You notice that you are irritable with your family members or coworkers for the slightest reason – or no reason at all. Maybe you have so much on your plate that the thought of just one more thing makes you feel overwhelmed or anxious. Your ability to focus or concentrate on the task at hand is reduced. Or maybe you are getting headaches/migraines when you have never had them before. Has the quality of your sleep changed? Are you constantly feeling tired or sluggish?
These are all signs that you may be experiencing stress. We all experience stressful events and learn to deal with them in a myriad of ways – healthy and unhealthy. You may have been coping through substance use. You may have started isolating yourself. You may be feeling hopeless about the ability to change this way of being. This may mean that you have crossed the line to burnout. So, what is the difference?
What is stress?
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences. When people feel stressed by something going on around them, their bodies react by releasing chemicals into our blood, commonly called the fight-or-flight (or freeze) reflex. This response is shared by all living creatures and can be seen in the human world as well as the animal world. Stress can be a positive or negative force in our lives but for the purposes of this blog, I will be focusing on the negative components and outcomes of stress in our lives.
Are anxiety and stress the same thing? Not exactly. Stress is a response to a threat in your environment. Anxiety is your reaction to that stress.
There are 3 types of stress: acute stress; episodic acute stress and chronic stress.
Acute stress is the most common type of stress and is short-term in nature. People experience acute stress under several different conditions and circumstances and is easily recognizable. It is very manageable and does not cause long-term negative consequences. Symptoms can include: sleep problems, anxiety, irritability, anger/aggression, hypervigilance, difficulty concentrating and exaggerated startle response/jumpiness.
Episodic acute stress is seen in those who suffer acute stress frequently. You may see them in Type A personalities or “worry warts”. The symptoms of episodic acute stress may include: persistent tension headaches, migraines, hypertension, chest pain and heart disease. The treatment for those suffering episodic acute stress requires interventions on many levels, generally requiring professional help and may take a few months.
Chronic stress is the response to emotional pressure suffered over a prolonged period during which the individual perceives he or she has little or no control. Symptoms may include: depression or general unhappiness; anxiety and agitation; moodiness, irritability or anger; feeling overwhelmed; loneliness and isolation; and numerous other mental or emotion health problems. Physical symptoms can include: headache; muscle tension or pain; chest pain; fatigue; change in sex drive; stomach upset and sleep problems.
You can see that we are going up the spectrum of stress in increasing amounts of severity and impacts to the individual. The farther up the spectrum, the more debilitating the symptoms and the greater the need for long-term professional intervention.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet constant demands. This is the outcome when you ignore your symptoms of chronic stress.
Burnout leads to: physical and emotional exhaustion; cynicism and detachment; feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
Signs of physical and emotional exhaustion:
- Chronic fatigue, which may include anything from feeling tired to feeling drained, depleted or, in some cases, experiencing a sense of dread about what the next day may bring.
- Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention
- Physical symptoms which may include chest pain, heart palpitations, stomach pain, shortness of breath, dizziness and/or headaches. These need to be investigated by a medical professional.
- Increased illness because your immune system becomes weakened.
- Loss of appetite
- Depression which may lead up to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. This will require professional support and intervention due to the higher risk of suicide.
- Anger which can escalate to violence in the most extreme cases. This, too, requires professional intervention.
Signs of cynicism and detachment:
- Loss of enjoyment which can escalate from loss of enjoyment of work to also encompass other aspects of your life including time spent with loved ones. You may start avoiding your work altogether.
- Pessimism or “glass half empty” that can reflect how you feel about yourself and, eventually, others.
- Isolation is the physical act of removing yourself from engaging with others.
- Detachment is the feeling of being disconnected from others (either emotionally or physically) and which can result in isolation as above.
Signs of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment:
- Feelings of apathy and hopelessness
- Increased irritability
- Lack of productivity and poor performance
So, if you are asking yourself if what you are experiencing is burnout, chances are that you are at least chronically stressed – if not already experiencing the more severe symptoms of burnout. Either way, I strongly encourage you to seek professional intervention through your doctor and/or a mental health practitioner.
Do you feel that stress is negatively impacting your life?
If you need help, contact My Wise Self Counselling for a FREE 30-minute phone consultation to discuss your situation and find out how I can help. Call me now at 778-242-1124 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to book your free phone inquiry.