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Burnout and stress are pretty closely linked, but they’re not the same thing. Find out what the signs of both ongoing stress and burnout look like, and learn how to prevent yourself reaching breaking point.

This can help if:

  • you’re feeling stressed all the time
  • you’re worried that you’re approaching breaking point
  • you want to know the long-term effects of stress.
Girl sitting on floor thinking

Burnout vs. stress

When you’re stressed, your whole nervous system reacts and releases specific hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) into your blood stream. These hormones speed up your heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and metabolism.

This can be a good thing as it can motivate you or help you get through a tough situation. Changes in your body as a result of stress can increase your ability to feel:

  • alert
  • energised
  • switched on
  • motivated
  • more resourceful.

In the long term, though, the pressure that stress puts on your body is bad for both your physical health and emotional wellbeing. Eventually, too much stress on your body over a long period of time can cause you to burn out. Burnout is a state of complete mental, physical and emotional exhaustion.

Ongoing stress

It’s easier to prevent burning out if you’re able to identify early on the signs of experiencing too much stress. If you’re too stressed for too long, you might feel:

  • angry or annoyed for no reason
  • anxious or worried all the time
  • like you want to withdraw from people
  • extra-sensitive to things that wouldn’t normally get on your nerves
  • useless or incapable.

Or you may notice physical effects, such as:

  • stomach issues, such as indigestion or even diarrhoea
  • headaches
  • muscle and back pain
  • problems with getting to sleep
  • eating more or less than usual
  • raised heart rate.

You might not experience all of these signs, but any one of them could be an indication that your stress level is getting too high.

Burnout

Long-term stress is exhausting, and can prevent you from taking part in activities that you normally find meaningful. This is burnout. Some of the signs of burnout include:

  • feeling exhausted and unable to perform basic tasks
  • losing motivation in many aspects of your life, including your work and friendships
  • feeling unable to focus or concentrate on tasks
  • feeling empty or lacking in emotion
  • losing your passion and drive
  • experiencing conflict in your relationships with co-workers, friends and family
  • withdrawing emotionally from friends and family.

Essentially, when you've reached the point of burnout, it can feel like you’ve had the life sucked out of you. You no longer feel capable of caring about what’s important to you, to making any effort, or staying motivated.

What can I do about it?

If you’re burnt out, you can help yourself by:

  • taking regular time out, including setting aside some time each day to 'switch off' from technology
  • developing skills such as problem solving to help you handle tricky situations
  • setting boundaries, so that you avoid overextending yourself
  • keeping an open line of communication with colleagues, family and friends about how you’re feeling
  • reaching out for support, whether it’s from friends and family, colleagues, or a health professional
  • re-evaluating your goals and priorities, so that you tip the balance back to including activities that make you feel happy.

If you’re worried about a friend, check out how to help a stressed-out friend.

What can I do now?

  • Take some time out for yourself and do something you enjoy.
  • Learn about relaxation.
  • Try using the ReachOut WorryTime app to manage your worries.