Mental Health: Understanding The Difference Between Stress And Burnout

If you remember in this post , I said this year we are going to be doing things that will improve our mental health. A lot of people are going through a whole lot particularly young adults, with no concrete way of dealing with these things. Thankfully, there are organizations now that have made people’s well-being and mental health their priority and over the next few months, we’ll be reading posts from an expert therapist of one of such agencies here on the blog. I’m excited, and I hope you are too? For us to live a fulfilled life and achieve our set goals, we need to be in a certain frame of mind, and these posts will help us get there. Today’s post is on managing stress and burnout, let’s get to it shall we!

Here goes,

Stress is our body’s way of responding to challenging situations, Purpose of stress is to protect organisms and ensure its survival and that of its specie, examples of this is the flight-fight or freeze methods.


Now there are two types of stress; eustress and distress. Eustress is the positive type of stress, eustress is perceived as a ‘beneficial stress’ or ‘adaptive stress,’ which motivates one to continue working through the task at hand. Eustress can be psychological or physical (i.e., physical activity). Eustress is an important component of everyday life, as good amounts of stress motivates challenges and encourages productiveness. Furthermore, eustress often provides a sense of fulfilment when a task is completed.

Distress however, is the negative kind of stress, otherwise known as ‘bad stress,’ occurs when something becomes difficult for an individual to cope with. In extreme cases, distress can result in anxiety and/or depression. Common causes of distress include excessive job demands, conflict with co-workers/family members, financial problems, fears (i.e., fear of public speaking/fear of heights), unrealistic expectations, and repetitive thought patterns. Distress causes tension to build within the body and mind, and the task at hand suddenly seems daunting.

Furthermore, it may seem as though distress is never ending and often results in poor decision making skills. It is important to note that distress arises when a person perceives a challenging situation as being harmful, or if one believes that they are not capable of coping with the demands of a situation. In contrast, eustress is not simply a better ‘type’ of stress, but rather a more adaptive perception of, and reaction to a stressful situation. Both types of stress are usually the way a person perceives and adapts to a situation.

Biological Response To Stress

When stress is triggered in one’s brain, the body is infected with adrenaline and cortisol. Then there is increased blood pressure, emotional anxiety while some bodily functions might reduce like digestive, immune system and sex can also affect a person physically, mentally and emotionally.

Stages of stress can be fatigue, relationship problems, negative emotions, aches, pains or illnesses. Psychological disorders caused by stress includes; sleep disorder, anxiety, depression, substance dependence amongst others while medical disorders can be asthma, reproductive issues, heart disease, reduced sex drive to mention a few.
Some risk factors are outlook, personality, perception, family pressure, helpers’ mentality, negative coping patterns, understanding stress management skills.

How To Manage Stress

Using the stress management model, there are three ways or 3 A’s of stress management. The first one is to alter; this means to find out the source of the stress then asking oneself is there something I can do to change it? The second is avoid; asking oneself how can I get away from the stress? The last way to manage stress is to accept; how can I live with the stress? Finding ways to adapt.



Burnout is quite different from stress; it is usually encountered by type A personality (those who are usually inclined to take in more responsibilities). Burnout is as a result of stress, when a person is usually disengaged then he experiences a burnout. It is a painful affliction of good people who are trying to give their best. It is the extinction of motivation or incentive especially when ones development to a cause or relationship fails. It is a syndrome consisting of emotional exhaustion, depersonalised and reduced personal accomplishments. Some of its symptoms may make it look like depression.

Underlying traits can also predispose one to a burnout. It affects thinking, behaviour, emotional experiences, relationship and work. Recovery involves changing ones orientation to life and work by adapting. Risk factors include personality, personal value system, individual relationship with work, attitudes, habits, situational context, and stress overload.

How To Manage Burnout

To manage burnout, a therapist might be needed to help the client by exploring the source through probing and being able to differentiate it from stress. Using Cognitive-behavioural therapy and acceptance-commitment therapy is one way of helping.
Individuals should also try self-monitoring to realise if their values and ideals are in line with their organizations and must understand themselves.

Differences Between Stress and Burnout

Characterized by over engagement


Characterized by disengagement

Emotions are over reactive


Emotions are blunted

Produces urgency and hyperactivity


Produce helplessness and hopelessness

Loss of energy


Loss of motivation, ideals, and hope

Leads to anxiety disorders


Leads to detachment and depression

Primary damage is physical


Primary damage is emotional

May kill you prematurely


May make life seem not worth living


If you are experiencing burnout or stress or still finding it difficult to differentiate between both, you should try speaking to a therapist that could help, a lot.

This post was written by;

Owa Daodu of Synapse Services 

If you need to talk personally with her, or you have questions you can send her a mail:

I definitely learned a lot from this post, and I can’t wait to be educated more on things like this! Thank God it’s the weekend, and it’s a perfect time to relieve yourself of any stress that might have accumulated through the week.

Over To You…

Was this post helpful? Would you like to see more of this? How do you relieve yourself of stress? I love hearing from you, let’s talk!

Mide ♡

37 thoughts on “Mental Health: Understanding The Difference Between Stress And Burnout”

  1. I agree with one of the other posters and have never really thought about the two separately, mainly just thought stress was the main cause of feeling burnt out. Thanks for the post.

  2. Matija Antonić

    It happened way too often that I burned out and then I became stressed because I no longer was doing what I enjoyed and I felt that I let people down, I managed to control it to an extent but still a few times stress does tend to overtake me and then it’s a wreck sadly, but on the bright side I didn’t feel burnt out anymore 😀

    1. Hi Oscar! Thank you for reading and I’m glad you now know the difference.
      Please kindly take the appropriate measures on treating yourself ❣

  3. A very significant article as it was World Mental Health day recently. Awareness is important and all media such as yours helps people understand what is happening.

  4. Honestly, I think its burnout I’m experiencing because its more like I’m numb to it all and its the zeal to get out of school with this good gp that I might not even use later on. Its quite painful when I don’t even know who to talk to because I don’t know how I could put it without being told I just need to relax? How do I relax when I’m still in my source of burnout/stress tho?😥

    1. Hey! I’m so glad you were able to come across this post, and I’m terribly sorry that you’re going through this burnout, I can so relate with how school knocks you out. However, you might need to see a professional and talk to them, I totally get how the word ‘relax’ can be annoying, but talking to a professional might be of great help as they’ll be able to get to the root of the problem.
      Stay safe hun❣

  5. Pingback: Overhelping: Recognizing & Fixing It! | The Portable Hub By Mide

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