Burnout and stress are closely linked, but they’re not the same thing. Here’s how to tell which one you’re suffering from, and what you can do to prevent yourself from burnout.
This time of year can bring on feelings of physical and emotional overwhelm.
Sometimes I feel the end of year is closing in and I’m unable to meet the constant demands and deadlines of my work, family and social life. Sadly, it’s not just this time of year that brings on these feelings; it can be the prolonged stress of the year catching up with us. These can be early warning signs of burnout.
But there is a fine line between stress, overwhelm and complete burnout, so how do we know the difference, and understand and identify the signs?
What is stress?
Simply put, stress involves “too much” demand at once. This means too many pressures and responsibilities that demand too much of us physically and mentally.
However, even in these times of high stress we can still see light at the end of the tunnel. Once we can get everything under control and not feel like we’re drowning in responsibility we know we’ll feel much better.
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Burnout on the other hand is a state of complete emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress from our jobs and overall lifestyle.
As the stress builds and continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on certain roles and responsibilities in the first place. Personality traits, thoughts and behavioural patterns like perfectionism, Type A personality and pessimism can also be contributing factors.
When you are experiencing burnout (as opposed to stress) you often can’t see the light and don’t feel that there is any chance of positive change in your situation.
Often these feelings/responses are a result of:
- Lack of sleep, physical exercise and supportive relationships
- Working long hours without enough time for relaxation and/or social activity
- Taking on too much load without asking for or receiving help from others
The negative effects of burnout spill over into all areas of life. It reduces your productivity and depletes your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly vulnerable, depressed, pessimistic and often resentful. Eventually, you may feel like your tank is empty and you have nothing more to give to yourself and others.
Because of burnout, there are many physical, mental and emotional consequences; it’s important to try catch yourself before you fall and deal with the signs of burnout.
Recognising the signs
- Fatigued and drained
- Lack of exercise
- Lowered immunity, frequent illnesses
- Headaches and stomach aches, or intestinal issues.
- Change in appetite
- Weight gain
- Muscular aches and pains
- Heightened self-doubt
- Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment at work
- Feeling drained (empty tank)
- Feelings of isolation and loneliness
- Loss of motivation
- Cynical and/or negative outlook
- Withdrawing from responsibilities and isolating yourself from others
- Using food, drugs and/or alcohol to cope with stress
- Procrastination and taking longer to get things done
- Heightened agitation
- Frequent sick days from work
- Difficulty concentrating and often lack of creativity
We all deserve a life that involves giving and taking, and being selfish at times. Like most illnesses or conditions, burnout is easier to prevent than treat. It’s curable, but changes to your environment and lifestyle are necessary.
Simple stress-relief strategies if you feel you’re experiencing signs of burnout:
- Set better boundaries; make it easier for people to support you by clearly stating your expectations
- Become aware of destructive habits (eating, drinking, substances) and start to minimise daily
- Limit your contact with negative and destructive friends or family members
- Do daily exercise that energises you, not depletes you (i.e. yoga and Pilates)
- Walk every day
- Meditate in the morning to reduce anxiety and overwhelm
- Meditate in the evening to aid in relaxation and quality sleep
- Breathe – this helps to quieten the mind
- Connect with a charity or a community group that is meaningful to you
- Stop comparing yourself to others – focus on your own positive aspects of life
- Practice gratitude daily
- Make time for hobbies, things and people that bring you joy
Steph Prem is the founder and director of Studio PP and Rise by Studio PP.