If you’re feeling stressed and burned out, you are not alone. In a McKinsey Health Institute survey, a quarter of employees reported experiencing burnout symptoms. A survey by the American Psychological Association found that “an alarming proportion” of adults reported that stress has an impact on their day-to-day functioning, with more than a quarter (27%) saying that most days they are so stressed they can’t function. They also found that around three-quarters of adults (76%) say they have experienced health impacts due to stress in the prior month.
I’ve been there and I’ve also seen so many people in my community experience anxiety, stress, and burnout over the years. While there are long-term strategies you can use to support your wellbeing like therapy and meditation, there are also a few things you can do for immediate relief.
All of these activities don’t take a lot of time, but they do take some time — time we often tell ourselves that we don’t have. I get it; most of us are busy. Many of us have responsibilities other than ourselves, like work, relationships, caregiving, second jobs, household responsibilities, and more.
But all of this busyness means that we push our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and care to the side as something to take care of “when we have time.” Then many of us admit to spending large amounts of time on more numbing activities such as binging TV or scrolling social media to “decompress.” But what if we took a more proactive approach?
Here are four of my favorite ways you can find more immediate relief for stress and burnout.
Acknowledge and validate your feelings and notice the impact that stress has on your mind and body
If you’re feeling stressed or burned out, have you taken the time to stop and acknowledge how you feel? Say you’re stressed about work or your job is burning you out. Instead of suppressing your feelings to get through the day or week and then swinging in the other direction by lashing out or spending hours scrolling job boards to look for something else, sit with your feelings.
If you have a stressful interaction with your boss, rather than powering through to the next thing, take time afterward to validate your emotions: It makes total sense that I’m stressed out. See what happens in your body and how you react. Is your heart beating faster? Are your shoulders tight? Are you clenching your teeth? Is there anything you can do to relieve those physical symptoms before you move on with your day so the stress doesn’t continue to build up?
Simply noticing what’s going on, validating how we feel, and relieving some of our physical symptoms can do a lot for our mental health.
Focusing on your breath is one simple way that almost anyone can reduce the symptoms of stress, calm their mind and body, and be in a better position to tackle their next steps. You can try an exercise like four-square breathing or alternate nostril breathing, but just deep breathing can be beneficial for your mental health and studies have revealed that it can help reduce anxiety, depression, and stress.
If you struggle to sit there and breathe on your own, try a guided meditation so someone is literally telling you exactly what to do or a walking meditation if you would rather move your body. If you want to be proactive, when you’re not feeling burned out or stressed, find a guided meditation that seems good to you and bookmark it so you have a go-to when you need it.
When it comes to meditation, again, it’s usually a practice that we develop over time, but anyone can breathe. The next time you’re stressed, don’t ignore it. Set your phone timer for one minute, three minutes, or even five minutes and just breathe.
Movement and physical activity
For immediate relief, we’re not aiming for goal-setting or grand gestures; just simple, impactful actions that will help us care for ourselves in a time of need.
Of course incorporating exercise and physical activity into our weekly routine can be beneficial for both our physical and mental health, you don’t have to hit the gym or even change clothes to move your body and relieve stress.
Take a walk, in the fresh air if possible. Head for a spot in a park or green space and even practice your breathing there! If you’re feeling the symptoms of stress and anxiety and don’t have the time or ability to take a walk, stand up and shake out your limbs, reach for your toes and then the sky, or roll your shoulders.
We often ignore what our bodies are trying to tell us, especially in times of stress, and introducing stretching or movement into our day can give our minds a little boost.
Talk to someone
Chances are, if you’re dealing with stress and burnout, you’ve been thinking about talking to a therapist or coach if you don’t already. If you haven’t worked with a therapist or coach, making a plan to finally start can often give us a sense of peace by taking a big step toward tackling our stress and burnout.
If therapy or coaching aren’t financially available to you, free and low-cost mental health resources are available in many places. You can also turn to your community for support. Say to a trusted friend or family member, “Hey, I’m feeling pretty stressed right now and just need someone to talk to. I’m not looking to problem solve, I just need to say some things out loud. Is there a good time for us to talk?”
Journaling is also a good tool. Like meditation, it’s most effective when it’s a practice that we do regularly, but when you’re stressed, just getting your thoughts out of your head can be cathartic. It doesn’t matter how it looks or sounds or whether you even write in an actual journal. Just grab a piece of paper, open up a document on your phone or computer, or even record yourself speaking to gain a little relief (and possibly perspective).
One-off acts of self-care won’t completely manage stress and beat burnout
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do those actions at all. When it comes to tackling stress and burnout, something is better than nothing. Ignoring those feelings and symptoms will not make them go away.
The aim is to recognize that stress or burnout is what you’re experiencing, explore where it might be coming from, take steps to move you into a place where you can make a plan to address the stress and burnout long-term, and then take action to make the changes you need to in order to be well.