11/01/2013 08:25 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Burned out? 4 Ways to Refill Your Well

By Jan Bruce

You've observed in yourself the signs of burnout first hand -- chronic exhaustion, irritability, not to mention the telltale arguments and feeling unable to rise to the occasion for work or personal obligations. Now what?

If you've still got some energy in you, use it to counterbalance the things that are dragging you down. (Not sure if you're burned out? Here are four red flags.) But when you've spent a long time in burnout zone, it's hard to remember what not working or -- dare we say it? -- having fun looks like. The urge to just tune out with television or comfort food, for example, can win out. The trouble is, tuning out doesn't provide the rest or rejuvenation we need.

Here are a four ways to refill the empty well, even when you're doubtful you can.

Start moving your body. It sounds counterintuitive, but however tired you feel exercise is a great place to start to build back energy. This doesn't mean you have to hop into a 10K training (unless you want to), but it does mean starting something.

"Research has shown that regular exercise is the most important thing you can do to optimize your quality of life today and maintain it in the future," says Adam Perlman, M.D., integrative medicine expert and Chief Medical Officer of meQuilibrium.

To ease back into an exercise routine, try a walk at lunchtime or after dinner, or set aside a few minutes for two or three gentle yoga poses that help your body relax. Running apps, such as Couch to 5K, can also help you slowly and gently build up strength.

Learn to swing. Or foxtrot, or waltz. Why? Because dance is well established as a form of therapy, and social dance is often welcome to beginners. Social ballroom dance, explains Stanford University dance instructor and social dance expert Richard Powers, is meant to be "friendly and kind and flexibly adaptive."

In addition to classic partner dances like swing or salsa, look for contra dances in your area, which features live music. You can easily go solo to these traditional group dance, as partners change with every 10- or 15-minute set (plus the night usually kicks off with a beginner's workshop.)

Try some "shelf-help." Recent research suggests that reading literary fiction builds empathy -- the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. By the same token, reading literary fiction can help you strengthen the empathy you have for yourself -- and shake up your burned out thinking.

Check out or to find new books based on past preferences, or skim the list of past Pulizter Prize fiction winners and finalists. Also, public libraries often compile lists of quality literary fiction. The Twitter book club @1book140 is another way to discover new fiction and connect with other readers.

Join a community chorus. Singing in the shower or the car feels good, but taking it up a notch to singing with a group may be even better. Group singing spurs the brain to release oxytocin, also known as the "love" hormone, which promotes generosity, trust and social bonding.

"When we sing with other people, it brings us outside of ourselves," says Daniel Levitin, psychology professor at McGill University, and author of This Is Your Brain on Music. It "activates a part of the frontal cortex that's responsible for how you see yourself in the world."

"When you're in harmony with a bunch of other people, it's almost like coming out of a coma or a zombie-like state into this world with many more dimensions," writes Stacy Horn, author of Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others. But you needn't be a professional to find joy in group singing, she assures. In fact, many community choruses are audition-free and open to all.

Look into your local church community, or visit online choral directories to find singing groups near you. If you just want to try out group singing, search online for Handel's Messiah Sing-Alongs in your area during the Christmas season.

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Jan Bruce is CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium,, the new digital coaching system for stress, which helps both individuals and corporations achieve measurable results in stress management and wellness.

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