If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit”- Banksy

Exhaustion does not imply that you are incapable of achieving your goals, it just means that you need to take a step back and focus on yourself and your wellbeing for a moment. 

What is the difference between stress and burnout?

Stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to cope with mental or emotional pressures. This experience can differ depending on the individual as people have varying stressors in their life. For example, one person may get stressed out by impending deadlines and the amount of work they have whereas this may not be an issue for others. Similarly, your friend may love having a busy calendar with a whole list of tasks to complete on a daily basis. However, such hectic schedules may be exhausting for you. Moreover, when such schedules are forced upon you for extended periods of time due to circumstances beyond your control, it can result in burnout. Therefore, although burnout is often used interchangeably with stress, burnout and stress are slightly different concepts as burnout is generally a result of prolonged stress.

On the other hand, burnout refers to a state of mental exhaustion that manifests itself in various manners such as constant exhaustion, lower motivation or even lack of concentration in daily tasks. A few common signs of burnout amongst others are constant tiredness, emotional exhaustion, reduced enthusiasm and performance during regular tasks, and a lack of creativity.

It is important to remember that this does not need to be the permanent state. Simply introducing a few changes to your daily routine may help alleviate stress and prevent burnout. Thus, manging your stress effectively can protect you from the more severe consequences of stress, which characterise burnout. A key element of this is tapping into your emotional intelligence. Although this sounds slightly complex, all it really requires is a bit more self-awareness, introspection and understanding of your behaviour, thoughts and actions. 

Emotional intelligence: A key to prevent burnout

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognise, comprehend and manage emotions. It enables us to understand where our frustration, stress and anxiety originate. In consequence, this can facilitate in improving our responses to the source of stress. Such self-management and emotional competencies can also help stay calm, control impulses better and act thoughtfully during stressful situations. This occurs because when people are more aware of the source of stress, they tend to view their emotions and situation as problems that require a solution rather than allowing their emotions to bother them for extended periods of time. For example, if you feel overwhelmed with the amount of work you have and tasks you need to get done in a short period of time, rather than focusing on how it makes you feel, taking action may be more beneficial. Using a problem-solving strategy by making a list of everything you need to do and starting to complete the tasks, one at a time, might help. Furthermore, focusing and cultivating positive emotions can counteract the physiological effects of stress. As a result of such awareness, you can get the help you need before this stress turns into burnout.

Ways to manage stress better in daily life

Learning to manage the stress you experience is essential to ensure you lead a healthy lifestyle. People may indulge in various destructive actions in attempt of managing their stress such as overeating, drinking alcohol, avoidance of tasks or family and friends, or pushing themselves to do more than what they are capable of rather than taking a step back for a moment. Although this experience of stress and the way people deal with it varies depending on the individual, there are a few simple tools and techniques that can be used by leveraging emotional intelligence, to help deal with stress. You may want to try some of the following:

  • You should not be the source of your stress– Worrying about things that are out of your control or ruminating and anticipating different events or situations can result in increasing stress, mentally and physically. However, by being more attuned to the pressures and expectations you place upon yourself may help you manage and control your stress levels in a more effective manner.
  • Be aware of your limits Know your strengths and weaknesses. Being more self-aware can help identify when you require help and enhances your ability to be able to differentiate between pushing yourself to reach your full potential and pushing yourself beyond your limits and capabilities. While the former is beneficial, it is the latter that may be a cause of stress. Hence, being aware of your strengths and weaknesses may help you determine when demands outweigh your abilities and identify whether you need to seek help. 
  • Calming techniques– Controlling your breathing, mindfulness and meditation practices can help decrease immediate stressors. For example, it can reduce the physical symptoms of stress such as an increased heart rate and tension in the body. Although controlling your breathing might be difficult at first, with concentration and practice it could become much easier. Meditating and practicing mindfulness can also help remain in the present moment and be more open to different options or solutions. 
  • Consider alternate perspectives– Awareness of your thinking patterns and thought processes can have miraculous effects on your stress levels. For example, do you think situations are problems that require solutions? Or are you threatened and fearful of the situation? Determining if you are experiencing distress or eustress (stress that acts as motivation) can affect your ability of altering your experience of stress. Viewing situations in a positive manner, seeing it as something that requires solutions rather than a threat could help increase motivation and subsequently your ability to deal with it. 
  • Empathise– If the source of your stress stems from conflict, being patient, listening actively, putting yourself in others’ shoes and trying to understand their perspective can help foster better understanding and collaboration amongst those concerned.

Last but not least, remember that you are not alone. This experience of stress and burnout is common, particularly in today’s world where everything is fast paced. Hence, be patient with yourself as it can take time and effort before you see concrete evidence of results. Finally, ensure that you do not make incorporating these suggestions a source of your stress!