People will often use the terms stress and burnout interchangeably. After all, they both describe a similar phenomenon and, on the inside, feel quite similar to each other. 

Unsplash – CC0 License

But it turns out that there are actually some quite substantial differences between the two. Burnout feels stressful at times, but it’s not the same as stress. In fact, in many cases, burnout is actually a process of “letting go” of the stress that you hold inside. 


In this post, we run through some signs of burnout and how they differ from conventional stress. Ultimately, when you feel stressed, you feel agitated to complete all of the tasks that you have to perform during the day. Critically, you feel like you can do everything that people are asking of you. In burnout, you feel like you just can’t get it all done and you basically give up. 


Feeling Alienated


When you feel stressed, it can help you to better focus on a task and bring it to completion before the deadline. But if you feel burned out, you often feel a sense of alienation from your environment. 


Many employees in high-pressure finance jobs wind up feeling this way. They get a sense that they are somehow separate from the organizations they work for and “not good enough.”


Irrational beliefs like this are a hallmark of burnout and something to look out for.


Feeling Overwhelmed


Work should be fun. You shouldn’t feel overwhelmed. However, if people place too many demands on you and you don’t have the support that you need, then you can feel like you’re fighting a losing battle. You could work every hour under the sun and never complete all the tasks assigned to you. 


People experiencing the overwhelming aspect of burnout have increased during the pandemic. Employers have been burdening people with more work than usual and giving them long and complicated to-do lists. Often, it is just too much to be getting on with in the space of a regular working day. 


Reduce Sleep


If you’re wondering when to consult a psychologist about work-related mental health issues, you’re not alone. Many people worry that they are experiencing simple stress, not burnout, and, therefore, there is no reason to seek professional help. 


Lack of sleep is a sure sign that you’re not just experiencing basic stress. If you’re regularly getting by with less than six hours of rest per night, it is a sure sign that work is taking over your unconscious mind and affecting you at a deep level. 


Feeling Cynical About Work


Most people go to work with a positive attitude. They want to serve their customers and push themselves. However, when you feel under pressure for a long time, you can begin to feel cynical about your colleagues and serving customers. Eventually, you get to the point where you have downright disdain for them. 


Cynicism is a sign that you’re starting to burn out. You simply don’t have the mental energy to keep serving people in the way that you have been. 




Stress doesn’t cause exhaustion. In fact, it’s the opposite. Short bouts of stress put your body into a hyper-alert state, allowing you to counter the threats in your environment.


However, burnout is different. It takes a social, mental, and physical toll on your well-being to the point where you feel like you can’t cope anymore. 


For many people, the issue here isn’t the work itself but the lack of physical interaction with others. Working from home sounds like a great idea. But many people dislike it tremendously – almost at a fundamental level. The lack of real-life human connection and constant Zoom calls is draining them of energy. 


Too Little Joy In Life


Joy should come into your life daily if you are living in the right way. However, a lack of joy is a surefire sign of burnout.


During stress, people can usually find reasons to be happy and enjoy their lives. But with burnout, exhaustion increases and joy begins to drain away. When you feel burned out, it can be difficult to extract happiness from anything in your life. And, no matter what happens, you never feel elated. 




When tension and stress continue for a long-time without stopping, they can lead to anxiety. And when that happens, it can be challenging to enjoy your work at all. 


Anxiety and depression are hallmarks of burnout but they are quite different from stress. With stress, you don’t necessarily have a gnawing sense of dread in the pit of your stomach, but with anxiety, you do. 


Pin It on Pinterest