burnout are a start, but there are other telltale signs you can look out for:
- Physical symptoms. Work burnout may lead to headaches, backaches, muscle tension, fatigue, digestive problems, or lowered immunity.
- Emotional symptoms. You may also experience anxiety, depression, irritability, anger, guilt, sadness, or hopelessness.
- Behavioral symptoms. You may experience changes in your appetite, sleep patterns, social withdrawal, and procrastination.
You’re probably burnt out if you notice some of these signs, along with exhaustion and a feeling of negativity toward your work.
The question is, what can you do about it as a remote worker?
Five tips on how to deal with burnout as a remote worker
Dealing with burnout as a remote worker requires specific strategies to help you cope with the challenges of working from home:
1. Set boundaries
One of the causes of burnout for remote workers is the lack of separation between work and personal life. To avoid this, set clear boundaries between your work and personal hours and between your workspace and living spaces.
For example, you can create a dedicated distraction-free workspace that’s comfortable and ergonomic. You may also want to establish a regular work schedule that suits your preferences and needs.
2. Prioritize your health
Another cause of burnout for remote workers is the neglect of their physical and mental health. To prevent this, you need to practice self-care and prioritize your well-being. For example, you can:
- Ensure you get enough sleep.
- Exercise regularly to boost your immune system and release stress hormones.
- Meditate, do yoga, or practice mindfulness to calm your mind and emotions.
- Engage in hobbies or activities that bring you joy when you’re not working.
3. Take breaks
A third cause of burnout for remote workers is the tendency to work longer and harder than they would in an office. To avoid this, take breaks throughout the day to refresh your focus and creativity. You can use techniques like the Pomodoro technique to work in short bursts of 25 minutes followed by 5-minute breaks or the 20-20-20 rule to rest your eyes every 20 minutes by looking at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
You can use an app called Microbreak to remind yourself to take short breaks every hour or so. There are dozens of apps like it, so you can try several until you find the one that works for you.
4. Set up your routine
Having a routine helps push through days of low motivation. It also helps add enough structure to your day to fit in things like breaks and time for self-care, without disrupting your workflow.
Here’s a simple routine you can try:
- Wake up, make your bed, and meditate for 30 minutes.
- Think of a problem you’d like to solve (it can be yours or someone else’s), and brainstorm 10 possible solutions to help boost your creativity.
- Go out for a quick jog or do some body lifting, then eat a healthy breakfast.
- Start work by setting realistic and specific goals for the day, prioritizing the most important or urgent tasks.
- Plan regular breaks throughout the day to rest your eyes, stretch, and refresh your mind.
- Reach out to a colleague, a friend, or a family member during one of these breaks to stay connected. If you’re feeling particularly down or unmotivated, try reaching out to more people.
- End the day with some self-care activities to unwind and recharge.
This is a routine that works very well for many people, but you can tweak it based on your particular lifestyle.
5. Eat healthy food
Making healthy choices could be a challenge when working from home, but it’s worth the effort. So consider drinking water instead of coffee or sugary beverages, and replace processed foods, candy, and bread with fruit, nuts, and fresh vegetables as snacks. These simple changes can have a profound effect on your general health while at the same time offsetting some of the negative sides of burnout.
Staying connected to avoid burnout
Compared to working in an office, one of the biggest challenges of managing burnout as a remote worker is feeling isolated and disconnected from colleagues. You want to build a sense of community and belonging with your work team, which is challenging if you never see each other face-to-face. Here are some tips to help you stay connected as a remote worker:
- Communicate frequently. Use communications and productivity apps to stay informed, aligned, and supported. It’s better to check in too often than not enough.
- Network with other remote work peers so you have people to connect and build relationships with. Join online communities, forums, groups, or events that are relevant to your field on platforms like LinkedIn, Discord, or Reddit.
- Get out and about when possible. Remote work doesn’t have to be from home. Try working from different locations, such as a coffee shop, a library, or a coworking space, to be around other people.
- Socialize intentionally. To socialize meaningfully as a remote worker, you must do it with intent. Schedule regular virtual meetings or check-ins with your team members that are not work-related.
Managing burnout is possible
Remote work can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience if you know how to deal with burnout. By setting boundaries, practicing self-care, taking breaks, and staying connected with your colleagues, you can avoid work burnout and enjoy the benefits of remote working.
If you work from home and are considering switching from employee to freelancer, then find out how to become a freelance writer and make more money.
What are the five stages of burnout?
Burnout doesn’t just happen. It can go through several phases, including the honeymoon phase, the onset of stress, chronic stress, burnout, and habitual burnout.
In the honeymoon phase, you feel motivated and enthusiastic about new tasks, jobs, or ventures. You may experience some stress, but you cope with it using positive strategies.
In the onset-of-stress phase, you start to notice some difficulties and challenges in your work or life.
In the chronic stress phase, you start feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with the demands and pressures of your work. You may suffer from severe physical and emotional symptoms, such as high blood pressure, headaches, depression, anger, or cynicism.
Then comes the burnout phase, when you reach a point of complete exhaustion and depletion. You may feel hopeless, helpless, detached, or indifferent to your work or life. You may also experience a loss of motivation, performance, and creativity.
If you become accustomed to living in a state of burnout, you’ve reached the habitual burnout phase.
What is the best way to treat burnout?
The best way to treat burnout is by addressing the underlying causes of stress and making changes to reduce stress levels. This can include setting boundaries, practicing self-care, taking breaks, and seeking support from colleagues or a mental health professional.
How do you deal with burnout when you can't take a break?
If you can’t take a break from work, there are still steps you can take to manage burnout. These include setting boundaries between work and personal life, practicing self-care, seeking support from colleagues or a mental health professional, and making changes to reduce stress levels.