Stress and burnout are two conditions that seem to plague most working adults at some point in their lives. To learn how to deal with them, it is first important to understand the difference between the two. I probably don’t need to tell you that stress comes in the form of mental worry and emotional or physical strain, and is most commonly associated with the feeling of being overworked. Burnout is a result of continuous stress and presents with chronic exhaustion and serious feelings of hopelessness (1).

Stress comes with taking on too much, whereas burnout is characterized by a zap in productivity; stress makes your emotions run high, while under burnout your normal emotions are blunted (1). You might feel hyperactive or “nervous energy” when you are stressed out, but burnout causes you to toss aside all motivation (1).

The Road to Burnout

As I mentioned, excessive and continual stress can lead to burnout. Some signs that you may be burning out are:

  • You feel like every day is a bad day.
  • You stop caring about your work or home life.
  • You feel like your daily tasks are “mind-numbingly dull” or completely overwhelming (2).
  • You feel irrelevant and like you’re not appreciated.
  • You feel empty.

You can probably recognize when you’re stressed out, but it’s important to be aware of the warning signs that lead to burnout, too. Even if you’re starting to feel hopeless, you can do more to relieve stress than you think. Instead of pushing through the exhaustion to the brink of burnout, figure out what causes stress in your life and learn to manage your reactions to stress.

Causes of Stress and Burnout

Not surprisingly, work is one of the most common contributors to stress. There are likely a million different reasons you feel stress at work: conflict among co-workers, unclear job expectations, overly demanding or challenging work, or a lack of recognition for the work you do. As reported by the CDC, the most stressful working conditions involve a high-pressure work environment, conflicting expectations from supervisors, and an excessive workload (3). Of course, what one person considers stressful may be another person’s M.O.!

Other factors that can cause stress include an unbalanced family or personal life. This may be caused, for example, by having to deal with an ill parent or family member (3). Of course, friends and family can also do wonders to reduce stress in your life, too. Health is another source of stress, especially if you are seriously injured or are living with a disease. I should mention, however, that stress can affect your health as easily as health problems can cause stress. Therefore, maintaining a healthy routine is important in managing stress.

How to Manage Stress and Avoid Burnout

I know as well as you that it’s nearly impossible to avoid stress altogether, but there are techniques you can use to help manage your stress. For one, take a moment to evaluate how you react to stress: normal reactions include anger, feeling pain, over-eating, depression, and negativity (4). While it’s ok to react to stress in your own way, there may be a healthier approach that helps you reduce stress and avoid burnout in the long run.

Try to cut back on your obligations at work and at home. Is it possible to delegate a portion of your responsibilities to someone else? Being better prepared and setting realistic goals for any task — from writing reports to washing dishes — can help alleviate stress. Hanging with good friends or engaging in a hobby you enjoy can also be relaxing. And I can’t overstate how valuable a solid night’s sleep and good nutrition are to your wellbeing. Sleep affects your immune system and your judgment, so make sure to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night if you want to seriously combat stress (4).

If you feel your stress level is beyond self-management, definitely talk to your doctor. Living with chronic stress and burnout can pose danger to your health, and your doctor will be able to help you get back on track.

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