Burnout vs Stress: Understand the Difference and Remedies

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You’ve certainly heard your friends or colleagues say that they’re burnt out from work. They also say they’re stressed about a specific problem in their professional or personal life. While we use both terms interchangeably, they’re not the same. 

If we put all the negative emotions in a family tree, you can think of burnout as the big brother of stress. But it’s a vague statement and doesn’t clarify your concern. So, let’s dive right into it and objectively differentiate between stress and burnout.

What is Stress and How Do You Identify It?

If you live in a big city like New York, it’ll be easier for you to understand stress. Think of stress as the city’s ubiquitous rhythm, the fast-paced heartbeat of every New Yorker. It’s that relentless inbox that never empties, the subway delays that test your patience, or the perpetual hunt for an affordable avocado toast. Stress is the New York badge of honor.

But it’s more than just the small stuff. Stress can be the weight of mounting responsibilities, the feeling of being stretched thin at work, or the endless list of social commitments. Stress is often an unwelcome but inevitable companion in the city that demands your all. 

By definition, stress is “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances”.  As you can see, it perfectly aligns with what we just explored using NYC as a metaphor.

We all suffer from stress periodically. It’s a part of life, just like the subway delays have become in recent years. The key is to identify stress to manage and mitigate its effects on your physical and mental well-being. Stress can manifest in various ways, and it often differs from person to person. 

For example, you may experience muscle tension, especially in the neck, shoulders, or back. This can lead to headaches or body aches. It may disrupt your sleep, causing insomnia or excessive sleeping. Stress can even affect your digestive system. If you’re having constant discomfort in your stomach, indigestion, or changes in bowel habits, it’s time to look at your stress levels!

Other physical symptoms include a faster heart rate, excessive sweating, constant fatigue, etc.

But physical symptoms are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to identifying stress. It has significant mental impacts too. Increased irritability or a shorter fuse is a telltale sign. Then there is feeling anxious, nervous, or on edge all the time. You’ll face Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or getting tasks done in time.

The worst thing about stress-induced anxiety is that Some people may turn to substances like alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, or other drugs to cope with it. But we highly discourage this approach. There is very good anxiety therapy in New York City that can help you navigate the rough patch in your life. 

What is Burnout and How to Identify It?

Now that you know what stress feels like and how to identify it, let’s divert our attention to its meaner big brother, burnout. To understand the burnout versus stress argument, the setup was crucial.

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The scary thing about burnout is that it creeps into your life quietly, like a shadow on a moonless night. It’s the sense of emotional and physical exhaustion that lingers long after you’ve left the office. It slowly becomes a part of your life, so much so that it starts to feel normal. Burnout can make you feel detached and indifferent.

Burnout is not about a bad day or even a bad week.  It settles in for the long haul. You lose enthusiasm for the things you used to love once. The depletion of energy, and the nagging feeling that you’re running on fumes. Burnout doesn’t just knock on your door; it barges in and makes itself at home. It makes good things look pale and bad things look nightmarish.

The bold yet sneaky nature of burnout makes it extremely hard to identify. But it’s a critical step if you truly want to snap out of the miserable phase in your mind. 

One of the first signs of burnout is chronic exhaustion. You feel physically and emotionally drained on a consistent basis, even after a full night’s sleep or a weekend off. This results in a notable decline in your professional or personal performance, productivity, or efficiency. Tasks that you used to love now become irritating. 

Over time, you start developing a negative and cynical outlook on work, colleagues, or life in general. You may become more critical and less patient with others. The loss of interest in the things you love leads to dissatisfaction, obstructing your few outlets of joy and fulfillment. 

Another scary thing about burnout in contrast to stress is the lack of physical symptoms. You may still suffer headaches or stomach issues but they won’t be as jarring. This makes identifying burnout even more critical. 

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

When life starts to feel meaningless, it’s hard to snap out of it. But for your own well-being, it’s critical that you take the symptoms seriously and take immediate action. 

One of the first steps to success is accepting the facts. If possible, take a temporary break from work or responsibilities to allow yourself time to recover and rejuvenate. You must prioritize self-care activities that nurture your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Engage in hobbies, practice mindfulness, or pamper yourself occasionally.

If you’re not into it, consider hitting the gym to lift heavy weights as it releases endorphins, a natural stress reliever. If you suspect the burnout or stress is caused by the nature of your work,  Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life. Avoid overcommitting and learn to say no when necessary. If you suspect it can happen again, consider a career change. 

If you think burnout is significantly impacting your life and well-being, consider seeking support from a therapist or counselor who specializes in burnout and stress management. There are lots of them in NYC. Ask your peers for recommendations or research on your own.