It happens every year about this time – I start hearing about burnout from others. It’s almost like we haven’t had enough holidays or taken enough time off to refresh and reset. But something I’ve noticed lately is we tend to confuse stress with burnout. They are two completely different things!

Burnout is serious! In fact, in 2019 the World Health Organization classified it as a medical diagnosis, saying it results “from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Ouch! I think we can all identify with that at some point, right?

It’s time to take burnout more seriously (not that you should ignore stress!) – in the workplace and at home. Because, make no mistake, all of us – especially throughout the pandemic – can absolutely go from stress to burnout quickly!

So what’s the difference? In general, most experts agree that stress, in a nutshell, is feeling pressure because you have too much to do, too much going on, too many obligations. Burnout can be prolonged stress and lead to a feeling of complete apathy, loss of motivation and being disengaged with what’s only on around you. Interestingly, stress tends to show up in our physical well-being, while burnout takes a toll on our mental state.

Stress is like racing on the hamster wheel trying to catch the cheese. Burnout is giving up and just letting the cheese hit you in the face – either because you’ve been racing too long without results or you never felt challenged enough to get that cheese in the first place!

Both situations need to be resolved. Neither are healthy and sustainable.

Here are some ways to recognize stress vs burnout, and do something about it.

  1. Stop dealing with this alone. Even if you’re an introvert, we, as humans, NEED other people. And make sure those other people are positive forces in your life, not the negative ones. You want givers, not takers. Reach out and share your thoughts and feelings with someone who can help you stop the “spin” your mind is in.
  2. Make time for yourself. Did you know that 55 percent of Americans did not use all of their paid vacation time in 2018? In 2020, I expect that to be much higher because after all, where could we go on vacation? It’s time to use it or it lose it – literally! You are losing your most finite resource: Time.
  3. Set boundaries. When is the last time you said ‘no’ to something? Or delegated a task then walked away? Burnout is especially prevalent in those type-A personalities! Can I get an ‘amen’ from the perfectionists and control-freaks in the room? If this is you, boundaries are especially important. Read this blog for in-depth tips.
  4. Find meaning. If your work is not feeding your soul, what are you doing there? If your hobbies have become a chore and not a release, why are you still doing them? I have a friend that, when she needs to recharge, does watercolor paintings then gives them away. When asked why she doesn’t do it for a living, she said, “Because then I would feel pressure to perform. The fastest way for me to hate a hobby is to set expectations or monetize it.”
  5. Let it go. Yes, routines can be soothing and help regulate our day, but are you going overboard? It may be time to switch up the routine. Learn a new craft, take a hike, take a class, attend a lecture (non-work-related!) – just do something to shake up the day-to-day grind.

When your cup isn’t full, you cannot pour energy into anyone else. When you are burnt out, everyone around you knows it and feels it. You are setting the tone for how others see you and how they think you handle stress (this includes your kids!). It’s time to get a hold of the stress and wrangle it before it becomes burnout. And if you’re already charred, my friends, it’s beyond time to cool off and refresh!