The difference between stress, overwork, and burnout

Everyone is busy these days and has to deal with stress. We all know someone who is overworked or ‘sitting at home with burnout’. Stress-related terms are often used interchangeably in everyday speech. But there are important differences. How do you recognize stress, overwork, and burnout? And at what stage should you sound the alarm?


Stress is something we all deal with from time to time. When that big deadline kept getting closer or when you had taken on that extra project. Or that time when an unexpected situation arose that demanded a lot of attention. Stress is usually short-lived. Often you can look forward to the moment when your life will become less stressful – as soon as that big deadline has been turned in, for example.

Persistent stress

Sometimes stressful situations keep presenting themselves or we ourselves are not able to take rest properly. The tension caused by stress is then permanent. You are constantly under pressure and this manifests itself in various mild stress symptoms:

  • An agitated feeling.
  • Worrying and sleeping problems, and as a result, fatigue.
  • Difficulty concentrating, causing your performance to deteriorate and the quality of your work to decline.
  • Mood swings, which make you irritable and your social contacts suffer.
  • Headaches, stomach aches, or neck and shoulder problems.
  • An increase in the use of alcohol or medication to temporarily suppress the symptoms.

Reduce stress

Do you recognize yourself in these symptoms? Then raise the alarm immediately. It is probably not yet necessary to seek professional help, but it is important that you remove the source of the stress as much as possible. Talk to your boss, outsource a big project, stop certain activities or simply take more time for yourself.


If stress continues for too long, it can turn into overwork. We often only notice this when something unexpected happens that we can no longer cope with. The stress symptoms then increase in severity and really start to get in the way of your functioning. Symptoms of overwork are:

  • anxiety and panic symptoms, hyperventilation or palpitations
  • dejection and sudden fits of crying
  • a feeling of exhaustion
  • memory problems, forgetfulness, and confusion
  • hypersensitivity to external stimuli
  • strange physical symptoms, such as tingling muscles, impaired vision, or tinnitus
  • increased blood pressure
  • bowel problems

Overwork therapy

When you are overworked, it is clear that something needs to change about the situation. The good news is that this is also quite possible. Being overworked is relatively easy to reverse: as soon as you remove the source of the stress, the ‘overworkedness’ often disappears within a few weeks. It is wise, however, to seek help from a therapist. A therapist can guide you in this process and give you tips to ensure that you avoid too much stress in the future.


If you continue to ignore overwork, you are seriously depleting your body. Overwork then slowly turns into burnout. When overwork ends and burnout begins is not clearly defined. The complaints and symptoms are largely the same. The difference between the two is the degree of physical exhaustion of your body. If you continue to ignore your limits for years, all your energy reserves are eventually used up. This can have serious consequences:

  • a complete inability to perform the simplest of tasks
  • serious physical disabilities
  • extreme hypersensitivity to stimuli, such as from visitors, music, or television
  • feelings of fear of failure, low self-esteem, and depression

Treating burnout

Refueling for a while is no longer the solution in the case of burnout. Burnout is not easily reversible. Some people with burnout, therefore, have to stop working for more than a year. Although recovery is all about rest, expert guidance from a therapist is essential. Burnout is caused by years of ignoring your own limits. You need to figure out how this could have happened to make sure it doesn’t happen again in the future. In therapy, you learn to change your beliefs, thoughts, and behavior and to adopt a new lifestyle. With that new lifestyle, you will maintain control of your energy and the direction of your life in the future.


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    Help with anxiety disorders and panic attacks

    Do you regularly suffer from anxiety or panic attacks? And are you worried that you might be developing an anxiety disorder? You are far from the only one. Nearly one in five adults currently has or has had an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are especially common among adolescents and young adults, and more common among women than men. Anxiety can have a major impact on your functioning and completely control your life.

    What is an anxiety or panic disorder?

    Fear is a crucial emotion that protects us from danger and in some cases is vital. When danger threatens, we become afraid and our bodies prepare to flee or fight. That preparation involves an increased heart rate, faster breathing, and a lot of tension on the muscles. Thus, you are ready to avert the danger by any means necessary.

    Anxiety symptoms

    Under normal circumstances, fear is often short-lived. It lasts until the danger has passed, or until we recognize that what startled us is not a real danger. We speak of an anxiety disorder when anxiety symptoms persist for too long or arise for no apparent reason. This soon gets in the way of normal functioning and causes unnecessary suffering.

    Panic attacks

    At certain times, anxiety can rise to such a level that it turns into panic. Such an attack of panic lasts about ten minutes and is characterized by the rapid worsening of anxiety symptoms. People having a panic attack suffer from palpitations and hyperventilation, which gives them the idea that they have lost control over their own bodies. This results in the fear of going crazy, having a heart attack, or even dying.

    Symptoms of an anxiety disorder

    The symptoms of an anxiety disorder are partly psychological but largely physical. Therefore, sometimes people with an anxiety disorder fear that there is something physically wrong with them, but this is often not the case.

    Physical symptoms

    • dizziness or blurred vision
    • nausea or abdominal pain
    • headache
    • numbness or tingling in the arms, hands, and fingers
    • stiff, almost paralyzed muscles, trembling, muscle twitching, or high muscle tension
    • palpitations
    • shortness of breath, hyperventilation, tightness in the chest, or a feeling of suffocation
    • fatigue and difficulty sleeping
    • flushing
    • sweating
    • a dry throat

    Psychological symptoms

    • irritability and restlessness
    • persistent anxiety and excessive brooding

    Causes and effects of anxiety disorders

    In some cases, trauma is the cause of an anxiety disorder. Usually, the anxiety disorder is part of what we call Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). For this, there are specific treatment methods aimed at processing the trauma. In other cases, it is often unclear exactly how an anxiety disorder develops. Often multiple factors, such as stress and problems in the emotional or relational realm, play a role.

    However, the consequences of an untreated anxiety disorder are significant. For example, if anxiety often leads to panic attacks, you will increasingly avoid certain situations. Often people with an anxiety disorder avoid places where they cannot get away quickly, such as festivals or concerts, public transport, or large department stores. Avoiding these types of situations soon results in an obsessive-compulsive disorder, which involves compulsively checking to see if future situations might cause anxiety. If this starts to control your life to a far-reaching degree, you run the risk of developing depression.

    Treatment of anxiety disorders

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

    The most widely used treatment technique for anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy. Unlike tranquilizing medication, which only fights the symptoms of anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy treats the source of the anxiety: your thoughts. The therapy assumes that anxiety doesn’t “just happen” or isn’t only triggered by a particular situation, but that your thoughts (about a particular situation) are the culprit.

    People with anxiety disorders often unconsciously have certain thought patterns that cause a fear response. By putting these thought patterns under the microscope, you get a better grip on them. In this way, you learn to control your fear reactions. In practice, this is practiced by consciously confronting situations that evoke fear.

    Breathing exercises

    If you suffer a lot from panic attacks, hyperventilation, and palpitations, breathing therapy can be a valuable addition to therapy. Controlling your breathing reduces palpitations and thus has a positive effect on the physical component of a panic attack.

    In about 70% of patients, therapy with a therapist has a positive effect, partially or completely overcoming the anxiety disorder. In this way, serious psychological symptoms are prevented and you regain control of your life.


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      Can a therapist help with an eating disorder?

      For people who have not experienced it themselves or in someone close to them, it is sometimes difficult to understand. The solution to an eating disorder is very simple, right? ‘Just’ start eating healthy! Unfortunately, it is not that simple, because eating disorders are mental disorders, not physical disorders. Eating disorders are characterized by disturbed eating behavior and (often) an obsession with appearance and weight, but the causes are psychological. Do you have an eating disorder? Then a therapist may be able to help you.

      Types of eating disorders

      What most eating disorders have in common is that the patient has a distorted body image and is afraid of getting fat. The result of this is an obsessive preoccupation with weight control. How this manifests itself varies by eating disorder. The different eating disorders often have different causes and therefore different treatment methods.

      Anorexia nervosa

      People with anorexia nervosa have such a distorted body image that they always think they are too fat, despite the fact that they are (severely) underweight as a result of the disorder. If you suffer from anorexia nervosa, then you are constantly trying to lose weight – either by eating too little, and exercising excessively (the restrictive type), or by eating too little, vomiting, and using laxatives (the purging type). A lack of grip on life, the need for control and excessive perfectionism may be the underlying cause of anorexia nervosa.

      Bulimia nervosa

      In bulimia nervosa, obsessive dieting, exercise, vomiting, and laxative use are the result of (and compensation for) uncontrolled binge eating. People suffering from this disorder usually have a normal or highly fluctuating weight. The binge eating often serves as comfort and stems from loneliness, boredom, or not knowing how to cope with unpleasant past events.

      Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

      BED is similar to bulimia, but people suffering from this disorder do not feel the need to compensate after a binge. Consequently, they are often overweight or obese, resulting in many physical symptoms.

      Orthorexia nervosa

      Orthorexia nervosa is always part of another disorder and does not stand alone. People with orthorexia nervosa have an obsession with healthy eating and are therefore afraid of unhealthy foods.


      People with pica have the urge to eat inedible things, for example, sand, clay, soil, or pebbles. The disorder has nothing to do with weight loss or disturbed body image. Pica is common in young children and is often seen in combination with a developmental disorder, such as autism.

      Avoidant or Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

      ARFID was not officially recognized as an eating disorder until 2013. Suffering from this disorder, you avoid food products with a certain color, taste, smell, or texture. In addition to demonstrable, physical causes such as an allergy or intolerance, traumatic events or emotional problems can cause ARFID.

      Rumination disorder

      People with rumination disorder feel the urge to “regurgitate” food. Food is regurgitated, chewed again and swallowed, or spit out. This disorder is also particularly common in young children and often in combination with a developmental disorder.

      Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (NAO)

      The abbreviation NAO is used for people who exhibit features of several disorders or do not fully meet the conditions for one disorder. Obsessive thoughts about food or weight are the main symptoms.

      Psychological consequences of eating disorders

      In addition to the many, sometimes very serious, physical consequences of eating disorders, patients often suffer greatly from their psychological effects as well. Eating in company is very frightening or simply impossible for most people with an eating disorder. This is due to shame or the fear of losing control. Social isolation and loneliness are therefore common among patients. Over time, this can lead to serious symptoms, such as anxiety disorders and depression.

      Eating disorder treatment therapist

      Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

      If you suffer from an eating disorder, it is important to seek help from a therapist as soon as possible. The treatment of your eating disorder depends on the type of eating disorder, your symptoms, and the probable causes of the disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy, however, is very effective in many cases. It involves taking a close look at your compulsive thoughts about food and examining how they can be replaced with less obsessive and more positive thoughts.

      Behavioral change

      In addition, ways are found to break undesirable behavior patterns, such as eating too much or too little, exercising excessively, vomiting, and taking laxatives. Many people with an eating disorder have established certain ‘eating rules’ for themselves. With the help of therapy, these become less important and ultimately unnecessary. At the same time, the treatment looks for ways to teach desirable behaviour, such as eating small portions regularly.


      Depending on the issues central to your disorder, therapy focuses on themes such as insecurity, perfectionism, and negative self-image. You also learn to deal with emotions, such as anger, fear, or disappointment, in other ways.

      With the right psychological help, half of the patients overcome the eating disorder completely. In the remaining patients, the symptoms often reduce significantly, resulting in a significant improvement in physical health and quality of life.


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        Which therapist is right for me?

        Therapists probably differ from each other as much as their clients. Therefore, one therapist’s theories, ideas, opinions, and treatment techniques may just contradict another therapist’s. But how do you know which therapist is best for you?

        Why is every therapist different?

        It may sound strange, but it’s actually a good thing that there are so many different therapists. It means there is a therapist and treatment plan to suit each and every person. And that’s important because with psychological complaints it is not always immediately clear how the problems can be solved. This differs from person to person and that is why the solutions are so different. What works for one person may make no difference for another.

        How do I choose a therapist who is right for me?

        Are you seeing a therapist for the first time and don’t know how to choose the right one? Then ask yourself the questions below.

        What kind of person is the therapist?

        A good relationship with your therapist is the most important thing for the therapy to be successful. Many therapists put some general information about themselves on their website. For example about their age, place of residence, family, hobbies, or leisure activities. What kind of person is the therapist? And do you identify with them?

        What kind of lifestyle does the therapist lead?

        If your mental health problems are related to your lifestyle (your marriage, your children, or your job, for example) you may find it helpful to talk to someone who has experience with your situation. Is the therapist married? Does he or she have children? The Online Therapists, for example, works a lot with therapists who live abroad and are, therefore, extremely good at empathizing with expat-related problems.

        What techniques does the therapist use?

        Before choosing a therapist, delve a little deeper into the psychological treatment techniques that appeal to you. Therapists often use talking techniques (cognitive behavioral therapy), but may also work with body-oriented therapy (movement therapy or EMDR therapy), creative or alternative forms of therapy (mindfulness or hypnotherapy), or group therapy. The differences in the effectiveness of these techniques are minimal. Their success depends to a large extent on the trust you have in the working method of the therapist.

        How do the conversations take place?

        Sure, you can sit on the couch with a therapist for an hour at a practice, but these days there are many alternative ways to get therapy. Are you still a little hesitant about going to a therapist? Then you might find online therapy more enjoyable. Online therapy is accessible because you do not have to go to a practice and you can have the conversations at your own kitchen table. You can even choose to only email or chat with some therapists.

        Moreover, according to research, online therapy gives the same results as face-to-face conversations. In both cases, you have made the choice to face your problems and do something about them. That is often already half the battle!

        Try it!

        Have you done all the preliminary work and chosen a therapist or practice that appeals to you? Then it’s just a matter of trying! You never know if you will click with the therapist until you actually start talking to him or her. Start therapy with the idea that it’s perfectly normal to switch therapists if you still don’t feel comfortable or confident after a few sessions.

        How do you know if you have chosen an appropriate therapist?

        You know you have chosen a therapist who is a good fit for you when you feel at ease, heard, and understood. The therapist can summarize your vague complaints and reduce them to one or a few problems in a clear way. Then he or she is clear about the method and treatment plan, and they also check whether you feel comfortable with this. The therapist sometimes steers you in a certain direction and gives advice, but does not judge you or lecture you. In short, you have confidence in the professionalism of the therapist and the success of the treatment.

        Therapists at The Online Therapists

        The Online Therapists will help you to find a therapist who is right for you. We will have an introductory meeting with you, during which we will map out your situation, personality, specific problems, and preferences. We will then match you with a therapist who we think will be a good fit for you. This therapist will draw up a treatment plan based on an initial consultation so that you know exactly where you stand and whether this is something for you. Since we work with many therapists, it is also easy to switch therapists if necessary!


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        Request an online consultation with one of our trusted online therapists.

          What does a psychiatrist do?

          There are all kinds of titles and designations for mental health workers today: psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, psychotherapist, coach, etc. These titles have to do with the qualifications, training, and specializations of the various social workers. In this regard, psychiatrists differ from other mental health care providers in a number of crucial ways. What exactly does a psychiatrist do?

          A psychiatrist is a physician

          A psychiatrist is the only one of the mental health professionals who is a physician. He or she has studied medicine for six years and then completed a 4.5-year course in psychiatry. Only medical school graduates are allowed to take this course. Because a psychiatrist has a medical background, he or she treats mental illness in conjunction with overall physical health. In doing so, the psychiatrist is the only person authorized to prescribe medication.

          The field of work of a psychiatrist

          Although a psychiatrist can and may use the same treatment techniques as a therapist, in practice the psychiatrist almost exclusively treats patients with severe mental disorders. This is because the treatment of disorders such as schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, or severe depression often requires medication. Because of the seriousness of these problems, the clients of a psychiatrist are often under treatment longer than the clients of other care providers.


          Psychiatrists can work within different sub-fields:

          • Child and youth psychiatry
          • Adult psychiatry
          • Geriatric Psychiatry
          • Social psychiatry: this field focuses on the social and community context of the client. The treatment is often very practice-oriented.
          • Forensic psychiatry: forensic psychiatrists treat clients who have committed a criminal offense because of their condition.
          • Transcultural psychiatry: this field of study investigates the influence of different cultures on the manifestation and treatment of mental illness.
          • Neuropsychiatry: neuropsychiatrists focus on the biological (or neurological) causes of mental disorders.
          • Hospital psychiatry: hospital psychiatrists treat clients who have a mental illness in addition to a physical condition (for which they must go to the hospital).

          Treatment by a psychiatrist

          A psychiatrist treats a client with a combination of talk therapy and medication. Because a therapist can also provide talk therapy, the psychiatrist’s help is sometimes only called in for the medical part of the treatment. This is certainly the case when a client has already established a good relationship with a therapist and he or she prefers to continue the talk therapy with that therapist.

          Where do psychiatrists work?

          Some psychiatrists open practices independently, but most psychiatrists are employed by healthcare facilities where a psychiatric physician is necessary. These include the psychiatric ward of hospitals, secure clinics, psychiatric residential facilities, institutions for youth psychiatry, or drug rehabilitation centers. Where the psychiatrist works depends on the specialization he or she has chosen during training.

          When do I need a psychiatrist?

          If you are looking for help for mental health problems, you will usually first come to a therapist. If that therapist thinks it’s necessary, for example, because you might benefit from medication, he or she can refer you to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist will then put together a treatment plan, which may also make use of other disciplines, such as psychotherapy, movement therapy, occupational therapy, or social work.

          Have you been walking around with psychological symptoms for a while? Then turn to a therapist in the first instance. The Online Therapists also has a psychiatrist, so we can always refer you if necessary. Would you like more information? In this article, we will discuss the differences between a therapist and a psychiatrist in more detail.


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          Request an online consultation with one of our trusted online therapists.

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