Health

7 Burnout Coping Strategies That Take Five Minutes or Less

If you can't quit everything, try taking a small reprieve from the onslaught of daily life.
Hannah Smothers
Brooklyn, US
May 24, 2021, 12:00pm
Woman stretches in office.
zeljkosantrac via Getty

As therapist Melissa Russiano told VICE, burnout, or fatigue to the point that normal functioning stops, impacting you both emotionally and physically, is exacerbated by both internal and external triggers. By “internal triggers,” Russiano means internal thought processes, like emotional exhaustion, feeling drained, and thinking things like, There is literally no way I can get through this stack of menial tasks. External triggers are often less out of your control, like your micromanager boss, your kids’ cloying teachers, or an onslaught of irritating customers (who don’t tip) at work. 

Advertisement

But just like there are a few strategies for helping prevent burnout, there are quick, one- to five-minute tasks you can do throughout your day to help manage burnout. Like we said before, burnout begins and ends with unrealistic expectations and demands placed on us at a societal level; these tricks are best looked at as a salve for your own sanity and mental health, short of dismantling the powers that be. 

VICE spoke with therapists about their oft-recommended, five-minute-or-less tips for dealing with symptoms of burnout. Think of these things not as fixes for all your problems (they won’t magically make your boss cool, or all of your deadlines disappear), but as actionable tricks that can help you dip out and reframe the negative vibes and thoughts that make burnout feel worse. 

Take inspo from the kid lifestyle.

As Bassett said, we don’t often think of kids as being “burned out.” That’s because they probably… aren’t, because, by comparison, their lives rule. Dedicated lunch time? Recess? Arts and crafts??? All cues we could take from kids, in terms of preventing our own burnout. 

The thing that Bassett emphasized, though, is that kids have designated playtime. “If we can think, as adults, what does play mean to us?” Bassett said. “Because we’re so busy and task oriented. Play could be going outside and swinging on a swing set for two minutes. It could be playing a game. Anything that’s childlike can help.” 

Advertisement

If that’s too weird for you, or if you don’t have access to a swing set or games, Russiano referred to this same concept as carving out time for any kind of movement. Not exercise, necessarily, because the need to workout can quickly become yet another demand placed upon our sad, corporeal forms, but movement. That can be literally anything; a two-minute thrash session to a song you love, skipping rope, a walk to and from the mailbox, dancing around in your car, whatever. 

“Movement is sometimes enough to reframe your brain,” Russiano said. “It sounds kind of wacky, but there is a connection. If you sit in the same spot and do the same thing day after day, your brain just kind of accepts that nothing is going to change. Movement and change can jumpstart a new mindset.”

Obvious, but: Go to bed five minutes earlier each night.

Realistically, no, five more minutes of sleep on the front end isn’t going to make a noticeable difference in your energy level throughout the next day. But what makes this trick useful is that those five minutes add up (if you stack them up each day) and it makes you more conscious of your bedtime—something that almost always suffers when people feel burned out. 

“Sleep is the first thing to go, because people are working harder or thinking too much, so they’re having a hard time falling asleep,” Russiano told VICE. “I usually tell my clients that we’re kind of like cell phone batteries. If you’re sleep deprived, you wake up with less charge, and there’s no filter to keep feelings of mental fatigue, exhaustion, and emotional instability at bay.” 

Take a little vacation in your mind.

You know how people are always like, Imagine you’re on the beach… Well, this tip is basically that. But before you laugh it off or roll your eyes, consider it for a moment. 

Carly Bassett, a therapist in Austin, told VICE she used to imagine herself eating gelato in Italy, back when she was working in a high-stress hospice environment, in close proximity to death and dying all day. “I would often stop at a market for lunch, get a gelato, sit there in the sun, and just, in my mind, I would go to Italy,” Bassett said.

Advertisement

On its face, this sounds twee and useless; but remember, we’re dealing with internal burnout here. Half the battle is tricking your mind into thinking it’s relaxed, and getting out of the fight-or-flight zone that so often occurs during moments of extreme stress. If tricking your brain means taking it, briefly, to Italy, great! If that means five minutes of completely zoning out and pretending you’re in an isolation tank, also great! Don’t knock it before you try it, is all we’re saying. 

Come up with a short, encouraging mantra.

Speaking of tricking your brain, something Russiano and Bassett both mentioned is the importance of reframing negative thoughts into positive (or at least neutral) thoughts. In other words, an internal monologue that’s all, I can’t do anything right, everything is going wrong, I am at the end of my rope!!!, is not going to make burnout feel any better.

When you feel yourself starting to slip into that zone, Russiano recommends having a mantra handy. This can be anything you want, as long as it’s short, simple, and repeatable. “Be aware of your inner critic—that negative voice that keeps telling you what to do,” Russiano said. “Instead of thinking, I’m a failure at work, think, I’m going to be successful today. Tackle the negative statement and reframe it.” 

If you have a desk setup or a cubby area or something at work, Russiano further recommends writing this little mantra down on a brightly colored sticky note (not a dull color, like white, which can blend in with your other papers and lists of tasks). Again, the phrase can be anything, even something you crib from elsewhere. “A quote you find on Facebook or TikTok, it doesn’t have to be, like, Colin Powell,” Russiano said. “Just quickly jot it down, and when you start going down that rabbit hole, circle back to it.” 

Listen to a few minutes of a funny podcast.

If you’re working from home or have brief breaks at your shift job, consider using a couple of minutes to…laugh! This kind of ties in with the child-inspo thing (kids are always laughing). 

“I always tell people to listen to a comedy station for like, 20 minutes,” Bassett said. “Because it’s such a shift from a more serious zone. Smiling and laughing takes us out of the rhythm of our daily lives.” 

Make your home or workspace like, five percent nicer.

This isn’t an order to redo or rearrange your entire house or office, but to incorporate one nice, new thing into your daily scene. Maybe that’s a new coffee mug with a funny cartoon printed on it, or a $5 bouquet of peonies from Trader Joes. Bassett recommends adding some nice, new sensory object to your space to mix it up, and put a joy-bringing thing in an otherwise joyless space. 

Come up with something tangible to look forward to. 

When you start feeling that overwhelmed, spiraling-out-of-control sort of way, Bassett recommends dipping out and writing down (or just thinking about) your ideal Saturday (or whatever day you next have off). What sort of things will you do, that are fun and not chores? 

“Fantasize about what you want Saturday to look like,” Bassett said. “Give yourself something to look forward to, and propel you through the rest of the day or week.” 

Or even just propel you through the bad moment! The point of this—and everything else listed here—is to take your brain out of a bad space and put it in a good one to get you to the next signpost. The external forces of burnout are likely beyond your control and focusing on trying to change those is only going to make you feel more overwhelmed. But giving yourself a small reprieve from the onslaught of everyday life? That’s totally achievable. 

Follow Hannah Smothers on Twitter.