Feeling exhausted, depleted and disengaged from work for a while now, Is it job stress? Or is it burnout?
The terms ‘stress’ and ‘burnout’ are at times used interchangeably, they exist on the same spectrum, but there are real key contrasts.
Stress that is temporary or attached to a particular event is a normal part of life that we all experience from during our lives.
We feel stress when our mental, physical or emotional reserves are pushed past our comfort level. It’s significant to note that stress can be negative, like trying to please a demanding boss or pushing to meet a deadline; Or positive, like physical exercise or throwing a party.
Each of these drive us out of the comfort zone, but the event seems temporary and may actually help us grow and achieve a desired goal.
Burnout, however, is a reaction to protracted, disproportionate stress that leaves you mentally and physically exhausted, cynical, detached and less effective as a result.
Left unresolved, burnout can give way to mental health illnesses like clinical depression.
When you are dealing with burnout, you may feel hopeless about your situation. You have trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
The all-embracing feeling is lack of energy, motivation and purpose, and feeling like it won’t change.
Another way to look at Stress can be characterised by over-engagement, or doing too much, whereas burnout often leads to disengagement or not doing enough and feeling emotionally blunted.
In 2019, the World Health Organization classified job burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” [not a medical condition] in its International Classification of Diseases.
Generally, the term burnout is used in the context of work, but it doesn’t just happen to people who are overworked. It can also occur when you’re being under-challenged professionally or because of unfair treatment in the workplace.
Burnout can also apply to other areas of life, such as parenting or caring and more recently the coronavirus pandemic. Whatever the source of continued stress may be, you’ll start to feel like you’re running on fumes, making it more difficult to handle basic responsibilities and enjoy the once-pleasurable aspects of your life.
There is a difference between stress and burnout, and it's important to have healthy coping mechanisms for both.
Signs You May Be Experiencing Burnout
Some symptoms of burnout are similar to those that occur during times of stress. With stress, however, the symptoms generally subside when the event has passed. If the symptoms are more severe and persist over a longer period of time, they could be indicative of burnout.
The difference between stress and burnout is a matter of degree. So the best way to prevent burnout is to recognise the signs as close as possible to the less severe end of these ranges, because the less severe the symptoms, the easier they are to relieve.
Here are some signs you’re experiencing burnout:
1. You have sleep issues - You’re permanently tired, physically, emotionally and mentally. But no matter how much sleep you get, you never feel rested. You might be oversleeping or you might struggle with insomnia because thoughts of work keep you up at night.
2. You dread going to work, just thinking about your job fills you with anxiety. You know you’re starting to feel burned out when the Sunday chill out is your least favourite time of the week.
3. You get sick a lot, The prolonged stress can tax your immune system, which means you get ill more often and it takes longer to recover when you do. You may also experience other physical symptoms like frequent headaches, digestive issues and muscle tension.
4. Your motivation and sense of purpose has gone. The physical and mental exhaustion grinds you down over time. You have trouble pushing yourself to complete tasks and assignments because your work feels pointless.
5. Tenancy to isolate yourself. Chatting with co-workers and making plans with friends and family used to be a bright spot in your week. Now you feel like you can’t afford to take a break, nor do you have the wherewithal to engage with other people. With the coronavirus, it’s much harder to do those things anyway.
6. Your performance is diminishing. Your concentration and creativity are gone, which means you’re less productive and making more mistakes. You may also find it difficult to maintain positive relationships with your colleagues, romantic partner and friends.
Dealing With Burnout
Experts recommend checking in with yourself often so you don't get to the point of complete burnout.
The sooner you recognise the signs of burnout, the better. Unfortunately, it’s often not until things get bad that people realise just how burned out they really are.
Think you’re dealing with burnout? Here’s what some knowledgeable people recommend doing.