A bad day every day: Strategies for addressing burnout

Posted on by Nicole Reeve-Parker. This entry was posted in Staying Healthy. Bookmark the permalink.

It’s no secret that individual drive, effort and innovation are highly valued traits in the workplace, traits that result in recognition and reward in the form of promotions, pay and bonuses.

But nonstop drive, effort and innovation can come at a price.

The constant focus on success can make it difficult to allow yourself to relax, leave work thoughts behind when the day is done and find balance between work life and personal life. The result, over time, is burnout.

Burnout is something that creeps up on you. It’s that feeling you get when every day seems filled with strife and anxiety, and every day you feel less able or inclined to get your work done well—if at all.

Some people call it quiet quitting. But genuine burnout leads to an inability to successfully function on a personal, social or professional level. It squashes motivation, increases feelings of depression and can lead to physical illness and chronic stress.

Burnout is a bad day every day.

In 2019, the World Health Organization added burnout to its international classification of diseases that significantly impair health. Recent estimates place the cost of workplace stress in the U.S. at more than $190 billion in excess healthcare spending—and 120,000 deaths annually.

Globally, the financial toll of workplace burnout is estimated to be $1 trillion

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation by blurring the boundaries between work and home life with the rise of remote work arrangements, intensifying workaholism and creating barriers between colleagues and clients.

Recognizing the signs of burnout

So, how do you know if you’re headed toward burnout—or if you’re already there? Three telltale symptoms are shared by nearly everyone who is burnt out:

Exhaustion: People with burnout usually describe experiencing a complete lack of energy that manifests itself physically and/or emotionally, resulting in reduced performance and commitment to work.

Depersonalization: Those suffering from burnout tend to become perpetual pessimists, experiencing powerful feelings of detachment and cynicism, coupled with diminishing connection and commitment to work and coworkers.

Self-doubt: People experiencing burnout are often still capable of “going through the motions,” but work performance dips in tandem with a diminished sense of self.

And there can be physical manifestations: “People who experience burnout can have physical symptoms such as headaches, gastrointestinal problems and difficulty with sleep,” explained UW School of Nursing associate professor Elaine Walsh.

If any of this sounds like you, don’t despair—there are several steps you can take to restore your energy and engagement at work: engage in acts of compassion, learn ways to be more resilient, make space for intentional self-care and seek outside support.

Strategies for reducing burnout

A recent study by UW Foster School of Business faculty found that burnout can be relieved through acts of compassion: toward others, and toward oneself. Caring for others can drastically offset the self-destructive cynicism that accompanies burnout.

Self-compassion may look different for you than it does for a friend or colleague. For some, self-compassion might be getting a massage, starting a yoga or mediation practice or focusing on sleep hygiene, while for others it might be training for a 5K or working their way through an adult coloring book.

It can also help to take what’s known as a mental health day to de-stress and reset

Compassion toward others can be as simple as bringing a colleague a cup of coffee, offering to help with a project or event, or leaving a kind note on their desk. In fact, research finds kindness and helpfulness in the workplace results in employees who tend to have higher all-around well-being.

Cultivate resiliency: You can learn and practice ways to be more resilient by making small, meaningful changes. Resilience doesn’t mean never having bad days or weeks—it means rebounding from the bad days after taking the time and space needed to process.

Resilience is most cultivated by one’s social support networks, so naturally the pandemic has wreaked havoc on our resiliency. In the workplace, pandemic fallout has meant significant shrinkage of our professional networks. Positive psychology researchers suggest focusing on micromoments of positive connection with coworkers to begin rebuilding those networks.

Watch: Staying grounded workshop with Lee Davis, UW Medicine Office of Healthcare Equity

Engage in self-care: Reenergizing acts of self-care seem to be the most effective means of recovery for most people. Self-care can look like a daily mindfulness practice such as meditation or deep breathing, or something as simple as listening to your favorite music. Scheduling regular “friend time” is also helpful.

Mindfulness helps to interrupt the anxious thoughts that keep our stress levels elevated and instead helps is to focus on something that is in the present moment.

Explore guided meditations from The Whole U, including on-the-move meditations oriented to the senses.

Taking short breaks throughout the day help helps to boost your energy: a walk at lunch or mid-morning, a few minutes of stretching at your desk, or a quick meditation in a quiet space.

Get creative: Study after study has shown that drawing, doodling, coloring, and simply creating something for 20 plus minutes reduces cortisol. The best part is that previous art experience is not required to reap these benefits.

Get outside: Spending time in nature boasts benefits like reduced anxiety and improved mood. Try to carve out some time every day to get some fresh air. Going to a park or hiking on the weekend is great, but even straightforward options like a walk on your lunchbreak will help give you a little more mental space.

Forest bathing is a perfect way to experience the healing benefits of nature. Studies show that forest bathing has positive therapeutic effects on immune system function, the cardiovascular system, the respiratory system, depression and anxiety, mental relaxation, and feelings of awe that promote gratitude and selflessness.

For those who can’t go outside, studies have shown that gazing out a window or looking at nature photos or videos — including virtual tours — are also effective in promoting positive mental health.

Move your body: Exercise provides two-for-one benefits: It interrupts anxiousness in the moment and helps strengthen your body’s ability to bring you back to a calm state when faced with stressors in the future.

The Whole U offers a variety of free, live fitness and mindfulness classes each week on Zoom.

Seek additional support

If you are trying to reduce stress on your own but are still feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to reach out for help. You might start by taking advantage of UW’s employee assistance program (EAP) which is open to UW employees, their dependents and other household members.

Through UW’s EAP, you can work with a guidance consultant to help you sort through your concerns to make your life easier. You receive five free in-person counseling sessions for each issue you work to solve and can be matched with counselors who are the right fit for your situation and who have offices near your work or home.

5 Thoughts on “A bad day every day: Strategies for addressing burnout”

On October 27, 2022 at 8:41 AM, LD said:

I wonder if the University has considered listing mental health as a reason for a sick day here: https://hr.uw.edu/ops/leaves/sick/. Some may not feel they can unless it is explicitly stated.

On October 27, 2022 at 9:33 AM, Jeunai said:


This podcast episode speaks about burnout and “completing the stress cycle.” SO helpful!

On October 27, 2022 at 9:44 AM, UW Faculty said:

Interestingly, this article from our employer removes one of the primary causes of burnout: a mismatch in values between you and the system you are in. Also of interest, it puts the burden of recovering from burnout entirely on the individual instead of recognizing the systemic issues – including those that exist in the UW – that cause burnout, such as overworking employees, adding responsibilities but never taking any away, and de-humanizing individuals that occurs most intensely for marginalized groups. Burnout results from systemic issues more than individual issues, despite the attempt to paint it as an individual failing. Additionally, ‘quiet quitting’ and burnout are quite different.

    On October 27, 2022 at 12:44 PM, Nicole Reeve-Parker said:

    Thanks for the comment – you make excellent points here. I will do some research into strategies for recovery from a systemic perspective and either amend the article or write a follow-up to it.

On October 27, 2022 at 10:27 AM, Judy McMillan said:

More communication is needed between temp services and managers. Temp employees are expected to get up and running very quickly and yet not all of us learn that quickly. Temp services does not communicate this to departments. I have made it clear that I want a job that doesn’t not overwhelm me when I start and that has been my experience with temporary employment. The departments need to realize this and put together appropriate training for employees especially temporary employees

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