Stress and Burnout

What is the difference between stress and burnout?

Experiencing stress can be beneficial as it can help with prioritising important tasks and accomplishing goals that an individual has set for themselves. When you are able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and gain a sense of satisfaction from completing tasks and projects, this can be seen as a positive side of experiencing stress. When stress becomes prolonged over an extended time period, this is when it becomes harmful and turns into burnout.


What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion which is often caused by experiencing situations where there is chronic high stress. A psychologist, Herbert Freudenberger, coined this term in 1974 when he studied burnout in staff members at a clinic. Burnout is more than fatigue and tiredness. It is a perpetual state of exhaustion where one’s everyday life is affected on a personal and professional level. Individuals struggling with burnout typically describe having “nothing left in the tank” anymore. Burnout is typically experienced by people who work in demanding environments, those who work long hours, have an unmanageable workload, or in time pressured environments.


How do I know that I’m experiencing burnout?

There are a number of tell-tale signs and symptoms that show whether you are headed towards burning out and running out of steam. These signs and symptoms are clustered into three main areas: Physical and emotional exhaustion, Isolation and Detachment, and Ineffectiveness and lack of productivity. If you are able to recognise the signs and symptoms earlier, you will be able to find help sooner and begin making changes in your life to reduce your stress.


Physical and emotional exhaustion

Burnout may be experienced as physical and emotional exhaustion. Individuals may experience chronic fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, attention and concentration problems, irritability or angry outbursts, and increased chances of illnesses (i.e. colds and flu) as the immune system becomes weakened due to the prolonged state of stress.


Isolation and Detachment

Individuals experiencing burnout may feel overwhelmed and begin to minimise their social interactions with colleagues, friends, and family. They may lose enjoyment for the hobbies and activities in which they previously took pleasure. Overall, individuals may also experience a general sense of detachment, be disconnected, and pull away from their work and other responsibilities.


Ineffectiveness and lack of productivity

Individuals who are experiencing burnout may also feel a sense of apathy, hopelessness, and pessimism. They may feel ineffective and find that there is “no point” in doing anything because nothing is going right for them at the moment. Burnout also affects a person’s level of productivity as chronic stress hampers their focus and performance. Simply put – the list of “to-do’s” and incomplete projects just simply grows longer and longer.  


If you have noticed that you are experiencing some of these signs and symptoms, and the warning bells have started to go off, then it may be time to start seeking professional help on how to manage and overcome burnout.

Stress and Burnout FAQ

What therapy is best for stress?

There are various types of therapy that help individuals deal with stress. A qualified therapist may help you navigate the best type of therapy for stress. Some of the most common types of therapy in treating stress include: Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Mindfulness-based techniques, and other psychodynamic therapies.

How can a therapist help with work burnout?
A therapist can help you explore ways of reducing work-related stress and work burnout, help you with relaxation techniques to decrease the physiological effects of work burnout, and focus on strategies to re-structure your life so that you maintain a healthy work-life balance.

How can a therapist help me cope with job stress during Covid-19?
A therapist can help you navigate and understand the stresses that you are experiencing, and also help you uncover ways of improving coping and resiliency through the Covid-19 pandemic.