12 Unconventional Ways That Leaders Can Recover from Burnout

Brace yourself for woo-woo and really out there ideas that work!

Tristan Denyer
6 min readOct 23, 2023

Burnout is an all-too-common challenge that leaders face. It can manifest as emotional exhaustion, reduced effectiveness, a sense of disillusionment, detachment and more. While traditional strategies for burnout recovery like coaching, therapy, self-care and time management are invaluable, there are also some unconventional methods that leaders can explore to reignite their passion, creativity, and motivation. In this article, we will delve into some unlikely — Or unconventional—ways leaders can recover from feeling burnt out.

Embrace Nature Therapy

Spending time in nature can have a profound impact on mental well-being. Consider taking unconventional breaks to connect with the outdoors. Whether it’s a hike in the woods, a walk on the beach, or simply sitting in a park, nature therapy can provide much-needed rejuvenation.

Idea: In early 2022, I went to Palm Springs and did the Museum Trail hike. (It’s listed as “hard”, but I would call it “moderate”, with much of it quite approachable by most hikers.) And! The views are amazing. Did I mention the random pull-up bar and weights someone dragged up there? Yeah, this hike was a great way to recharge, and reconnect with nature.

Museum Trail in Palm Springs had this random pull-up bar and weights about half-way up. Amazing hike!

Immerse in the Arts

Artistic pursuits like painting, drawing, or even learning a musical instrument can offer a unique form of therapy. Engaging in creative activities can help leaders channel their emotions, reduce stress, and stimulate their imaginations.

Idea: Start by doodling. Just put down circles on a piece of paper. Headphones on, and let yourself zone out to just making circles for 20 mins. I did this for a week and found it really helpful as an alternative to meditating. Afterwards, my mind was calmer, and I even moved on to drawing flowers and other sketches.

Your doodling doesn’t have top be anything, or even good.

Practice Mindful Movement

Explore mindful movement practices like Tai Chi, Qigong, or dance. These activities combine physical movement with mindfulness, helping to reduce stress and promote mental clarity.

Idea: The point is mindfulness to help calm your mind, or clear it. Your movements do not have to be hard or difficult. You can start by walking heel-toe-heel-toe to the fridge and back. Or doing the ostrich walk (Google it!) for 5–10 mins and concentrating on how ridiculous you look doing it. Again, do something new that you can concentrate on and clear your mind.

Volunteer and Give Back

Stepping outside the corporate environment and dedicating time to volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about can provide a sense of fulfillment and perspective. Helping others can renew your sense of purpose.

Idea: You can look into donating plasma. It’s a fairly easy way to give back, and you often get paid for it! It takes about 20–40 mins, and will give you time to check out and read a book. You can set a weekly appointment, making this something to look forward to and give you a little something in your pocket for some self-care, like going to Palm Springs! Or doing one of the other items on this list.

Laughter Yoga / Improv Class

Hold up! Give this section a chance!

Laughter truly is the best medicine. Consider joining a laughter yoga class, where participants engage in laughter exercises that promote well-being and reduce stress. It may seem unconventional, but the benefits are real. The point is to break away from the mundane and do something new, while laughing and feeling silly doing it.

Idea: take an improv class! You cannot think about work while doing this, and that is the point: remove yourself from the thing that may be burning you out, and replacing it with silliness and laughter.

Unplug and Go Offline

In a hyper-connected world, unplugging from technology can be refreshing. Try a digital detox by temporarily disconnecting from email, social media, and screens. This break can provide mental clarity and reduce stress.

Idea: I would couple this with a trip to Palm Springs I mentioned above. Going to the desert is a great way to give yourself a reason that you can’t stay connected.

Explore Sensory Deprivation Tanks

Sensory deprivation tanks, also known as floatation tanks, offer a unique experience of weightlessness and sensory isolation. They can induce deep relaxation, reduce stress, and encourage introspection.

Idea: If a cocoon of salt water and losing all your senses terrifies you, try a red light sauna. I feel that it is real quiet in there, and hard to think of anything besides the heat and sweating. 🥵

Cold Water / Ice Plunge

Cold exposure has been linked to the release of endorphins and increased levels of norepinephrine, which can improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression. The shock of cold water can also be mentally invigorating. Ice plunges trigger the body’s stress response. Over time, regularly exposing yourself to cold water may help your body adapt to stress more effectively.

Idea: you can also do an ‘abbreviated’ version of this with a large bowl of ice water and just plunging your face into it for as long as you can stand it. Repeat 3 times. We are activating the Vagus nerve here, and that has a load of health benefits.

Revisit Childhood Hobbies

Reconnecting with hobbies from your childhood or youth can bring a sense of nostalgia and joy. Whether it’s building model airplanes, collecting stamps, or playing video games, these activities can be surprisingly therapeutic.

Idea: I play Monopoly and other board games from my childhood with my son. The phone and laptop get put away, and we just concentrate on the game for a good solid 2 hours. It’s been a fantastic way to take me back a number of years, and tell my son stories of which family memebers cheated the most. He loves hearing the stories, and is a great way to recharge.

Practice Lucid Dreaming

Lucid dreaming is the ability to become aware that you are dreaming while in a dream. Exploring lucid dreaming can be a fascinating way to tap into your subconscious, process emotions, and gain insights. It is also beneficial in stress reduction, enhanced creativity, creative problem-solving, and more.

Idea: Before falling asleep, spend a couple minutes to repeat a mantra to yourself such as “I will be aware that I’m dreaming” or “I will have a lucid dream tonight.” Combine this with visualization of yourself realizing you’re in a dream. There are supplements out there to help with lucid dreaming, but will leave that bit up to you to research thoroughly.

Sound Healing

Sound therapy or sound healing involves exposure to various sounds and vibrations to promote relaxation and reduce stress. This can include gong baths, singing bowl sessions, or simply listening to calming music.

Idea: Look up theta waves on YouTube and grab your headphones. There are beta waves and much more, but I like theta for just zoning out and relaxing.

Cultural Immersion

Immerse yourself in a different culture or take a trip to a place with a vastly different lifestyle. Experiencing new cultures and perspectives can provide fresh insights and rejuvenate your outlook.

Idea: I am going to put money on it there is a place you have wanted to go, but have been putting off. If you are feeling burnt out, the time is now to make it happen. Don’t put too much thought into it, and just go and figure it out when you get there. I’m sure this is a place you’ve already thought of enough to know what to do for a weekend.

In Summary

Recovering from burnout doesn’t always mean you have to follow a conventional path. Exploring these unlikely strategies can help leaders find unique sources of inspiration, relaxation, and healing. Remember that recovery is a personal journey, and what works for one leader may not work for another. The key is to remain open-minded and willing to experiment with different approaches until you find the unconventional method that resonates with you and helps you recover from burnout. Ultimately, the goal is check out so you can regain your enthusiasm, creativity, and resilience as a leader.



Tristan Denyer

I am that unique blend of engineer and designer, leader and manager, team builder and bridge builder.