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  • Writer's pictureErika Agbabian, AMFT

Recognizing the Key Differences Between Burnout and Everyday Stress

In the hustle and bustle of our modern lives, stress has become an all-too- familiar part of our daily routines. It's that knot in your stomach before a big presentation, the tension that creeps into your shoulders during a busy workweek, or the juggling act of managing a household, social connections, and personal goals. We've all experienced stress—it's an undeniable part of being human. But what happens when stress goes beyond the norm? When that knot in your stomach transforms into an unrelenting ache, and the tension in your shoulders evolves into a heavy weight on your chest? What you might be facing is not merely stress; it could be burnout—an increasingly prevalent issue in today's fast-paced world.

Though it can be difficult to distinguish between the inevitable stress we experience and symptoms of burnout, it’s important to be able to recognize when it’s time to take your constant state of exhaustion and emotional drain more seriously. Beginning to understand these subtle yet crucial differences is the first step towards addressing and overcoming the unrelenting symptoms of burnout.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is a condition characterized by emotional, physical, and mental depletion stemming from prolonged exposure to chronic stress or overwork. It often occurs when the demands of our busy schedules and everyday responsibilities become excessive and begin to take over our lives, causing us to neglect our own self-care and mental health. There are many ways that your body might react to this kind of exhaustion, so people may experience burnout through a variety of symptoms. However, it is helpful to recognize common indicators and characteristics so that you’ll be able to determine for yourself if you’re experiencing burnout and seek the help you need.

Common Symptoms of Burnout

One of the most notable symptoms of burnout is physical exhaustion. You might feel physically drained, as though you have little energy or motivation to engage in daily activities. You may experience constant fatigue and find it challenging to get out of bed no matter how much sleep you get. Burnout may even disguise itself behind physical health symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, stomach problems, or weakened immune system. While stress may cause you to temporarily feel pushed beyond your limits or in need of rest, physical exhaustion caused by burnout will feel more universal and will likely fail to dissipate in a couple hours or even days.

Another hallmark of burnout is emotional drain. Overtime, you may begin to experience a sense of emptiness, numbness, or detachment from your own feelings and the feelings of others. This can easily become a problem for maintaining important relationships, since you may feel unable or unwilling to be there for a friend in need or put in the extra effort to make others feel cared for. This can lead to feelings of isolation, further perpetuating your experience of burnout. It may also become difficult to effectively identify and process your own feelings, causing inner emotional tensions to build up overtime. Similarly to physical exhaustion, regular stress may cause temporary feelings of emotional drain or inability to connect with your emotional self. However, unlike burnout, this will likely subside after taking a short break or getting a good night’s sleep.

Another common symptom of burnout is increased irritability. You may notice yourself feeling more impatient, frustrated, and agitated than usual, even from minor incidents. You’ll have less tolerance for the everyday inconveniences and annoyances you experience and may find it harder to bounce back into better moods. As you can imagine, this can also get in the way of maintaining personal relationships. Though you may recognize yourself becoming more irritable during stressful periods, you would not likely experience this level of increased irritability so universally through short exposures to stress alone, making it another critical characteristic that sets burnout apart.

Many people who struggle with burnout will also notice a reduced sense of accomplishment. Burnout can erode your sense of achievement and self-worth, causing you to feel like your efforts are in vain or that you're not making a meaningful impact. You may feel disconnected from the work you do or find yourself lacking the sense of passion and purpose you once had. This goes hand in hand with a loss of interest in hobbies that once brought you joy and pursuance of your greatest passions. If you begin to recognize a significant reduction in your sense of accomplishment without a reasonable explanation or relief over a long period of time, you’re likely experiencing more than normal levels of stress.

Treating Burnout

Perhaps the most effective way to treat burnout is through the simple practice of self-care. Though we often have little control over the demands of our jobs, roles, or responsibilities, we do have control over how we choose to take care of ourselves. Even seemingly small self-care activities have the power to rejuvenate us and restore our sense of self over time. Whether it's something as big as getting out of town for the weekend or as small as taking deep breaths between tasks, we can all find practices and activities that rejuvenate us and gradually reduce our symptoms of burnout. For more tips and support, contact a therapist to begin setting goals and learning coping strategies for burnout prevention and treatment.


If you would like help with managing your burn out then click on the button below to schedule your first appointment.



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