Stress versus Burnout: A Quick Guide for Busy Professionals

Understanding the difference between stress versus burnout is vital for prevention and recovery, especially for busy professionals. 

Many of my clients are far up a corporate ladder with a family to feed, so frequent run-ins with stress and burnout are common in their world. But they don’t always know what they’re dealing with, and they don’t always have the time to figure it out. 

Lets figure out which you’re dealing with…

What is stress?

Stress is our body’s natural response to pressure or threat. Short term, or “acute”, stress is very common and is honestly an inevitability within the human experience. Long-term, or “chronic”, stress is the result of frequent, high-stress situations with insufficient rest and recovery in between.

In the workplace, stress might occur as a result of:

  • Conflict with a colleague/superior
  • A heavy workload
  • Long working hours and reduced time with loved ones
  • Looming deadlines

During periods of acute stress, you might experience:

  • Low mood, a sense of overwhelm and/or irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety and/or panic attacks
  • Physical manifestations such as headaches, stomachaches etc

In moderation, stress is a healthy response and can even be quite useful; for example, high levels of motivation to meet an upcoming deadline or the result of physical exercise on the muscles are both positive manifestations of stress.

What is burnout?

Burnout is almost like the finale of long-term, unresolved chronic stress. After a long period of dealing with relentless high-stress situations, the body and mind reach a point of complete exhaustion.

I had a client recently who came to me in the throes of burnout; he described it as “feeling like an empty cup. Everyone around me is thirsty, but I’ve been bled dry.”

In the workplace, burnout might occur as a result of:

  • Consistent lack of appreciation for your work
  • Relentless heavy workloads and deadlines
  • Feeling as though your work doesn’t align with your values
  • Feeling a complete lack of control

During periods of burnout, you might experience:

  • Feeling totally drained both physically and mentally (even after time off)
  • Lack of enjoyment for things that once brought you pleasure
  • Feeling empty, hopeless or cynical
  • Weakened immune system and frequent illness

Burnout can also be the result of a toxic workplace; you can read more about toxic workplaces and how to identify them here.

Tips to prevent stress and burnout

Since burnout is the result of long-term stress, preventing acute stress from becoming chronic stress is vital for your mental health.

  1. Take breaks. Whether that’s frequent 10 minute walks during working hours or using up some of your annual leave, breaks are crucial.
  2. Set boundaries. This includes your boss, significant other and even yourself. You can read more about setting boundaries here.
  3. Speak to someone. Vent to your partner. Confide in your colleagues. Or, if things are getting too much, invest in a therapist.
  4. Delegate. Can you delegate some of your work or personal responsibilities to other people?
  5. Rest and recover. Self-care doesn’t have to be “woo-woo”. It could be putting your feet up and watching your favourite show after a hard day.

The difference between stress and burnout

A key difference between stress and burnout is how you interact with your environment.

Under stress, though you may feel increased anxiety, you’ll still be able to complete tasks and function as you usually would. In a period of burnout, you’ll likely find it difficult to access any desire to complete tasks or even to do things you enjoy.

Here are a few other differences between stress and burnout:

  • Stress mostly affects your physical body; burnout is both mental and physical
  • Stress evokes action and urgency; burnout is a state of total exhaustion
  • Stress can make you snappy and reactive; burnout can make you uninterested and disengaged
  • Stress is more associated with anxiety; burnout mostly evokes feelings associated with depression

Need help with stress or burnout?

Seeking out and accessing information on mental health is an important first step. But sometimes, you might need an extra helping hand to understand and cope with your mental health.

Especially busy professionals who don’t have much spare time.

If you resonated with the information in this post and want to learn more about how cognitive hypnotherapy can help you, book a consultation call to find out if we’re a good match.

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