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Chronic Stress and Burnout


Chronic stress is a state of prolonged stress that occurs when we are unable to effectively manage our stress levels. Stress is a natural response to perceived threats or challenges, and it can be beneficial in small doses. However, when stress becomes chronic (i.e. the stress exceeds the resources we have to cope), it can have negative effects on our physical and mental health. Chronic stress can lead to a range of physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, and fatigue, as well as mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.


Although the two words are often associated, chronic stress and burnout are not the same thing. Chronic stress is a state of prolonged stress that may lead to burnout. However, burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that results from prolonged stress. There isn’t necessarily a universally accepted definition of the term burnout, but it can be characterized by feelings of cynicism, detachment, and a lack of personal accomplishment. You may feel overwhelmed and an inability to cope with the demands and challenges of your work and personal life. Burnout affects people in all types of work environments, including those in caring professions, such as healthcare and education, as well as those in corporate or high-pressure environments.


There are several factors that can contribute to chronic stress and burnout. Some of these include:


1. Workload: A high workload, or feeling that you have too much to do. When we are under pressure to meet tight deadlines or manage multiple tasks, we may feel overwhelmed and unable to manage the competing demands.


2. Lack of control: A lack of control over your work or personal life can also contribute to chronic stress and burnout. Not having a say in how things are done or feeling that you are at the mercy of external forces can leave you feeling powerless and unable to put yourself first or to set boundaries.


3. Poor work-life balance: A lack of balance between work and personal life is a major burnout factor. When we are unable to manage our time effectively and prioritise our responsibilities and wellbeing, it's likely that you will start to feel overwhelmed and other parts of your life may suffer.


4. Unclear expectations: Unclear expectations or the absence of direction can be difficult to cope with. Being unclear about what is expected of you or how to meet these expectations can leave you feeling confused and uncertain.


5. Poor relationships: Poor relationships with colleagues, clients, family or friends can also contribute to chronic stress and burnout. Not being able to communicate effectively or feeling unsupported or unappreciated may leave you feeling frustrated and isolated. We know that social support can alleviate stress and protect against burnout [1]


Spotting burnout can be difficult as it often develops gradually over time. However, there are several signs and symptoms that may indicate that you are feeling burnt out. If you experience any of the following symptoms, it may be a good idea to take a closer look at your stress levels:


1. Exhaustion: Burnout is often characterized by feelings of exhaustion, both physically and emotionally. You may notice feeling tired all the time, even after a good night's sleep, or have a hard time mustering up the energy to tackle tasks.


2. Loss of motivation: You may no longer enjoy activities that you used to find fulfilling and/or have a hard time getting motivated to do even simple tasks.


3. Negative emotions: Burnout is usually accompanied by negative emotions such as frustration, disappointment, and cynicism. If you find that you are frequently feeling negative or pessimistic, it may be a sign of burnout.


4. Difficulty concentrating: Burnout can also affect your ability to concentrate. You may find that it is difficult to focus on tasks, or your mind is frequently wandering.


5.Decreased performance: If you find that your work performance is suffering, or if you are making more mistakes than usual, it may be a sign of burnout.


If you suspect that you are experiencing burnout, it is important to take action to address it. Some steps you can take include setting boundaries, practicing stress-reducing techniques, seeking support, and taking breaks. Refer to free resources on the website, posts on my Instagram as well as future blog posts on ways to manage stress. By addressing burnout early on, you can protect your physical and mental health and prevent it from worsening.


[1] Velando-Soriano, A., Ortega-Campos, E., Gómez-Urquiza, J. L., Ramírez-Baena, L., De La Fuente, E. I., & Cañadas-De La Fuente, G. A. (2020). Impact of social support in preventing burnout syndrome in nurses: A systematic review. Japan journal of nursing science : JJNS, 17(1), e12269.

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