Stress and Burnout

Acute StressThe “Safe” Stress

We all experience stress at some point in life. This stress usually lasts for only a short period of time. This type of stress is called acute stress.

When we experience acute stress, the part of the brain which is central to managing our response to fear, the amygdala, activates our “fight or flight” system, also called our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). This is vital for our survival and is relatively harmless in short bursts. We are built to cope with this type of stress.

Chronic Stress and BurnoutThe Dangerous Stress

If we experience too much stress and for long periods of time, the stress can become chronic and lead to burnout. In fact, burnout can be defined as a “work-related chronic stress syndrome”(1).

This is because chronic stress can negatively impact our physical health, especially our energy, making us feel exhausted.

In addition, during periods of chronic stress, less of the feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin are produced, which can make us more susceptible to low mood.  The amygdala is also overstimulated, as chronic stress repeatedly activates our “fight or flight” system, (or SNS), which has a negative impact on our ability to think, focus, remember etc. It may also cause us to experience anxiety.

Stop Stress Becoming Chronic – What to do

  1. Identify if you’re experiencing stress. This can be difficult as there are many symptoms of stress and they often overlap and are interrelated(2). So pay attention to your body, any physical symptoms you’re experiencing; to your emotions, noticing how you’re feeling emotionally; your mental well-being by noticing what thoughts you’re thinking (especially when you’re at work) and how you’re behaving. For example, you may dread having to go to work; feel tired all the time; feel overwhelmed at work; find it hard to concentrate; have lost interest in your job; be committing errors at work; have lost confidence in your ability to effectively carry out your job; have stopped spending time socialising with others. 
  2. Take action to regularly switch off after work, de-stress and recharge. Keep it simple. Choose things that are easy to fit into your life and experiment to find what works for you personally. Examples can include: –
    • Physical activity (Exercise; gardening etc.)
    • Socialising outside of work with family/friends
    • Relaxation techniques (Meditation; massage; hypnosis; visualisations)
    • Spending time in nature
    • Hobbies (art, music, etc.)
    • Journaling
    • Practicing self-compassion  
    • Talk to someone about any work-related issues you’re having (whether this is a colleague, a manager or a therapist or coach etc.).
    • Certain products may help. For ideas see this article

For my free burnout quiz, contact me

Do contact your GP if you are experiencing any health issues.

References used

(1)Engebretsen, K. M., & Bjorbækmo, W. S. (2020). Burned out or “just” depressed? An existential phenomenological exploration of burnout. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, 26(2), 439-446.

(2)The Global Organization for Stress (2021). The Symptoms of Stress.

Kim, Y. & Won, E. (2017). The influence of stress on neuroinflammation and alterations in brain structure and function in major depressive disorder. Behavioural Brain Research, 329, 6-11.

Munoz, L. M. P. (2013). Stress Hormone Hinders Memory Recall. Cognitive Neuroscience Society: Retrieved from:

Wilson, A. (2013). Mindfulness meditation and the brain. Huffington Post: Retrieved from