Stress is a part of human nature—it’s the body’s response to perceived challenges. Though not a particularly pleasant sensation, stress can be helpful to our daily functioning. Without stress, we would probably miss many deadlines and even find ourselves in danger.
What’s not helpful, however, is when that stress builds up over time, a phenomenon commonly referred to as burnout.
When it all gets to be too much
“The biggest difference between stress and burnout is that stress is an everyday feeling, a sudden reaction to circumstances. Burnout creeps in over time with a buildup of stress,” says Julie Manuel, MSEd, LPCC, NCC, psychotherapist with Kettering Behavioral Medicine Center. “Typically, our bodies will give us clues when we’re burned out. With stress, we can’t foresee or control it happening.”
Knowing the signs of burnout is critical. If you can recognize burnout when it’s happening, you can take steps to intervene. Symptoms may include:
- Trouble falling or staying asleep, especially waking in the night with ruminating thoughts
- Loss of energy
- Loss of interest in activities you enjoy
- Heart palpitations
The important of self-care
In addition to speaking with a doctor, when you start to feel these symptoms, try to take a step back from whatever it is you’re doing.
“The biggest thing is to practice self-care—whatever that looks like to you,” Julie advises. “If you enjoy going for walks or jogs, do it at a convenient time. Step away from your desk at work and don’t eat lunch there. Get support, make sure you have a good social network, and practice positivity.”
Julie emphasizes the importance of finding people to connect with who understand you. They can stay in tune to what’s going on with you and may be able to detect your symptoms before you can.
What is causing your burnout?
Whether you’re already feeling burned out or just want to prevent it from happening, focusing on self-care can vastly improve your situation. But you may also want to look deeper into what’s causing your burnout in the first place.
“What we have seen—I think more times than not—is that work is causing burnout,” Julie says. “Especially in our society, expectations and demands are really high, and sometimes finding the time to make sure both are met can be challenging.”
Family is also a common cause of burnout, especially in young families with multiple kids, as taking care of small children doesn’t often lend itself to a lot of time for oneself.
Whatever the cause, finding time to take a step back is the best solution. Even if that’s just a few minutes spent doing breathing exercises or in prayer.
“Take time every day to think about what you’re grateful for and not just focus on what you have to do today,” Julie says.
Help is here
For additional mental health resources, visit our mental health page.