Employee burnout has now reached epidemic proportions, according to a survey from Kronos and Future Workplace, sabotaging individual well-being as well as workforce retention.

The root of burnout is often a reflection of systemic issues within an industry, such as expectations for overwork, but paradigm shifts are a slow process--one where the individual is left to their own devices to combat stress and burnout, often at their own expense, through costly therapy or sick leave.

But an affordable alternative could be found on our bookshelf. In an online trial together with the Institute for Work and Mental Health, researchers from the University of Basel, Switzerland, found that a self-help book has the potential to reduce the symptoms of burnout.

"A self-help book without any therapist contact could overcome financial and logistical barriers that sometimes prevent people from accessing help," says Patrizia Hofer from the University of Basel's faculty of psychology, the lead author of the study. 

The trial examined people from various occupational groups with moderate and severe levels of stress and randomly assigned them to one of two groups. The first group immediately began working with the self-help book for a duration of five weeks, while the second group received the book after the wait-list period.

The group that was given the self-help book showed much greater improvement in the areas of stress, burnout, well-being, and symptoms of depression than the second group.

While the trial focused on a self-help book based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)--with a focus on mindfulness and acceptance techniques--the findings prompted me to reflect on my own experience with work-related stress, and how comfort was found in several self-help books.

Seeking help from a professional is advisable through many times in our lives, but as the study confirms, there is also great comfort and insight to be gained on the humble bookshelf in genres such as philosophy, pop psychology, and advice. Here are the reads that have helped me through periods of burnout, stress, or existential malaise that may form the beginnings for you to do the same.

1. Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton

Status Anxiety explores the universal yet rarely mentioned anxiety "about what others think of us; about whether we're judged a success or a failure, a winner or a loser."

Burnout at its core often stems from expectations--both external and internal--and the exhaustion of constant striving. Alain de Botton's exploration helps put us at ease and relinquish some of the concern about what other people think.

As the book's description says, "With the help of philosophers, artists, and writers, the book examines the origins of status anxiety (ranging from the consequences of the French Revolution to our secret dismay at the success of our friends), before revealing ingenious ways in which people have learned to overcome their worries in their search for happiness."

2. The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

Burnout can mean starting back at zero in our work and lives, making learning a priority to re-energize our lives.

From the adaptation principle and the formula to happiness, to the various conditions required for a life of virtue, happiness, fulfillment, and meaning, The Happiness Hypothesis brings together 10 great ideas from ancient and contemporary philosophy, psychology, and research to provide a comprehensive view of happiness.

Haidt thoughtfully extracts lessons that still apply to our modern lives. It is a book about how to construct a life of virtue, happiness, fulfillment, and meaning.

As professor Martin E. P. Seligman says, "For the reader who seeks to understand happiness, my advice is: Begin with Haidt."

3. The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay

Thirty is the new 20--or is it? Clinical psychologist Meg Jay argues that 20-somethings have been caught in a swirl of hype and misinformation, much of which has trivialized what is actually the most transformative period of our adult lives.

This often means that Millennials in particular experience burnout from winding up on the wrong path, focusing on what they "should" be doing, or pursing work, partners, and friends that are not in line with their passions or values.

The Defining Decade serves as a compass to make the most of your 20s, and shows how work, relationships, personality, social networks, identity, and even the brain can change more during this decade than any other time in adulthood--if we use the time well.

4. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

Described as a "balm for everything life throws our way," Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar advice columns published on The Rumpus alongside never-before-published columns.

Feeling blocked in work and life is a common symptom of burnout. While the questions posed to Dear Sugar traverse love, grief, relationships, and work, the responses are rich with insights on how to find meaning in our daily lives, quit being so hard on ourselves, and bring creativity to life so we can get out of our own way.

"I know it's hard to write, but darling it's harder not to," writes Dear Sugar (a.k.a. Cheryl Strayed). "You will feel insecure and jealous. How much power you give those feelings is entirely up to you."

5. Insight: Why We're Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life by Tasha Eurich

Burnout can also be a side effect of ruminating on blocks, problem areas, and missed opportunities. We ask, "Why me?" searching for some greater clarity, only to wind up more entangled in our own misery.

In Insight, organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich suggests strategies to escape the self-sabotage loop of rumination and learn how to move forward in our lives and careers.

"I've found that people who understand who they are--and how they're seen--make smarter choices, build better relationships, and enjoy more successful careers," Eurich says.

Insight is also a burnout preventative: "You'll find out how to avoid these roadblocks and wrong turns, discover tools to supercharge your self-knowledge, and understand how to survive and thrive in an increasingly unaware world."

Published on: Feb 1, 2018