Nov 14, 2018 | 4
Minute Read

5 Signs That Your Stress May Actually Be Burnout

man with hands on face

If a question on Family Feud were to be, “Name a word you hear most often around the water cooler at work,” stress would probably be the number-one answer. However, by no means is stress exclusive to the workplace. Stress is present, in some degree, just about everywhere. In small doses, stress can be a positive used as fuel to power through the day. Stress creates urgency, motivating us to accomplish our daily tasks. However, when there is no outlet for stress, it begins to build up. After awhile, stress can become toxic, leading to burnout.

When a person reaches a stage of burnout, the signs become fairly easy to identify. 5 signs of burnout include:

  • Having a negative outlook a majority of the time

  • Feeling constant exhaustion

  • Lack of joy or pride in a person’s work

  • Feeling apathy toward work and coworkers

  • Perception of problems being overwhelming and insurmountable

By no means is burnout a permanent affliction. However, it does take substantially more time and energy to recover from burnout than it does to get over a stress-filled day. The negative effects of burnout are reversible as long as the person is willing to take an active role in working toward resolving the underlying issues.

A change of perspective

I’ve used this analogy more than once but I believe it perfectly illustrates an important point. Let’s say you have a glass mug, a good old-fashioned Oktoberfest beer stein. Fill that mug to the top (with water, beer or otherwise) and hold it out in front of you, arm stretched fully forward. At first, the mug may not feel all that heavy. After a minute or two, your arm will likely fatigue. Hold that mug long enough and you’ll experience various stages of unpleasantness, discomfort and eventually, pain.

Stress works the same way. It starts with a little and turns into a lot if it goes unchecked. The weight of the glass doesn’t change, but your perception of it does. Hold onto that stress long enough, and you’ll find yourself in a starring role of a new movie called burnout.

Cumulative effects of stress

Stress can be good for you in small doses, helping provide focus and energy to complete the tasks of daily life. When the stress begins to add up, it can turn into a negative. As stress compounds, it has a cumulative effect. After awhile, the negative effects of that stress become more severe.

Having an usually stressful day may be unpleasant, but it is a short-lived problem. The negative feelings usually disappear when the cause of the stress goes away. With burnout, the experience and feeling is substantially different. Burnout changes your entire perspective.

Symptoms of burnout

When actual burnout strikes, a person’s attitude and outlook changes. Feelings of disillusionment, complete exhaustion and apathy become the norm. Simply harnessing the energy to do basic tasks becomes a challenge.

According to, burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place. The unhappiness and detachment that burnout causes can threaten your job, your relationships and your health.

Recognizing the early warning signs can help you can take steps toward preventing burnout. If you’ve already hit the breaking point, there are plenty of things you can do to reverse your fate and start to feel positive and energized once again.

Difference between stress and burnout makes a very important distinction between stress and burnout which, though related, are two very different things. They say, “Burnout may be the result of unrelenting stress, but it isn’t the same as too much stress. Stress, by and large, involves too much: too many pressures that demand too much of you physically and mentally. However, stressed people can still imagine that if they can just get everything under control, they’ll feel better.

Burnout, on the other hand, is about not enough. Being burned out means feeling empty and mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress is like drowning in responsibilities, burnout is being all dried up. And while you’re usually aware of being under a lot of stress, you don’t always notice burnout when it happens.”

It’s important to understand that burnout can come from multiple sources, including physical, mental and work-related pressures. It can manifest in various ways, from suffering lack of sleep to persistent low self-esteem.

How to rebound from burnout

Recognizing that you are dealing with burnout is the first step in recovering from it. Understanding the clear delineation between stress and burnout, and knowing when you’ve crossed that line, will help in being able to reverse course and work your way out of a burnout situation.

When you are in a state of burnout, you are vulnerable. Tasks appear much harder than they really are and energy seems to be at a premium. The most important thing to do is to ask for help. Rely on those close to you to be sounding boards to help you talk through your issues and create a plan to work your way back.

Since burnout is a negative state-of-mind, you want to avoid negative influences while you’re in this state. Keep a distance from negative people, they will only bring you down further. Also, avoid short-term pleasures such as nicotine and alcohol since their perceived benefits are short-term but their negative effects linger much longer and will keep you down longer.

Taking time away from your source of stress is also highly recommended. Just a few days to clear your mind and reset your attitude can go a long way in making significant and immediate progress. If it’s your job that’s causing your stress, use your vacation days. If your spouse has you at your wit’s end, schedule a weekend getaway with friends.

Finding balance in your life is also important in a time of burnout. Have the resolve to “just say no” to demands of family, friends and coworkers if the asks are greater than what you can handle. You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else or be a productive, contributing member of society.

A great start to pulling yourself out of a burnout state is to eat healthier and take a walk. Walking provides so many benefits. It takes your mind off what’s bringing you down and changes your perspective. Walking is exercise, releasing brain chemicals that change your mood for the better.

Coupling the walk with healthier eating habits, such as lowering sugar, carb and caffeine intake will also make a positive impact. Replace those things with healthier alternatives such as proteins and omega-3 rich foods. Finally, put down the smartphone for a few extra minutes each day and just let your mind unwind. You’ll be amazed at how much better you may start to feel.


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Dave Clark