Group of friends walking together in the woods

Work-related stress and burnout affect many of us. About 3 in 5 Americans report negative impacts of work-related stress at home.

Burnout and stress can cause our relationships to suffer. For parents, stress and fatigue can make it harder to care for your children the way you'd like to.

Our experts offer tips to combat burnout and explain why humor can help ease your stress.

Listen to more on burnout, wellness and laughter as medicine from our Kids Considered podcast

What is burnout?

Burnout is feeling exhausted and completely overwhelmed. It often comes from long-term emotional and mental stress. Burnout sometimes causes people to feel like they can't keep up with all of their tasks – and it's often job-related.

It's often a crisis of identity. For example, it's common for parents to say or think that they've lost their individuality when they become parents because of how busy they are with their child.

How can you recognize burnout in yourself?

Burnout is usually a slow process and doesn't happen all at one time. It's caused by the buildup of continued stress. This is typically from your job or an ongoing stressful situation, like taking care of a loved one.

Some signs of burnout include:

  • Always feeling exhausted
  • Lack of excitement
  • Feeling negative toward your job or inability to perform your job
  • Feeling emotionally drained
  • Easily frustrated

What are steps you can take to relieve burnout?

The first step in addressing burnout is recognizing that it exists. Next, evaluate which areas of your life are where you want them to be and where there's room for improvement. Even one small change can have lasting benefits.

For example, what things help and worsen anxiety? Consider whether improving your sleep or exercise routine can help improve your mood. Experts encourage you to start with small changes to your current routine, such as carving out 10-15 minutes to move your body or go to bed a little earlier.

What barriers exist that make your changes harder to sustain? One example is scrolling on your phone close to bedtime. We suggest slowly weaning yourself from that habit, even if it's just 5 minutes less time spent on your phone before bed.

What activities and habits help combat burnout?

People who spend at least 20% of their time working on projects or ideas that they're personally interested in are protected from higher rates of burnout. This can include knitting, gardening, working on cars, or playing recreational sports.

Getting out for a walk, spending time at the gym, connecting with friends and loved ones, and practicing yoga or meditation are also all good things to incorporate in your weekly (or better yet daily) routine.

It's also important to set boundaries between work and home. Some employees help themselves and others by adding a line in their email signature that they won't be responding or expecting a response in the evenings and on weekends. Try to turn off work phones during non-business hours and devote time to yourself and your family instead.

Therapy can play a big role in helping not just burnout but your overall health as well. This isn't always feasible for everyone but try to think about it in the same way as a twice yearly dentist appointment or yearly checkup. Talking to a therapist can be very beneficial for your mental health.

How can being around other people help burnout?

Spending time with friends and family you enjoy being around can also help your burnout. This is called community care. Self-care is important, but we're missing the fact that we don't live in siloes.

Community care means that people in the community use their power, privilege and resources to help each other individually and collectively. People thrive in communities where their needs are anticipated, supported and advocated.

Can laughter really help relieve stress and improve burnout?

There's a lot of data to support the fact that laughter is good for us. Psychologists and physiologists have studied laughter. They've seen positive effects on mood and physical health as a result of laughter. It decreases anxiety and depressive symptoms and lowers your perceived level of stress.

Researchers have also found that laughter improves your immunity and can actually provide pain relief by releasing endorphins, your body's natural pain killer. More recently, laughter has been shown to have cardiovascular benefits. This includes increasing your heart's ability to deliver blood and oxygen more efficiently almost as much as exercising for the same amount of time.

How can we teach these skills to overcome burnout to our teens and children?

For parents, taking care of yourself doesn't mean "me first," it means "me too." Being a parent means that you're modeling a lifestyle for your children. You should want to model healthy and self-nourishing habits.

By showing your children that taking care of themselves is as important as being there for others, you're giving them the tools to continue that behavior throughout their lives. Self-regulation and showing up for yourself are values that children learn early on. They carry these skills with them throughout their lives. It's a gift to be able to show that to your children.

Remember, it's easier to take care of others when you take care of yourself.

Medically reviewed by Sara Aghamohammadi, UC Davis Health's Chief Wellness Officer and pediatric intensive care physician.