Stress and Burnout, Differences Between and How to Prevent It

Everyone has suffered from a bit of stress at one time or another, but once this stress starts to transform into burnout, then it becomes much more problematic.

It is therefore imperative to identify burnout early and to combat the symptoms of burnout as soon as possible.

Stress and burnout may seem similar at first glance but a lot distinguishes them. Learn how to make that distinction.

Stress and burnout may seem the same, but is this really so? Of course not! Actually, stress and burnout are quite different concepts.

Under stress, we struggle to cope with pressure and tension. In a state of total exhaustion, as is the case with burnout, the energy disappears and hopelessness gains ground.

stress and burnout

What Is Stress and Why Is It Bad for You?

Stress, perhaps one of the most used terms worldwide.

It can be defined as a reaction of the organism, physical and psychological, caused by emotional changes that occur when someone is confronted with certain situations (challenges; threats; disturbing situations), which can provoke a wide variety of feelings and sensations.

Stress depends on the demands of each person’s daily life. Stress-inducing situations can be extremely varied.

Certain situations or stimuli become stressful because of the interpretation or meaning that each person gives to them.

Intense and extraordinary life events tend to be sources of stress, such as home-related situations, separation/divorce, starting a new job, getting fired, having an accident, or losing a loved one.

However, small everyday situations can also cause stress (noise, intense headaches, neighbors making too much noise, and so on).

The consequences of intense and prolonged stress are many: anxiety disorders, depression, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, increased consumption of drugs, alcoholic beverages, and tobacco, among others.

How to Distinguish a State of Burnout?

The concept of burnout emerged associated with the feeling of professional exhaustion, often found in health professionals and other professions involved in the dynamics of helping and caring for other people.

Simply put, burnout can be defined as a state of enormous emotional exhaustion, which originates from a chronic process of exposure to stress, and is not the consequence of a single episode of discomfort and pressure.

It tends to develop over the years and go unnoticed in its early stages. It is associated with an excessive and prolonged level of tension and degradation of the quality of life, with implications at the level of physical and mental health.

When Does Stress Turn Into Burnout?

In addition to depression, stress is also very similar to burnout. It is difficult to know at what point stress ceases to be normal and at what point burnout appears.

In order to clearly establish the difference between stress and burnout, let us consider these two problems as follows:

Stress => More Stress => Too Much Stress => Too Much Stress => Burnout.

You can see from this diagram that stress is ultimately the precursor to burnout, the innocent little brother.

If stress accumulates, after a certain time it leads to burnout.

Therefore, burnout cannot be activated without having first experienced a certain degree of stress, but on the contrary, stress can manifest itself perfectly well without necessarily leading to burnout.

So stress is not a disorder in itself, whereas burnout is. It could even be said that it is practically impossible to have a life without stress.

On the contrary, burnout is certainly a disorder. One of the consequences that can result from burnout is that you are no longer the person you want to be or were before.

Stress and Burnout: The Vicious Circle

There is a significant difference between stress and burnout. But above all, these two problems will end up plunging you into a vicious circle.

Stress builds up, and you find that things are not as easy as they used to be.

After a while, you start to experience certain concentration problems, and/or memory disorders, and this, in turn, will lead to even more stress.

However, suffering from all these problems is not normal either. The symptoms of burnout begin to manifest themselves.

Because you want to react against these symptoms, you are even more stressed.

Hence stress also appears because you are suffering from the symptoms of stress, and like a snowball, this causes you to suffer even more stress and consequently more burnout symptoms.

The Psychological Health Implications of Burnout End up Leading To:

  • Diminished emotional resources;
  • Negative attitudes and feelings directed toward people they serve and colleagues;
  • Dissatisfaction with work;
  • Unhappiness;
  • Adoption of negative, cold, detached, dehumanized attitudes;
  • Decreased feelings of professional competence and effectiveness;
  • Lack of attention, concentration, memory changes and slowed thinking;
  • Feeling of insufficiency, low self-esteem and difficulty with self-acceptance;
  • Inability to relax.

Some physical symptoms are commonly present in burnout situations, namely: constant and progressive fatigue, sleep disturbances, muscle pain, headaches and migraines, and gastrointestinal disturbances.

stress and burnout

Is Stress the Only Cause of Burnout?

Stress is not the only cause of burnout. Because burnout is fundamentally a disorder in itself, there are different factors that can contribute to the occurrence of burnout.

We can place burnout as a broader and more serious variant of stress, which if not treated correctly and early can lead to serious damage.

Do I Have Stress or Burnout?

Stress and burnout are often confused because their symptoms are very similar, yet each has its own role.

While stress tends to be a temporary response of our body to situations perceived as challenging/difficult, burnout refers to situations extended over time.

In simple terms, we can say that burnout is a consequence and an extension of stress.

It appears after a prolonged experience of stress and tends to be related to work situations, especially when there are excessive pressures, conflicts, low emotional rewards, and little recognition.

Difference between stress and burnout: comparing the symptoms

It is essential to keep in mind that, unlike burnout, stress is not a disorder. This is why burnout will have more serious consequences and symptoms than stress.

Below you can see the main characteristics of what we experience in case of stress and what we experience in case of burnout:

We get overly involvedNone or less involvement
We suffer emotions more intenselyWe experience a decrease in emotions
Causes hyperactivityCauses a feeling of abandonment
We have less energyWe have less motivation and less hope
Can lead to anxietyMay lead to depression
Physical consequencesEmotional consequences
Increased risk of premature deathIncreased risk of loss of prospects
Difference between stress and burnout: comparing the symptoms

How to Prevent Burnout

Now that you know what Burnout is and its consequences, it is time to learn how to solve this problem.

The treatments for Burnout should involve psychologists and even the use of medication, such as antidepressants.

However, some actions can and should be taken on a daily basis to ease the symptoms of this chronic disease.

Many specialists indicate that the affected person should rethink his routine, improving his quality of life by means of:

  • regular physical activity
  • relaxation exercises
  • regular contact with friends and family

Tips for continuous overcome of burnout

Log off

Today’s professionals are often connected to their jobs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, thanks to the technologies available for this.

However, this can further harm the employee with the syndrome.

Therefore, it is essential not to stay connected to work all the time.

Know your body’s signals

Self-medication is also quite common among today’s professionals to avoid the setbacks that headaches, fatigue, or muscle pains can cause.

But these body signals can be the first signs of Burnout is. Therefore, it is necessary to listen and try to understand each of these signals.

Plan your rest hours

Daily and weekly planning should not only consist of meetings and pending work.

The time for rest should also be planned. This will contribute to the relaxation time actually happening.

Avoid sleeping pills

The effect of this type of substance can interfere with and alter your brain processes. Therefore, avoid using these drugs when not prescribed by a doctor.

Seek natural alternatives, such as herbal teas, yoga, and other relaxation techniques.

Keep yourself organized

By getting organized, you will tend to distribute your tasks better, avoiding last-minute activities.

This makes it easier to get things done.

Take breaks during work

Working without rest breaks can make the professional stressed out and unproductive. Thus, it is essential to take 15-minute breaks every hour focused on work.

Reach out for family support

To deal with chronic diseases, such as Burnout, you should seek support from the people around you.

Moments with family and friends are great allies against this evil because they can help you to live better and have fun.