Self-Care When You Are Sad or Burnt Out

It might be fair to say that it has been a tough past 12-months for a lot of us, yes? Burnout is real and happens in relationships, school, work and for yourselves. You might be feeling really low energy and feeling generally bummed out. So, let’s talk about self-care.

Self-care can look like a lot of different things. There is no one prescription that cures all ails. I want to share with you the top

go-tos that I recommend to my clients when they may feel sad or getting close to burn-out. 

To be clear, while these tips are helpful for clinical diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder or General Anxiety Disorder, I’m speaking more to people who are having an off day, are being triggered by something, or there has been a recent acute crisis. If you try these tips, and they don’t seem to help, please seek out a mental health professional to assist.


Move Your Body. You may not feel motivated to move. It may feel like your body is covered in molasses. Let’s move in increments. So, what’s the next thing you could do? If you’re lying down, staring at your phone, could you move to sitting up? Try that for a while. 

Then, notice your posture. Is it slouched over? Try sitting straighter and breathe deeply. Notice how much easier it is to breathe from your diaphragm. Try this for a while. 

Next, try standing. Stand in a Superman pose. Ground your feet, place your hands on your hips, have a straight posture, with your head held high in a confident pose. Breathe deeply. Evoke the feelings of confidence.  Then, start walking around the room. Notice the difference in your energy. Are you walking confidently? Could you walk with a longer gait? How about pulling your knees way up. Swing your arms a bit. Notice how much looser your body is feeling.

Have you noticed a shift yet? Now, think of your go-to song that always gets you going. Something loud, fun that makes you move. (BTW, my go-to song is “Intergalactic” by Beastie Boys). Bump up that volume and have yourself a little dance party.

Cry It Out. Crying is self-soothing. Why? Because it releases oxytocin and endorphins. These are your feel-good hormones. Having a hard time crying? Cue up your sad song, or that one sad scene from a movie. This is meant to be a short-term exercise. If you are crying for days, please reach out to your social support. 

Make a Connection. Spend more time with your pet. Really focus on what it feels like to pet them. Notice the color of their fur or skin. Look into their eyes. 

Or, reach out to a friend or your partner. Talk to them about what’s going on for you. Ask about their life. 

Alternately, connect to yourself. Place your hand over your heart. Breathe deeply. Imagine a warm light surrounding your heart center. Think soothing thoughts, “I am ok.” “I like myself.” “I feel calm”.


Breathing. There are many great ways to focus on your breath. I will share my favorite technique. You want to breathe from your diaphragm instead of your upper lungs. Breathe deeply through the nose for 5 seconds. Exhale through the mouth for 10 seconds. Imagine you are holding a lit candle 6-12 inches from your face and you are trying to blow through the flame without blowing it out. 


This type of intentional breathing activates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is part of  your parasympathetic nervous system which signals to your body to rest and digest. It runs from the brain to the lower half of the body. So when it gets activated, the brain is reminded to move into a more restful state.

Hug It Out. Find someone willing to give you a hug. Plant yourself like a tree and lean into your partner. Your partner also plants themselves like a tree and leans into you. Hug with constant pressure for 20 seconds. The timing is actually important. Again, it signals to the brain that you are safe. Hug and use the same breath technique. 

Color It Out. Yes, I literally mean get out your crayons or coloring pencils. Coloring relaxes the fear center of your brain where the amygdala lives. Your amygdala is what activates your fight, flight or freeze responses. When it’s overly active, coloring can generate mindfulness, quietness and creativity.

These are some of my favorite activities that I like to use. They likely will work well for you. Again, if they do not, please reach out for more support. I hope today you find moments to connect, breathe deeply, give someone a hug, pet your dog, or move to a favorite song. 

Jenny Elledge, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in couples counseling, sexual issues, faith and life transitions, mixed-faith relationships and parenting issues. She is well-versed in working with entrepreneurs and telecommuters and the intersection of work/home balance. Additionally, she assists those with anxiety, depression, ADHD, PTSD and trauma work. She offers both therapy and coaching services in-office and online for couples, adults, older children and teenagers.

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