How To Deal With Burnout, According To A Health Coach


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Editor’s Note: In “Hey, Health Coach,” Sarah Hays Coomer answers reader questions about the intersection of health and overall well-being. Have a question? Send her a message (and don’t forget to use a sleuthy pseudonym!).

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Hey, Health Coach,

I work a full-time job, and I’ve got a side hustle small business I’m trying to build. I don’t have a partner or kids, so I put all my time into work. I’m exhausted and feel like I’m losing momentum on everything. I struggle with sleep. I’m not even exercising anymore. Is this burnout, and, if so, how do I get rid of it?

— Frazzled

Dear Frazzled,

Burnout can be disorienting and frustrating. It can feel like standing in a dense fog with no clue how to find your way out.

Burnout isn’t technically a clinical diagnosis separate from chronic stress, but it’s a very real experience for millions of people. According to a Deloitte Workplace Burnout Survey of 1,000 professionals, 77% of respondents have experienced burnout in their current job. Interestingly, enjoying one’s work isn’t an antidote to these feelings. Of the 89% of respondents who said they’re passionate about their work, 64% reported feeling stressed frequently[1].

Coined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s, the term “burnout” describes a constellation of symptoms, including exhaustion, lack of motivation and feelings of being disconnected or negative about work, as well as irritability, anxiety or depression. As you mentioned, it can also trigger physical symptoms like difficulty sleeping, headaches, stomach aches or a weakened immune system, making people more vulnerable to illness.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, seeking help from a therapist or other qualified professional is always a good idea. As a coach, I can’t diagnose your specific situation, but I can help you explore ways to ease the pressure and—hopefully—prevent feeling this way in the future.

Once you know how to recognize the signs of burnout and identify specific ways to respond to those signs, you may find you have an easier time heading it off at the pass. 

What Causes Burnout?

External Pressure

You didn’t mention how things are at your full-time job, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes we don’t have control over all the external demands weighing on us.

A lot of resources for burnout tell you to focus on self-care. Self-care is certainly one remedy that can help, but it puts the burden squarely on you without acknowledging that societal and professional demands are often unreasonable and in need of reform.

For example, medical professionals, teachers, social workers, first responders and people in government and military jobs don’t always have a lot of say regarding the stress placed on them. People under financial strain, in toxic work environments, parents and other caregivers experience daunting external pressures as well.

Internal Pressure

In your letter, you seem motivated to work on your small business. A project like that can be exciting. However, according to Freudenberger, being highly ambitious or having perfectionist tendencies can also exacerbate burnout.

Backing off from work can be difficult if you care a lot about the mission at hand, but if your energy is stretched too thin, basics like diet, exercise, sleep and relationships can fall by the wayside or begin to lose meaning. When that stretching goes on for too long, exhaustion sets in, and the outcome you were so excited to achieve is dimmed by the toll it took on you.

How to Manage Burnout

Burnout can be a vicious cycle—like running on a hamster wheel with no breaks for food, water or rest. Interrupting that cycle in large or small ways can help stop the spinning.

Get Away

Not everyone has the flexibility or financial means to step away from work or family responsibilities, but if you’re able, taking some time away can give you a chance to reboot.

You are the only person who can judge how much time you need. I’ve heard from many clients that it takes three days for the fog to begin to lift, and any days that follow can give you valuable perspective on what’s causing your burnout and how to manage it. If possible, resist the temptation to use the first day or two of this downtime to analyze and “fix” your situation. Your outlook and ideas may be more fruitful when your mind has had a chance to wander—and recover.

Establish Recurring Micro Breaks

If getting away for an extended period of time isn’t possible—or if you’ve successfully recharged and want to prevent future episodes of burnout—consider when and how to establish daily or weekly opportunities to escape the grind.

In the spirit of what I call microdosing wellness, take time to explore your own city (or other cities if you’re on the road for work), actively pause from the responsibilities of building your business and do something else—something fun or relaxing.

I’ve seen clients take this approach by setting a weekly window of time to rest or go on a miniature adventure. These micro breaks can occur daily as well by establishing rituals like walking at lunchtime, meditating at the beginning or end of the workday, or creating a special place to stretch or drink your morning coffee—free from work or family demands.


If work is consuming all your attention, consider reclaiming a piece of it for something specific you used to enjoy or that you’ve always wanted to try. Learning a new skill (or revisiting an old one) does take energy, but it can be a refreshing change, especially if it involves physical activity, connecting with friends or challenging your mind to work in new and different ways.

Of course, a new hobby is only worth continuing if it feeds you. If it feels like another chore, move on and try something else.


See if you can identify specific tasks that stress you out, and think about how to get help with them or hand them off to someone else. In your day job, this delegation may or may not be possible by clearly defining expectations about the scope of your work with supervisors, colleagues or assistants.

In other situations—like entrepreneurial endeavors or household responsibilities—virtual assistants, housekeepers, babysitters, salespeople or web designers can take significant weight off your shoulders, but paying for their services can be expensive. If you’re able to make a targeted investment, you might find a little more room for rest and recovery.

Friends and family members are also often happy to help, especially if they know you’re struggling. Sometimes simply communicating how you feel to someone you love—or to a trained therapist or coach—can go a long way toward easing your burden.

Eat, Sleep, Move and Connect With Your People

When you have a full-time job and a side hustle taking up all your free time, eating well and carving out time to sleep, exercise and see your friends is easier said than done, but taking care of the basics on a recurring schedule can have a real impact on your overall health.

Your question tells me that your fundamental needs aren’t being met right now, but it sounds like things haven’t always been that way. If that’s the case, you may be able to rely on past experiences to guide you forward.

  • When you had a healthier balance in your life, what were your daily rhythms like?
  • Did you have routines in the morning or before bed?
  • When and how did you exercise?
  • How often did you shop for groceries or cook?
  • What restaurants or activities did you love?
  • Who did you love hanging out with, and what did you do together?

You know better than anyone else what feels like rest or relaxation for you. One person might recharge by climbing a mountain while another might do better reading a book, throwing a party or solving a puzzle. There are no rules.

Whatever you decide, let your body be your guide. Get the support you need, and if symptoms of burnout return, hopefully you can recognize them earlier and interrupt the cycle before it starts spinning too fast.

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“Hey, Health Coach” is for informational purposes only and should not substitute for professional psychological or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about your personal situation, health or medical condition.

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