How to Support Someone Struggling with Burnout

October 27, 2021

Lending a Hand 

Burnout is at an all-time high. So chances are that you have a friend, family member, or colleague who is struggling with it themselves. But when people are in the throes of burnout, they might not be able to see it or have the energy to do something about it. That’s where you can step in! While taking into account the nature of your relationship with the person experiencing burnout, below are some ways you can support them: 


Look out for the signs

If you want to help someone through burnout, it’s important to understand what it is and what it looks like. Burnout is defined as “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.” How excess stress shows up for someone is unique to them and their experiences. Some people exhibit the more obvious signs such as feeling fatigued or unfocused. But some people have less obvious signs of burnout like an upset stomach, forgetfulness, and even neglected hygiene. 

And just because someone is busy doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re burned out! So be sure to observe and ask questions before making any judgments. Verbal cues from someone who is struggling with burnout might be expressed by having no time for themselves, not being able to focus or enjoy relaxation time, or increased cynicism. 

Make them feel seen and heard 

A natural instinct when we hear that someone struggling is to fix it. But sometimes people just need to be seen and heard before solving anything, so practice being truly in the moment with the person going through it. Try other-focusing listening when they share their obstacles, which enforces coming from a place of not knowing and being aware of the personal biases we bring into a conversation. Another way to show someone you’re present with them? Reflect what they’re saying back to them. Summarizing is a great way to not only affirm that you’re hearing someone but also gives the person talking a chance to hear what they’ve said without their own biases. Here’s an example: Someone might say to you, “I feel so tired all the time and can’t find a minute to do anything that relaxes me.” Many of us might be inclined to either assign a judgment to that statement (i.e “That’s terrible!”) or give a suggestion (i.e. “Have you tried…”). Even though they’re well-intentioned, both of these responses can take the person speaking out of the moment. Instead, try something like “It sounds like you are really depleted and want to make more time for yourself.” When we feel someone understands us, we’re more likely to trust them and open up. 

Don’t overstep

When we’re overstressed, it’s harder to regulate emotional responses, making people possible feel more sensitive or vulnerable. After you’ve given someone the space to express themselves, first ask if they’d like some help navigating things. Do your best to be perceptive to social and physical cues that signal they aren’t comfortable talking further. This might include short answers, deflecting, shrinking away, or pulling back. If your feel they’re open to your support, ask what type of help would be the most useful — do they just need a shoulder to cry on or someone to brainstorm with? The more guidance you get up front the more you’ll be able to help in a way that works for them. 

Come prepared, but don’t play expert 

The silver lining of the recent surge in burnout? There are more resources available than ever before that can help support people struggling with burnout. If you suspect that someone you know is suffering in this way, sharing resources could be a great first step. Before you have an initial conversation, try gathering some articles from professionals (we have a few! Such as, What is Burnout? and Beating Burnout for example) for your friend, family, member, or colleague if they’re interested in learning more. Another great way to come prepared? Know where to direct them to look for professional help if they need it!

Here are some resources: 

Make it a team effort 

Even if you’re not actively struggling with burnout, you can still invest and participate in your well-being! Consider showing support by enlisting yourself as the accountability buddy. A major pillar of our whole-person health includes community health. Simply put, without community, wellness is less attainable. So grab that journal, yoga mat, and join in on the fun. When someone is suffering from excess stress, they aren’t in the right headspace to make the first call or send the first text. Regularly checking in and joining in is a great way to show your support.

It’s difficult to see someone you care about going through it. But if approached in the right way (and without neglecting your own needs!), you can be a wonderful resource to help them on their healing journey.

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