Are you suffering from burnout, or stress?

Apr 3

As the coronavirus has developed over the course of the past months, weeks and days, our plans have changed and so too have our lives. A change as drastic as this can often spur heightened feelings of stress and anxiety amongst many, and while it appears that these changes will be the norm for a while, stress and burnout are two things that we must not allow to become part of our new normal.

Feelings associated with being unable to meet deadlines and the demands of work, family and even your social life are normal – and not just during times like these. Prolonged stress and overwhelm are both early warning signs of burnout. With this in mind, how do we know when we are experiencing too much stress, and what are the signs you need to be aware of when identifying burnout?

What is stress?

Simply put, stress is “too much” demand at once. This means, too many pressures and responsibilities are demanding too much of us, both physically and mentally. However, stress should be temporary. Even in particularly stressful times, most of us will be able to identify that this response is temporary and will pass.

What is burnout?

Burnout on the other hand, is a state of complete emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged feelings of stress. When experiencing burnout, you may begin to lose interest in things you were once passionate about, including the reasons that led you to take on certain roles and responsibilities in the first place.

When you are experiencing burnout (as opposed to stress), you often can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and don’t feel that there is any chance of positive change to your situation.

Often, these feelings are a result of:

  • Lack of sleep, physical exercise and supportive relationships
  • Working long hours without enough time for relaxation and/or social activity
  • Taking on too much load without asking for or receiving help from others
  • Times of immense change and adjustment

The negative effects of burnout can impact all areas of life. It reduces your productivity and depletes energy, leaving you feeling increasingly vulnerable, depressed, pessimistic and often resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have no energy to continue on with a specific task or demand.

To prevent stress from turning into burnout, be aware of and try to recognise the following signs:


  • Fatigued and drained
  • Lack of exercise
  • Lowered immunity, frequent illnesses
  • Headaches and stomach aches, or intestinal issues
  • Change in appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Muscular aches and pains


  • Heightened self-doubt
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment at work
  • Feeling drained (empty tank)
  • Feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • Loss of motivation
  • Cynical and/or negative outlook


  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Using food, drugs and/or alcohol to cope with stress
  • Procrastination and taking longer to get things done
  • Heightened agitation
  • Frequent sick days
  • Difficulty concentrating and often lack of creativity

Unfortunately, like most illnesses or conditions, burnout is easier to prevent than treat. It’s curable, but changes to your environment and lifestyle are necessary.

If you are experiencing signs of burnout, practice these simple strategies to remain motivated and calm:

  • Set better boundaries; make it easier for people to support you by clearly stating your expectations
  • Become aware of destructive habits (eating, drinking, substances) and start to minimise daily
  • Limit your contact with negative and destructive friends or family members
  • Do daily exercise that energises you, not depletes you (i.e. Yoga or Pilates)
  • Meditate in the morning to reduce anxiety and overwhelm
  • Meditate in the evening to aid in relaxation and quality sleep
  • Breathe; this helps to quieten the mind
  • Stop comparing yourself to others; focus on your own positive aspects of life
  • Practice gratitude daily
  • Make time for hobbies; things and people that bring you joy

This article originally appeared on body+soul.

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