The Return To Work After Burnout


I work with many clients who have experienced burnout and have taken time away from work to seek help. Whether a client hopes to return to the same work or is planning an entirely new career direction, they envision the return with a mix of contrasting experiences and feelings: renewed energy, fresh perspectives and an excitement about re-engaging with work and at the same time, fear and worry about a potential return of burnout.

Supporting a client to address, accept and manage these different feelings, and encouraging them to apply the new perspectives and personal strengths they have discovered while taking time away from work is vital to helping a client experience their return to work as positive and empowering.

The complex web of feelings and experiences that accompany burnout

For many clients who have chosen, and are able, to take some time away from work, the physical and emotional relief (and release) from the day-to-day stressors and their specific symptoms of burnout are often accompanied by a great sense of vibrancy and well-being. Clients suddenly have the time and space to reflect, gain perspective, re-connect with their lives, connect deeply with their experiencing and focus on their physical and emotional health.

Others I have worked with can also experience tremendous stress for “succumbing” to burnout. Some clients feel ashamed for not pushing through, for not possessing what they perceive to be the inner fortitude necessary to triumph over burnout. Clients may feel guilty for not being at work every day. Burnout can make us feel separated from the relationships and connections our work provides and we can feel isolated from what “the rest of the world is doing”. Many clients feel uncomfortable for not contributing financially to their families or they feel guilty for accessing savings so that they can take time off.

Working with a client who is experiencing burnout - an existential approach

A comfortable conversation with a client, addressing their specific and unique symptoms of burnout is the first step in our work together. The process then becomes one of developing greater self-awareness, self-compassion, perspective, insight and understanding. The goal is to feel re-connected with oneself and one’s experiences, to both recognize and feel the value of one’s life, to discover inner resources and resilience, and to compassionately release self-criticism and judgement. All of this includes the practice of “holding” the many contrasting feelings that comprise our experience of burnout. “Holding” refers to our ability to accept and live comfortably with contrast. It is our ability to manage realistically, with practice, awareness and perspective, our many emotions and experiences.

Burnout is a strong internal beacon that offers us a great deal of information about what we are experiencing. Burnout therefore has meaning. As with any struggle in life when we are open and compassionately curious about what we are experiencing we have greater access to its meaning. We expand our capacity to examine our attitudes and position towards a challenging situation. We become more flexible and receptive to discovering inner resources. And when we integrate and apply these new perspectives and capacities, we become equipped with powerful skills with which to return to work.

The practice of burnout prevention:

* Make it a daily practice to take the time and make the space to reflect on your experiences, actions, your engagements with others, and the day’s activities. Reflection develops greater self-awareness. And self-awareness is a key to discovering personal resiliencies that you can trust, access and rely upon.
* Incorporate into your life personally manageable approaches to stress reduction: relaxation, physical activity, meditation, good sleep and healthy eating habits.
* Examine your attitudes towards life. Do you step into life with an attitude of openness or rigidity? Or maybe both? Develop the practice of compassionate curiosity towards yourself and the attitudes you hold.
* Identify personal values and goals. Examine and reflect on your personal expectations. Are you driven by goals that are not your own or by rigid views and expectations of who you should be?
* Set realistic and appropriate boundaries. This takes reflection and practice. Be open to discovering what changes or adjustments are possible in your life and how you can implement those changes into your daily life.
* Practice self-compassion and self-acceptance. Life is continual practice.

Britt-Mari is an integrative career counselor with an extensive background in existential psychology, career counseling and teaching. She helps clients who are experiencing burnout and works with them to collaboratively create personally empowered solutions. If you are experiencing symptoms of burnout and would like to have a conversation contact her at