How To Recover From Stress and Overwhelm At Work

If you find yourself sitting, staring at your screen for hours on end, then feel reassured that you are not the only zombie-like employee “showing up” but not really showing up to work these days.

We seem to be plagued by brain fog, lack of motivation, lack of interest and exhaustion when it comes to work. Even when we love our jobs and the people we work with.

Burnout is a growing concern that is taking people away from careers that genuinely bring them joy and fulfillment. It’s no fun when work becomes a slog.

The reason we reach burnout these days isn’t because we aren’t working effectively or efficiently. In fact, many of us are working SO effectively and efficiently that we are simply doing TOO much. We weren’t actually made to work the many hours in a day that we do.

But society sends a message that stress is a virtue and self-care is frivolous and selfish. That hustle culture is the only worthwhile pursuit, and that slowing down and focusing on simple things means you are missing out. Did you know we spend more time at work than with our loved ones? If that’s the case, then we better make sure work brings us joy.

But how can it when we’re so depleted?

Why We Burn Out

We’re used to ignoring our bodily cues. Hungry? Deal with it later, because there’s another important meeting. Tired? No time for rest, a big deadline is looming. Cold? That’s just the way the office is. Guess I’ll have to put up with it.

We have become accustomed to ignoring what our body says it needs in service of productivity at all costs! We want to be great employees! We want to be seen and respected for our work and our contributions. But blowing past what your body is telling you is not only not good for you, it’s not good for your company either.

As much as we are told to work harder and work more; or as much as we believe that if we don’t hustle we are lazy, unprofessional, or incompetent, the truth is your company wants you to rest. Your company wants you to be OK. Because they don’t want to lose you, your gifts and your talents.

Burnout is a surefire pathway to needing to take leave of absence, and for some – especially neurodivergent folk like me – to needing to take years to recover, and thus being out of the workforce much longer than we want. This is a huge setback for our wellbeing and our company. Because we do have so much to offer.

Did you know neurodivergent folk are more likely to blow past their body’s cues? This is because of the stigma around having a social disability and around misunderstanding and stereotypes of what being neurodivergent means: Neurodivergent people have learned to work even harder to prove themselves as a way to protect against negative misinformation. And because they have been trying to change themselves in order to “fit in” all their lives, they often don’t realize how burnt out they are until it is too late. Neurodivergent people also have additional sensory and information processing differences that can add stress and strain to their bodies and minds that many neurotypical people don’t have.

Creating a neuro-inclusive environment means everyone, regardless of neurotype, can prevent burnout.

Are You Past The Point Of No Return?

When did you first notice you were losing focus and interest in your work? When did you first notice your energy and motivation dropping? When did you first notice those limiting beliefs telling you “work harder, keep up, don’t be lazy?”

Those were the first stop signs saying it’s time to step back a bit.

But chances are, you, like many, tried to work even MORE as a way to rid yourself of those limiting beliefs. There’s no shame! We are taught that the way to absolve ourselves of “work-guilt” and lack of focus/energy/exhaustion is somehow to work harder.

Self-care is not optional. Not if you want to remain engaged and effective at work.

Restorative activities and rest are not optional if you want to enjoy genuine purpose, meaning and value through your work.

Burnout is a huge barrier to feeling fully alive. And yet so many of us are simply managing our stress, day in and day out, rather than recovering from the build up of it.

We’ve become overflowing bathtubs and every day someone or something turns on the taps and more water flows in. We’re drowning and unsure how to stop the flow. many of us – especially neurodivergent folk – feel anxious about asking for help for fear of being seen as incompetent, lazy, or unprofessional. We carry the fear that we ought to be able to “keep up” even when the treadmill is operating way faster than it needs to be or should be.

Recovering From Burnout

To recover from accumulated stress, we need to drain our tubs.

Here are the 4 over-arching steps along the bridge to recovery:

  1. Awareness! Unpack your invisible backpack. This backpack is filled with little rocks that represent all the stressors you have picked up throughout your life that you have been carrying with you every single day. It’s weighing you down! Start by understanding what exactly it is you are carrying.
  2. Feel the feelings. No doubt you’ve been carrying some heavy weights. Many of us don’t realise how much we have been carrying because some things feel too hard to face, or we feel helpless to resolve them. For example, many adults state that they hold a lot of grief over the life they thought they would have had, and the way things have turned out. Developing emotional survival skills is a critical component of burnout recovery and most of us weren’t taught these skills and as a result we skip this step. If you want to feel joy and energy again, working through that grief and difficult emotions is critical. When our careers or jobs aren’t measuring up to our hopes, then that’s a loss that can bog us down every day.
  3. Release the accumulated stress and burnout. There are specific targeted practices to engage in – from physical activity to boundary setting, that are necessary to drain the tub. Tending to our emotions will help us release some weight, but we also need to tend to our physical bodies that have stored that “emotional weight’. Cortisol, the stress hormone, will live in our bodies like an unwanted houseguest until we actively remove it! And until we do, the accumulated stress can cause chronic and systemic inflammation. Physical practices to rid ourselves of accumulated stress hormones is the most effective way to rid our body of cortisol. Yes, Taylor Swift was right when she advised us to literally shake shake shake it off. But then we need to keep it off, by doing targeted self-care practices that have nothing to do with bubble baths, and a whole lot to do with boundaries and other difficult things like learning to say no, or ask for help.
  4. Finding joy! Yes, don’t forget joy. Recovering from burnout is meaningless if you aren’t then pursuing a life that brings you a sense of happiness and value. It is critical to understand what brings you joy, happiness and success on your own terms. Following other people’s expectations will only take you off course, which makes you work harder to get back on track, or will bog you down and make you feel drained and unmotivated every day. What makes you feel fully alive? Get honest with yourself.

Each step is a process and they’re not easy. We don’t burn out overnight so can’t expect to recover from burnout overnight. Doing the work – and taking however much time it requires – on each step is the only way to cross the bridge to recover and rediscovering joy and fulfillment. Go easy on yourself – it’s hard but beyond worth it in the end.


If you want to know more about effective burnout recovery, and how your whole team can be walked through step-by-step to genuinely recover from stress and overload, The Expert Talk is here to help. We even have specific targeted training and workshops to support neuro-inclusive environments that can reduce stress and overload for every employee. Book a free needs assessment today.