How do I ease back to work after burnout?

I had a bit of a breakdown recently and felt completely burnt out. I am now returning to work, but I am anxious that I could fall into the same pattern of working as the pace of work in my sector seems worse than it was before due to staffing shortage. How do I ease myself back in and ensure I don’t overdo it?



Burn out, anxiety, resilience, health and wellbeing have been common themes over the last few years.

It’s important that you feel comfortable speaking up if you feel overwhelmed by work. Employee health and wellbeing needs to be a top priority and stress needs to be addressed. To avoid falling into the same pattern, I’d recommend checking in regularly with your line manager and team and keep open communication. It’s also important to schedule breaks throughout the working day to help refocus, boost productivity and reduce stress.

I believe that Covid has changed how we view work. Depending on the sector and your specific role, if you can work where and when you want so long as the job gets done, then you are likely to be more engaged with your work and more effective. If you have a voice, feel part of the decision-making process, feel trusted and valued, deciding your working pattern and taking responsibility and accountability for your performance could be something you push for, if you don’t already have this option. In the majority of industries, the 9-5 regime has disappeared, as long as the job gets done that’s all that matters; if you arrange your time so as to fit work around childcare, chores, exercise, studying or whatever else matters to you, then it’s a win-win scenario.

To help ease your way back in to work, I’d recommend shaping the way you work to suit yourself – the new employment model is all about making things employee-centric, giving people freedom with accountability.

Reflect on whether you believe your employer values you and provides you with the right amount of support. The best leaders seek to connect with and understand others, they prioritise team needs and create an environment of trust and support. Such leadership is about nurturing relationships, rather than simply managing team and tasks. These are leaders who motivate others to collaborate, develop, and perform, even in difficult and uncertain times. In addressing morale and motivation it’s often the smaller things which are easiest to implement first and which may have a big impact.

To help with anxiety, understand what in the workplace environment can be adjusted to reduce stress for you, for example, considering flexible working hours, regular check-ins with your manager, negotiated downtime and understand the communication channel(s) that suits you best. Have open and honest conversations regularly, particularly if your preferences change. It’s important to be kind to yourself, understand what tasks give you energy and which drain your energy so you can look after your personal resilience.

If you do recognise yourself starting to go back to your old ways, have a tool kit to understand how you can support yourself and others can support you. It’s important to step away from the source of stress to try and regain some perspective. Accept you are stressed, have some rest in a calm place, talk about feelings and take gentle exercise. Building energy levels is key – this can cover several areas such as plenty of sleep, exercise, nutrition, fun and laughter, spending time with friends and having short bursts of time out. A couple of questions to reflect on with regard to internal resources are:

  1. Do I use others and ask for help?
  2. Do I need to please others and so take too much on?

Finally, here are some tips to manage stress effectively:

Time management – prioritise tasks and do the important jobs first. Don’t put off the unpleasant tasks, avoidance causes a great deal of stress. Give unpleasant tasks a high priority and do them first.

Know your limitations – learn to delegate effectively and be assertive enough to say ‘No’ without feeling guilty.

Be realistic – changing a difficult situation is not always possible. Recognise and accept things as they are and concentrate on what can be controlled. Managing change effectively is essential or else performance will be reduced.

Develop a positive thinking style – if something is becoming a concern then try to reframe it. Talk over problems before they get out of proportion and view things from a different and less stressful perspective.

Time out – we perform more effectively during work if we regularly take a short 10 – 15 minute break. At least one annual break of at least 10-14 continuous days is recommended.

*Liz Sebag-Montefiore is a career coach and Director of 10Eighty, a strengths-based HR consultancy. For more information, please visit

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