Burn-out: A New Kind of Stress

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Burn-out: A New Kind of Stress

The symptoms of burn-out often overlap with symptoms of typical job-related stress, which can make it difficult to determine which one you’re dealing with.


What is stress?
Stress is a normal part of life; the human body is designed to experience and react to it. In fact, stress can be good, it can keep you alert and motivated in dangerous situations. For example, when you drive in a snowstorm, you probably feel tense and nervous, but the stress you experience actually helps you to stay focused on the road and drive with extra caution. However, prolonged or frequent periods of increased stress can be harmful to your health.

Sometimes, the body’s autonomic nervous system’s response to an emergency—often referred to as “fight or flight”—becomes chronically activated, even when there isn’t an emergency, and it takes a toll on the mind and body. Chronic stress can cause stomach issues (indigestion, nausea, loss of appetite), insomnia, high blood pressure, headaches, and chest pain.  It can also contribute to mental health conditions like depression and panic attacks.

What is Burn-out?
Recently, burn-out, has been recognized as a serious mental health issue caused by chronic stress in the workplace. In fact, in May 2019, burn-out was officially added to the International Classification of Diseases, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) handbook that helps medical providers diagnose diseases. The WHO defines burn-out as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

The symptoms of burn-out often overlap with symptoms of typical job-related stress, which can make it difficult to determine which one you’re dealing with, but, understanding the differences between these conditions can help you decide what you need to do for relief. The main difference between the two is that stress can be triggered by a variety of things—life changes, work, financial strain, relationships, etc. Burn-out, on the other hand, refers specifically to symptoms that are brought on exclusively by work-related stress. The following symptoms help to distinguish burn-out from any other kind of stress:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job
  • Reduced professional efficacy
  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
  • Taking out your frustrations on others
  • Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early

How can I cope with burn-out?
Burn-out, like other forms of stress, can be minimized by making certain lifestyle changes. If you’re feeling burnt out or think you may be headed in that direction, pause and reevaluate your priorities. Sometimes, this kind of stress is caused by focusing too much energy on one thing (like work) and neglecting other important parts of your life (like your hobbies, passions, or health). Setting boundaries and learning how to say “no” to certain situations and activities that exhaust you physically and emotionally is an important part of caring for yourself. Caring for the whole you means caring for your body and mind, and doing these things can help you stay well:

  • Talk to your doctor if you’re constantly stressed or feel burnt out.
  • Exercise regularly to boost your mood and energy and improve your overall health.
  • Set a time limit on how many hours you spend on your phone or computer each day—too much technology can overstimulate your brain and make it harder to relax.
  • Do more things that make you feel good—read a book, discover a new hobby, take a walk, go out with friends—make time for things that make you happy.
  • Make sleep a priority (aim for 8 hours a night).
  • Consider talking to a psychologist or counselor if you’re feeling overwhelmed by work or other aspects of life. A professional can help you develop healthy, sustainable coping techniques for stressors.




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