Burnout vs Stress: Know the Difference


I think you’ll agree when I say, we live in stressful times. 

While we do have effective methods for dealing with stress, sometimes they’re not enough.

And when stress keeps piling up over the years, it can become something else—burnout.

But can you spot burnout when you see it? Let’s find out.

Pick the scenario that you identify with.

Scenario A: You’ve got multiple deadlines. A boss from hell. Late nights at the office happen all the time but you need to meet your targets, somehow. You feel anxious…

Scenario B: You’ve got multiple deadlines. But you simply don’t have the energy to do this anymore. Nothing you do is ever going to be enough. You feel hopeless…

If you picked A, you are highly stressed

If you picked B, you are facing burnout, and this post is for you. (Don’t worry, I’ve been there too. We got this!)

Burnout vs Stress 

Burnout vs Stress

Burnout and stress are so closely related that we often think they are the same thing. 

It’s an easy mistake to make. In fact, chronic stress may lead to burnout. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. 

But knowing the difference is crucial. That’s because coming out of burnout requires a different approach from stress management.

Luckily, you can always tell the two apart because stress and burnout feel quite different. 

When you are stressed you are really engaged with our work. You have a strong sense of urgency and are hyperactive. 

On the other hand, when you face burnout you disengage from our work. You are beyond the point of caring and put little effort into your tasks. 

The WHO defines burnout using 3 dimensions. Anybody who is experiencing burnout would agree with these statements:

  • I am exhausted.
  • I don’t care about my job anymore.
  • My performance is gradually declining. 

Dealing with Burnout

Coming out of burnout is a bit different from coping with stress. Let me explain.

Most of the advice given for stress management is useful for dealing with burnout. I’m talking about lifestyle adjustments—eating healthy, working out, sleeping on time, and a few other things. 

But during my burnout, I had zero energy and motivation. Just getting out of bed was a task. 

This made it almost impossible to follow such a healthy routine. (In fact, many people end up doing the exact opposite. They try to cope with the situation using alcohol or drugs.)

So if you find it tough to get a handle on things, you can always work with a therapist. Getting help doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a person (you haven’t). 

The only thing that matters is that you find your way back to happiness. Your friends and family need you, and they are counting on it.   

One more thing—burnouts are often caused by a poor fit between your capabilities and your current role. So that may be something you want to think about as well. 

(That was true in my case: I can’t do sales. Lesson learnt.) 

Or it could be that you were a part of a toxic work environment. Check out this book about how certain jobs that can damage your health: Dying for a Paycheck.

Over to You…

Life is messy! (Sigh)

Sometimes we go through stuff we wish we didn’t have to. But, thankfully, most are nothing more than speed bumps. 

So, what’s the bottom line? 

While burnout is no fun, it’s also not the end of the world. The first step is to understand what burnout is and how you can get your life back on track.  

Congratulations, you’ve already taken this step.  

I’ll leave you with some helpful advice I received years ago: you are stronger than you think.