What’s the difference between stress and burnout and what defines burnout?

Let’s begin by defining burnout. Burnout in a nutshell is a constant depletion of mental, physical and emotional energy – without expected or real needs being met. Burnout is a gradual process that builds up over time- sometimes without you even knowing. It can be caused by a mismatch between work and person which leads to outcomes of disrupted work performance and personal factors.

These personal factors can include stress, depression, fatigue, whereas work performance like time management and work ability and productivity can suffer. Burnout affects both areas. It includes three basic dimensions: overwhelming exhaustion, which includes what I mentioned earlier with a depletion of mental, physical, and emotional energy; feelings of cynicism and detachment from your job; and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. The best way I can describe burnout is having that pit in your stomach of constant dread. It becomes about when too much of your life is draining and not enough is fulfilling, then a sense of hopelessness takes over.

Stress and Burnout are NOT the same thing.

Burnout is also not the same as depression, because burnout is associated with work and depression can be independent of work. Burnout is also not the same as exhaustion. It includes those other dimensions of cynicism and decreased self-efficacy or feelings of accomplishment.

The negative effects of burnout can spill over into every area of life—including your home, work, and social life. Burnout carries a significant weight of hopelessness or powerlessness. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu . Are you experiencing any of these symptoms: low energy, muscle tension, headaches, digestive disorders, frequent colds, or changes in sleep patterns? Mental symptoms include feeling inadequate, overwhelmed, loss of meaning, boredom, frustration, sadness, irritability, feeling unappreciated or trapped. The outcomes of these symptoms can include withdrawal, increased sick days, presenteeism, accidents, crying or increased used of alcohol or food to self soothe.

Let’s focus our attention on stress!

When the body is stressed, the sympathetic nervous system generates what is known as the “fight or flight” response.

The body shifts all of its energy resources toward fighting off a life threat, or fleeing from an enemy. The sympathetic nervous system signals the adrenal glands to release hormones called adrenaline and cortisol. Stress signals from the hypothalamus cause the adrenal cortex to produce cortisol and the adrenal medulla to produce adrenaline. This starts the process that gives your body the energy to run from danger. These hormones cause the heart to beat faster, respiration rate to increase, blood vessels in the arms and legs to dilate, digestive process to change and glucose levels in the bloodstream to increase to deal with the emergency. Oh my gosh! Can you imagine this happening over a prolonged period?

Experiencing stressors over a prolonged period of time, can result in a long-term drain on the body. Duh. As the sympathetic nervous system continues to trigger physical reactions, it causes a wear-and-tear on the body. It’s not so much what chronic stress does to the nervous system, but what continuous activation of the nervous system does to other bodily systems that become a huge problem. Stress can involve a sense of urgency and hyperactivity, being over engaged and over active, and more physical consequences, whereas burnout aligns more with disengagement, helplessness and hopelessness, feelings of detachment, and more emotional consequences.  Stress increases our need to respond to whatever is stressing us out, creating anxiety in the process. In burnout, we respond less to the things that are stressing us out, which may lead to depression.

You can definitely be stressed, but not burnt out, but if you’re burnt out, it’s a result of unrelenting stress. Stress is not a disorder in and of itself, while burnout is, and that’s why there is such a thing as burnout syndrome. Since chronic stress can lead to burnout, stress management techniques can sometimes be helpful in managing burnout, like meditating, deep breathing, spa days, exercise, etc. But that’s only if we can get ourselves to actually do them, which is the challenge, right?

We may know what to do, and tell ourselves that we’re going to make changes but don’t. Having the motivation to do it or perceiving that you don’t have the time can really be frustrating.

To help with some of these problems, we created a mini-course called Revamp Your Joy. In this course, we address these things in greater detail, and teach you how to use and cultivate and increased level of joy in your life to decrease feelings of stress and burnout

If you want more on how to increase your joy, energy, and time to do the things in life that mean the most to you, subscribe to my site for weekly updates on new posts, freebies, announcements, and more!! Can’t wait to see ya again 🙂

xx, Erika

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