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Early Detection: Dousing Burnout Before You’re in Flames

By Krista Elliott

Woman Suffering from Stress

We all have work stress of some sort or another. It's the rare individual who can go through their entire career feeling serene and calm, without an ounce of pressure.

However, there are different kinds of stress. And in some cases, that stress can be destructive, bringing you down the road toward burnout. But what's the difference between good and bad stress? And how do you know if you're at risk of burnout?

Stress: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

There's a common notion that all stress is bad, but that's not actually the case. A bit of stress or pressure can motivate us to perform better. Stress can be created by a new challenge, but one that is surmountable and that allows us to rise to the occasion. This positive stress is called eustress, and can inspire us to new levels of achievement.

But then there's bad stress, also called distress. This is the kind of stress that gives you that sick feeling of dread every morning as you head to work.

The main difference between good stress and bad stress is your own sense of control over the situation. If you have a work challenge, but have the support and tools you need to address it, as well as the autonomy to choose how best to solve it, that's good stress. But what if it's the opposite? A work environment that gives you no control over how you tackle your tasks, as well as not giving you the support or tools that you need -- well, that's a classic recipe for bad stress.

Bad Stress: The Road to Burnout

If this negative or "bad" stress becomes a chronic issue due to your working conditions, you can easily find yourself suffering symptoms of burnout. What are these symptoms?

  • Exhaustion - You're just tired all the time, even if you're getting plenty of sleep.
  • Lack of Motivation - You don't feel any enthusiasm about anything you do at work, and drag yourself through your job every day.
  • Frustration and Cynicism - You no longer feel like any of your work matters, or that it's valued by your company.
  • Brain Fog - Your memory isn't working as well as it used to, and neither is your concentration. You start forgetting tasks.
  • Lowered Performance - Unsurprisingly, your lack of motivation, concentration, and memory have led to slipping performance and more mistakes at work.
  • Irritability - You might find yourself with a much shorter fuse, snapping at coworkers, friends, your kids, or your partner. Or your emotions may be close to the surface, where even the slightest setback or conflict has you in tears.

Burnout can lead to serious mental health issues like depression, and it can also set your career back if performance issues continue. It's important to develop ways to reduce this stress, whether it means taking more time for yourself, seeking counseling, talking to your manager about creating a more empowering work environment, or even taking a leave of absence or moving on to a different job.

Stress is a common part of everyday life, but don't feel like there is something wrong with you if you are suffering from chronic negative stress or burnout. Just take a deep breath, and then figure out what you can do to get yourself into a healthier and happier state of being.



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