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.
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.
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
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
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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