How to Keep From Burning Out on the Job

Last Updated Jun 7, 2009 11:02 AM EDT

Your clients are clamoring, your staff is surly, the deadlines are looming and the pressure has never been higher. Some days, just getting out of bed in the morning requires a major effort, and you're getting short-tempered and stressed out.

What's going on? It could just be a temporary thing, or you could be heading down the road to burnout.

Earlier this week, I wrote about the warning signs of burnout. If you recognized yourself in any of them -- or in the brief description above -- it's time to take action before you cross the line from stress to true distress.

What can you do? Plenty, actually, and all of it is good advice even if you're not on the verge of a breakdown. Pick some or all of these tips to get your mental health back on track and rekindle your enthusiasm for your work.

  • Get plenty of sleep. And that means quality sleep -- no catnaps in the office to make up for all-night work sessions. Skip the late-night TV and turn in at a reasonable hour so you start each day fully charged.
  • Take breaks. Turn off your cell phone, step away from your computer, and give yourself regular 5- to 10-minute breathers. If you can, take a quick walk (or drink a glass of water or cup of tea) outside; the natural light will help rejuvenate you.
  • Exercise. Yes, I know it's hard to squeeze into an already packed day, but I'm not necessarily talking about a 90-minute gym extravaganza here. Just adding a brisk walk around the block at lunchtime can help. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park at the far end of the lot, bike to work instead of drive...every little bit helps.
  • Eat better. Skip the vending machines and fast food and eat a real lunch and healthy snacks. Fruit and nuts make energy-dense, nutrient rich snacks. Stock your desk with granola bars and dried fruit and stash cut veggies in the fridge. In a pinch, a whole-wheat bagel smeared with peanut butter is quick and better for you than a Big Mac. The better nutrition will help keep your body and brain operating at optimum levels.
  • Don't skip lunch. Speaking of eating, one mistake busy professionals often make is working straight through the lunch hour. Seems like you're being more productive, but you'll see diminishing returns if you're hungry or tired. That lunch break is there to nourish both your body and mind. Even if you can only spare 20 minutes, use them every day to change your focus.
  • Take your PTO. Take a mental-health day to get grounded, spend a long weekend in the country, or use that hard-earned vacation time. You don't have to go somewhere exotic to enjoy the break; even staying home and puttering around the house can help you reset from the stresses of the office.
  • Say no. If you're overburdened, there's no harm in telling someone that you just can't accommodate another request at the moment. That counts on the home front, too.
  • And if all else fails...consult a professional. Your HR department might be able to provide you free or low-cost counseling to help you deal with work stress; if not, scheduling some time with a psychologist can help you learn techniques for handling your stress better.
How else can you prevent burnout? Share your suggestions in the comments section!
  • CC Holland

    CC Holland is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a number of national magazines. Online, she was a columnist for and writes regularly for and BNET. On the other side of the journalism desk, she's been a managing editor for ZDNet, CNet, and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, where she earned an APTRA Best News Web Site award.