We all have our own personal signs that we’re heading toward a point of burnout or exhaustion, and knowing those signs can help us take small, strategic steps to recharge and recover before our daily stress becomes cumulative and overwhelming.
We asked our Thrive community for the specific tactics they use to combat stress when they’re starting to feel drained, and we were so inspired by the small rituals they shared. The next time you feel symptoms of burnout coming on, try out some of these tips to recharge.
Try a gratitude breathing exercise
“If I have had an especially trying day, which happens often with three young kids, I take deep breaths and focus on what I’m grateful for, and what went right throughout the day. Usually, that makes me realize that even though I feel exhausted, it isn’t all that bad and that it too shall pass.”
—Meagan Robles, engineer, Bronx, N.Y.
Tap into a happy memory
“I stop what I am doing, close my eyes, and smile. I go into my memory bank of peaceful memories and focus on one, picture it clearly, and feel the calm spread over my body. I try to focus on the details I remember — colors that I see, sounds I hear, food I can taste, what I can smell. I look down and remember what I was wearing at the time, and what I was thinking. I stay in that moment for a minute, and simply breathe.”
—Vikki Louise, anxiety coach, London, U.K.
Turn to fiction
“I tend to start ruminating when I am nearing the point of burnout. The strategy I use to get my brain off that track is to read fiction book that will draw me into another world, time, or place. It works just like a charm. I’m able to take my mind off of work, and my body instantly feels relaxed.”
—Melissa Robson, learning and leadership development, St. Charles, IL
Count to 10 with your eyes closed
“When I feel drained, I take a moment to cover my eyes with my hands, or at least shield them from the strong lighting, and slowly count to ten. It’s like a mini meditation break from everything I have going on.”
—Laura Robson, human resources coordinator, Ottawa, ON, Canada
Take a dance break
“I’ve always loved dancing, and I believe motion can help you feel more relaxed. So, when I feel drained, I play a few of my favorite tunes and dance around to help me unwind. It always helps when I feel that my stress levels are getting too high.”
—Isabelle Bart, marketing director, Irvine, CA
Smell a calming essential oil
“I find that keeping an essential oil at your desk can change your life. I personally adore sandalwood. When you’re feeling stressed or before you feel a bit of anxiety coming on, simply uncap your essential oil and inhale, then exhale. Do this three times, and you’ll notice a huge difference. When in doubt, just breathe!”
—Nasir Fleming, content manager, New York, N.Y.
Color with your kids
“I have started drawing with my kids when I feel drained. I’m not particularly good at drawing, but I am learning from my kids, and I find that doing an activity as a family after a long tiring day can be so refreshing.”
—Tamanna Raisinghani, senior software engineer, Santa Barbara, CA
Try the downward-facing dog yoga pose
“I’m relatively late to yoga, but the downward-facing dog pose has been an incredible source of relief for me when I’m beginning to feel drained. Whenever I start to feel my body tense up from stress, or even anticipating stressful events, a few minutes of this yoga pose at home in the evening releases the pressure I carry in my neck.”
—Tami Nealy, public relations, Phoenix, AZ
Put on your favorite playlist
“When it comes to recharging at work, music is a go-to for me. I’ll start feeling tired and antsy at work, and turn on one of my favorite playlists to help. My favorites are Winter Acoustic (I’m actually listening to this playlist as I type this!), Chill Tracks, and Chill as Folk. Each playlist has a different genre, but really relaxes me when I’m stuck in the office.”
—Brandon Landgraf, digital marketing manager, Cleveland, OH
Schedule “green time”
“I carve out ‘green time’ into my schedule. It could be just five mindful minutes or half an hour, depending on what my day allows. I leave the phone elsewhere, go outside, breathe in the nature, look at its colors, and touch the leaves on trees or petals on flowers. There’s no better therapy than nature.”
—GiGi Diaz, radio personality, Miami, FL
Get your 10,000 steps
“Running a business full-time, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed quickly. When I start to feel burnout coming on, I make sure to incorporate 10,000 steps into my day. I put my phone on airplane mode, listen to an inspiring podcast, and walk around my city until I start to feel calmer.”
—Phoebe Dodds, content strategist, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
“When I’m drained, the thing I do is walk away. It sounds simple, but we have been brainwashed to power through and level up, so our natural instinct is to keep pushing ourselves. However, decision fatigue is real, and if you want to spark your energy, you need to just walk away and give your prefrontal cortex time to recharge.”
—Jackie Ghedine, business coach, New York, N.Y.
Take a “square breath”
“I support busy mums with their self-care routines so that they can manage the stress, anxiety and overwhelm that we all feel as parents. One strategy I recommend is taking a ‘square breath.’ You can actually draw the square of just imagine drawing a square as you breathe. Start from a point on the bottom left of your square. Then, as you breathe in and out, draw a vertical line up, a horizontal line across the top, a vertical line down, and a horizontal line across the bottom, completing the square. This exercise helps to calm your breathing and focus your mind in an instant.”
—Clare Ford, parenting coach, Kent, England, U.K.
Cuddle with your pet
“Taking a few minutes to cuddle with my dog helps a lot. That exchange of love is calming and always lifts my spirits. I strongly recommend having a pet that cuddles, whether it’s a dog, a cat, a rabbit or another pet. If you don’t have one of your own, borrow one!”
—Andrea T., digital marketing manager, Toronto, ON, Canada
Give yourself a self-compassion break
“I take a short self-compassion break when I need to reset and recharge. I exhale deeply, put my hand on my heart, tell myself ‘I’m having a hard time. Anyone feeling this way would be having a hard time too. May I be kind to myself and give myself the compassion I need.’ Then, I take another few deep breaths with my hand on my heart and allow myself to soak up the good feelings.”
—Lisa Abramson, executive coach, Menlo Park, CA
Take a power nap
“When I’m feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted, I find power naps to be helpful. Just a few days ago, I was very tired from working hard to reach a deadline at work. So, during my lunch break, I went into my car and slept for 30 minutes. I felt fresh and ready to continue working afterwards!”
—Tamanna Raisinghani, senior software engineer, Santa Barbara, CA
Call a loved one while cooking dinner
“As a full-time entrepreneur, sometimes I feel drained after a long day of meetings and client work. My favorite way to recharge is to let my mind wander without a particular purpose. I love cooking dinner while talking to my grandma on Skype, or taking a hot epsom salt bath with relaxing music in the background. Doing so lets my brain process the day, and allows me to be creative again.”
—Daria Tsvenger, personal growth expert, Los Angeles, CA
Try the “20-20-20 micro-break”
“After working at my laptop for a long period of time, my eyes sometimes burn and my shoulders feel tight. An effective strategy is the ‘20-20-20 micro-break’ that Dan Pink recommends. Every 20 minutes, l reset by looking out my window at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. I also rub lotion with lavender oil onto my shoulders. The scent coupled with knowing I stopped to care for myself puts me at ease and prepared to begin working again.”
—Molly Biehl, forgiveness coach, San Diego, CA
Draw a picture
“When I feel the warning signs that my body is soon hitting empty, I reach for my colored pencil crayons and drawing pads and scribble away. My artwork is mostly abstract, but it’s the relaxing feeling during the creative process and the finished product that has become the best pick-me-up.”
—Anna Trader, CEO, entrepreneur, Toronto, ON, Canada
Watch a movie
“As a producer managing other creative professionals, my brain is always on, and I often work to the point of exhaustion. So, at least once every two months, I break my work pattern by leaving office earlier to go to the cinema in the middle of an afternoon when rarely someone else is there. For about 90 minutes, there are distractions, and no phones. There is no other better way to quickly reboot your brain when you feel drained.”
—Marcio Delgado, global content producer and influencer marketing campaign manager, Vienna, Austria
Break a sweat
“Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of stress-reducing techniques. Nothing seemed to work because each strategy became yet another chore on my to-do list. Everything changed when I found an exercise that I enjoyed: spinning. These days, I look forward to time on my bike. I’ve learned that carving out time for myself improves my own mental well-being, and benefits my clients as well.”
—Annette Richmond, career storyteller, Norwalk, CT
Shut the lights and take a deep breath
“I used to be one of those people that didn’t think deep breathing would do much for me when I was feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depleted. I was so wrong! Once I started practicing deep breathing, it made such a huge difference. I felt calmer and was able to strategize how to approach a daunting workload. Now, during busy days, I spend 10 minutes in my office with the lights out and just breathe before I head into the second half of the day. I’ll also do shorter sessions in between tasks!”
—Marla A. Parker, Ph.D., educator and consultant, Los Angeles, CA
Repeat an empowering mantra
“Positive self-affirmations go a long way to recover from burnout. I tell myself something I hear quite often: ‘Today’s a bad day, but tomorrow will be better.’ Then, I go for a walk in the park to clear my head. Nature works wonders.”
—Sharanya Manola, freelance writer, Le Havre, France
Sip a memory-tapping tea
“After an amazing massage in Thailand, the masseuse offered me a cup of ginger tea and a Medjool date. The combination of flavors and sensations gave me an immediate sense of relief. Now back at home, whenever I feel overwhelmed and stressed, I repeat this simple ritual of warm ginger tea with one date, and it fills me with a powerful sense of calm.”
—Mallika Malhotra, photographer, Short Hills, N.J.
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