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Stress vs Burnout – What is the difference?

It is National Stress Awareness Day on 2nd November. Sponsored by the International Stress

Management Association (ISMA), it is a time in the year to remind ourselves that we are not

doing ourselves any favours by worrying about situations we cannot control. Over recent

years, stress has been much more widely spoken about and in a UK-wide stress study by The

Mental Health Foundation, they found that a staggering 74% of all UK adults felt stressed or

unable to cope over the last year, I am sure this figure is set to rise. In our latest blog we

wanted to explore the difference between stress, burnout and pressure and consider how

we can manage this in our daily lives.

What is stress?

Let’s start by thinking about what we mean by stress. Before we focus on what this can look like, it is worth noting that stress can be a positive feeling making us feel more energised and help us to perform at our best. Mind define stress as:

“Stress is how we react when we feel under pressure or threatened. It usually happens when we are in a situation that we don’t feel we can manage or control.”

Stress as a feeling can come and go and we can often pinpoint a particular situation or person which is the source. As part of feeling stressed over a sustained time frame, we can start to feel overwhelmed by the demands placed upon us and not having the energy or motivation to meet those demands. We can experience the effects of stress physically, emotionally, cognitively or behaviorally. There are many things which can be the source of stress with family, children or the workplace being noted as a few.

Stress is not normally considered a mental health problem, but it is connected to our mental health in a number of ways: It may lead to depression or anxiety or it might lead you to use drugs or alcohol to manage the symptoms, for example.

What is burnout?

Another term which is commonly used is burnout. Burnout can be avoidable. It is not an illness or disease but is classed by the World Health Organisation as an “organizational phenomenon”. Burnout should not be accepted as something you have to experience when working in a high-pressure, fast-paced environment and is not about having too much work. There are other unique factors at play here and many things we can do, to support our colleagues in the workplace to avoid burnout. It is normal to lose momentum at work from time to time. The signs of burnout are different to that of stress but can present as similar symptoms at the extreme end of the scale and focus on feelings of overwhelm with a lack of direction or purpose.

Typical signs of burnout could include:

  • reduced sleep

  • overwhelm

  • alienation from friends

  • extreme exhaustion

  • withdrawn

  • feeling unproductive

  • a lack of joy or feelings of anxiety

If you some of these symptoms are ringing true with you, prevention is better than cure and there are some things you can do to help manage this situation. Start by talking to your colleagues or line managers so you can let them know how you are feeling, ask them for help to come up with a plan to move forward.

This may include:

  • prioritising your work to feel more in control

  • asking for help with certain tasks

  • scheduling more breaks to rest and recharge (would you expect your car or devices to keep going without ever stopping?

It is always worth having a chat with your GP or getting in touch with someone from your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to talk about how you are feeling as they are best placed to make a professional diagnosis.

Evidence suggests that only 10-15% of all employees fit the true burnout profile, whereas employees who experience lack of engagement may be twice as much at around 30%. Burnout may look similar to depression, but negative thoughts and feelings are relating to the workplace, whereas clinical depression is broader.

Six tips to manage stress levels and wellbeing

The good news is that there are ways we can manage our stress levels, some ideas are:

1. Having positive sleep hygiene and getting good rest.

2. Learning relaxation techniques such as meditation or mindfulness.

3. Eat a balanced, nutritious diet and drink plenty of water.

4. Move more regularly and find some exercise you enjoy.

5. Take time out with friends and family.

6. Find a hobby or sport which gives you joy.

In Summary

Burnout and stress is a very real challenge in today’s fast paced world. Supporting our teams to enable them to manage these and help them prevent symptoms escalating is critical. We run a number of different workshops to help support our teams including: Stress vs. Burnout, Rejuvenate and Rest, Living and Working through Stress and Winter Wellbeing.

Please get in touch to see how we can help support your teams.

Be mindful,





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