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What to Say (and Not Say) When Someone You Love Is Burned Out

Here are five tips to remember when talking to a loved one who is burned out.

Man consoling distressed woman

Maybe your loved one seems more irritable than usual, flat or out of sorts, more negative about work, or projecting an unusually careless attitude in general. It can be difficult to know how to respond to someone’s burnout, but how you approach the situation can make a difference.

  • Start with listening. Your loved one may be feeling unseen or unappreciated at work. Some gentle questions (“How’s work going?” “How does that make you feel?”) will get the dialogue going.
  • Be constructive. Try to preface your response with something positive. Talk about how he or she excels at work when given the right support or recall a recent achievement before engaging with any negative feelings.
  • Frame positive requests. Because they’re feeling boxed in already, people experiencing burnout can shut down when given advice. Framing suggestions as questions (“Do you think you would be able to talk to your supervisor?” “Is there anything I or anyone else can do to support you?”) can help them feel some agency.
  • Maintain your boundaries. Many of us have the impulse to jump in and empathize by stoking negative feelings or grievances. Try to offer understanding for frustrations or trapped feelings while suggesting that there might be more options than are apparent at the moment.
  • Try not to call it burnout. While making resources on burnout (like this article!) available would be helpful, keeping the conversation from dwelling on the term will help your loved one focus on being a dynamic, evolving person rather than a condition.

This originally appeared as “Braving Burnout” in the March 2020 print issue of Experience Life.

is a Minneapolis-based writer and cofounder of Logosphere Storysmiths.

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