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Difference Between Burnout and Stress

Difference Between Burnout and Stress

I am burnt out I hear you saying!!! I am hearing you loud and clear….

We all know what stress feels like. It’s that feeling of being overwhelmed, anxious, and constantly on edge. As leaders, we are more susceptible to stress than ever before. But what is stress, really? And how can we avoid letting it turn into burnout?

In the office, stress might manifest as meeting deadlines, managing a heavy workload, or dealing with difficult co-workers. Outside work, stress might come from financial troubles, relationship problems, or health issues.

A certain amount of stress and anxiety is undoubtedly unpleasant. But, it is normal and even necessary for us to function to help motivate us to achieve our goals

A little bit of stress is not necessarily harmful. Still, when you experience stress for extended periods, such as anxiety, fatigue, and panic, it can become chronic and lead to burnout. This much more severe condition can seriously affect our physical and mental health.

So how do you know if you’re dealing with stress or burnout? 

Here’s what you need to know about the difference between stress vs burnout and what you can do to avoid the latter.

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What Is Stress?

According to Oxford, stress is “pressure or worry caused by problems in somebody’s life or by having too much to do.

So, stress is the body’s response to any physical, mental, or emotional demand. For example, your body releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol when you perceive a threat. This “fight-or-flight” response is designed to help you deal with the perceived threat.

In moderation, it can be beneficial. It can improve your focus and performance and help you to stay motivated. However, when stress is constant and unmanageable, it can lead to burnout.

An example of stress is feeling overwhelmed by work. You might have too many deadlines or be expected to do more than what is humanly possible. This can lead to feeling anxious, irritable, and unable to focus.

What Causes Stress?

Many different things can cause stress. It might be due to external factors, such as a demanding job or a difficult home life. It can also be caused by internal factors, such as worries or fears.

Here are some of the most common causes of stress:

●      Work: deadlines, workload, office politics

●      Home life: family, finances, relationships

●      Health: illness, injury, pain

●      Other: events, natural disasters, death

As you can see, stress can come from a variety of sources. Therefore, it’s important to identify what is causing your stress so that you can find ways to deal with it.

What Are The Effects Of Stress?

When you’re under stress, your body goes into “fight or flight” mode. This means your heart rate and blood pressure increase, and you start to breathe more quickly.

This is all part of the body’s natural response to stress, designed to help you deal with a perceived threat.

However, when stress is constant and unmanageable, it can have several adverse effects on your health. These effects can be both physical and mental.

Physical Effects Of Stress Include:

●      Headaches

●      Muscle tension or pain

●      Stomach problems

●      Chest pain

●      Fatigue

●      Change in sex drive

Mental Effects Of Stress Include:

●      Anxiety

●      Restlessness

●      Lack of motivation or focus

●      Feelings of overwhelm

●      Irritability or anger

●      Sadness or depression

If you’re experiencing any of these effects, it’s crucial to take action to reduce your stress levels. Otherwise, you may be at risk for burnout.

“During times of stress and uncertainty, particularly as leaders, it’s too easy to inadvertently contribute to a negative situation by taking ourselves too seriously, being in a constantly stressful and reactive mindset, and maybe indulging in self-pity just a little bit too much. As we know, these negative emotions are highly contagious and quickly and easily influence our teams and their performance.” An excerpt from my book

– First Comes Courage by Sonia McDonald.

What Is Burnout?

Oxford defines burnout as “the state of being extremely tired or ill, either physically or mentally, because you have worked too hard.”

Burnout is a state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion that is caused by excessive or extended stress. It appears when you feel overwhelmed, hopeless, and unable to meet the demands of your life.

Burnout can have severe consequences for your health, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, and even death. If you’re dealing with chronic stress, seeking help is crucial before it leads to burnout.

An example of burnout is feeling so overwhelmed by work that you can’t even get out of bed in the morning. Your entire life feels like one big to-do list, and you can’t see a way to escape it. As a result, you might feel hopeless, helpless, and like you’re just going through the motions.

“I have a theory that burnout is about resentment. And you beat it by knowing what it is you’re giving up that makes you resentful.” — Marissa Mayer.

What Are The Effects Of Burnout?

The effects of burnout are both physical and mental, such as:

Physical Effects Of Burnout Include:

●      Chronic fatigue

●      Insomnia

●      Headaches

●      Muscle pain

●      Change in appetite

Mental Effects Of Burnout Include:

●      Anxiety

●      Depression

●      Irritability

●      Mood swings

●      Loss of motivation

●      Feelings of hopelessness

What Causes Burnout?

There are many different causes of burnout, but it usually occurs when you’re under prolonged or excessive stress. This can be due to your job, home life, relationships, or other demands in your life.

Burnout can also occur if you’re not using healthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress. For example, suppose you’re constantly putting yourself last and not caring for your own needs. In that case, you may be more likely to experience burnout.

If you’re unsure what’s causing your burnout, talking to a mental health professional can help you identify the source of your stress and find ways to deal with it.

What’s The Difference Between Stress Vs Burnout?

The main difference between stress and burnout is that stress is a response to a perceived threat. In contrast, burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged or excessive stress.

While some stress can be beneficial, chronic stress can lead to burnout. Burnout is more than just being stressed out. It’s a state of complete exhaustion. 

How To Tell If You Are Burnt Out

The first step is to identify your stressors. What are the things that trigger your stress? Once you know your triggers, you can start managing them.

If you’re dealing with chronic stress, seeking help and making lifestyle changes is vital before it leads to burnout.

When you experience burnout, you tend to share the following symptoms compared to when you are stressed:

●      Numb and detached from your emotions with burnout but on edge with stress

●      You are constantly exhausted with burnout but have more energy with stress.

●      Lose interest in what you once enjoyed with burnout, but with stress, you may still enjoy some things.

●      Increased illnesses with burnout, but with stress, you may get sick less often.

●      Feel like a failure, overwhelmed, or hopeless with burnout, but with stress, you may feel like you can still handle and accomplish things.

●      Extreme fatigue – both physical and mental exhaustion with burnout but with stress, you may only experience mental exhaustion.

●      Loss of motivation with burnout, but with stress, you may still be motivated to do some things.

●      Cynical and having a negative outlook on life with burnout, but with stress, you may still have a positive outlook.

●      Decreased performance at work or school with burnout but with stress, you may still be able to perform well.

●      Loss of appetite or overeating with burnout but with stress, you may have a normal appetite.

●      Insomnia or sleeping too much with burnout, but with stress, you may still be able to sleep normally.

●      Difficulty concentrating with burnout, but with stress, you can still focus.

●      Headaches or body aches with burnout, but you don’t have any physical symptoms with stress.

●      Anxiety or depression with burnout but with stress, you may only experience anxiety.

●      You may only be slightly irritable with stress but have high irritability or mood swings with burnout.

●      Feel like you’re unable to meet the demands of your life with burnout, but with stress, you feel you can achieve your commitments and goals.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to know that you are not alone. According to FlexJobs, 75% of employees have experienced burnout at work, with 40% experiencing burnout during the pandemic.

Sadly, 36% of employees said their organisation isn’t doing anything to help with employee burnout.

With burnout, you must understand that you can’t just snap out of it. Instead, it takes time and effort to recover. If you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional. 

There are also many online resources available that can help you start the recovery process, and I strongly recommend the following:

●      Beyond Blue

●      Lifeline

●      Health Direct

●      Head To Health

How To Reduce Stress

Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent or manage stress and avoid burnout, such as:

●      Identify your stressors: What are the things that trigger your anxiety? Once you know your triggers, you can start to avoid them or manage them better.

●      Use healthy coping mechanisms: When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a few minutes to yourself to relax and rejuvenate. Even a short break can make a big difference.

●      Connect with loved ones: When you spend time with loved ones, it helps foster positive emotions, decreasing stress.

●      Find a hobby: Doing things you enjoy can help reduce stress and improve your overall well-being.

●      Create a support network: A strong support system can make a big difference when trying to avoid or recover from burnout.

How To Avoid Burnout

There are several things you can do to prevent or reduce the risk of burnout:

●      Get plenty of sleep: Sleep is crucial for physical and mental health. Getting enough rest can help your body recover from stress and prevent burnout.

●      Eat a healthy diet: Eating a nutritious diet can help you maintain energy levels and to avoid burnout.

●      Exercise regularly: Exercise releases endorphins that can boost your mood. It can also help you sleep better and reduce stress levels.

●      Take breaks: Take a few minutes to unwind and relax when feeling overwhelmed. Just 5 minutes can make a big difference.

●      Connect with loved ones: Spending time with loved ones can help promote positive emotions.

●      Find a hobby: Or activity that brings you joy. Doing things you enjoy can help reduce stress and give you something to look forward to.

●      Avoid substances: Using drugs or excessive use of alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine may provide temporary relief from stress, but they can ultimately make things worse and lead to addiction.


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How To Recover From Burnout

If you’re experiencing burnout, know that you can recover from it and get better. The first step is to reach out for help. This could mean seeking professional help, such as therapy or counselling. It could also be talking to friends, family members, or colleagues about what you’re going through.

In addition to seeking professional help, there are things you can do to recover from burnout on your own. These include:

1. Take Time For Yourself

Make sure to schedule some time just for you each week for something you want to do. Whether that’s taking a long bath, reading your favourite book, or going for a walk.

2. Let Go Of The Need To Work All The Time

A leading cause of burnout is working too much. If possible, take some time off from work or reduce your hours. If you can’t do that, try to take some time each day to disconnect from work.

3. Simplify Your Life

One of the best ways to reduce stress is to simplify your life. This could mean decluttering your home, eliminating unnecessary commitments, and streamlining your schedule.

4. Practice Self-Care 

Self-care is anything you do to care for yourself physically and mentally. This could include exercise, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and meditating.

5. Set Boundaries

If you’re saying yes to everything, it’s time to establish some boundaries. Learn to say no to things you don’t want to do, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Setting boundaries is an essential skill of any successful leader.

6. Detox

Once you have identified your triggers, it is time to start avoiding them. This may mean significant changes in your life, such as changing jobs, ending relationships, or making lifestyle changes. If stress is a regular part of your life, it is vital to make changes to reduce it.

7. Eliminate Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Once you’ve learned how to cope with stress healthily, it’s time to start eliminating any unhealthy coping mechanismsthat you may have. This could include using drugs or alcohol to cope with stress, smoking cigarettes, or overeating.

Making lifestyle changes can be difficult, but it’s important to remember that you’re worth it. These changes will not only help you reduce stress and avoid or overcome burnout, but they’ll also improve your overall health and well-being.

“Self-care is how you take your power back.” — Lalah Delia.

Final Thoughts

Recovering from burnout can take time and effort, but it’s essential to be patient with yourself. Remember to listen to your body and mind, and do what you need to take care of yourself. 

It is essential to realise that if you don’t make any changes, ongoing stress will turn to burnout, significantly affecting your physical and mental health.

So try some tips above to avoid and prevent burnout. Many resources are also available, and talking to a therapist or counsellor can be incredibly helpful. 

At LeadershipHQ we coach in Neuroscience, Mindfulness, Leadership, Resilience and Managing Stress and Burnout in all our Programs.

You could also try our coaching services. Sometimes just having someone to listen and offer you support is all you need to become a great woman in leadership and to learn how to deal with and overcome stress. 

Remember, you’re worth it, so take time for yourself, simplify your life, and practice self-care.

Want to find out more? Contact us today if you’re ready to be inspired and challenge yourself to reach your full potential! 


By Sonia McDonald – CEO Of LeadershipHQ And McDonald Inc. Leadership Coach, Global Keynote Speaker, Entrepreneur, CEO And Award Winning Author.