Stress and Burnout

PsychologyAbnormal Psychology

Have you ever wondered that sometimes we do certain activities with so much intensity and excessive pressure that we forget that we are humans, not computers? It results in halted results with no motivation to work further. It looks like eating that Big Mac as dinner daily, which for a few days might taste good, but as the day passes, you start becoming lethargic, losing taste, and becoming obese. Your acquired ill-health and exhaustion becomes your companion. Well, this is just a small snippet of life explained above. It is a story of performance, stress, and burnout. Instances can be different, but the end road always leads people to misery.

What is the Meaning of Stress?

Now, if we look at stress in general, it is good for maintaining the pace of our life. However, anything excess is always harmful, whether you love that thing or hate it all your life, and this is how excessive stress affects your performance in different parts of life. It can be your daily chores, job tasks, or family duties. In everything, performance is vital, pressure is needed, and stress is reliable, but the body has its limits.

The Stress Response Curve, as explained by Nixon. P in 1979 depicts how stress helps to increase performance, to the point of eustress or healthy tension. This means there is always an absolute point of fatigue where comfort zones exist. Till this point, the stress can be easily managed with a healthy coping style. As stress becomes overwhelming and crosses that point, the person reaches that level of fatigue, where work cannot be done, and performance starts to decline and then eventually falls to the point of burnout which is also called breakdown.

Positive Side

The graph demonstrates that when stress reduction is effective, performance levels rise. Expectations and pressure are stressors that can boost the stress response and enhance performance. For instance, a football player may feel pressure from the audience, close scores, and challenging rivals, which motivates him to run faster and make depth goals. Another illustration is the person being given a brief but sufficient time frame, which stimulates and motivates him to work proactively and efficiently on the task entrusted to him. Another situation is that a university student doubles up on learning and memorizing material since a big exam is getting closer.

Negative Side

When stress is overwhelming, a person's performance levels begin declining, lowering the efficiency and willingness to deal with the stress. For instance, an employee at a workplace with two children at home and a sick mother in the hospital is given a particularly tight deadline. If this excessive combination of situations is not properly managed, it will lead to poor job performance, difficult relationships with other family members, health issues, and burnout.

If we contemplate these sides, we will understand the importance of management and how it is so important to set boundaries and develop healthy coping styles. If stress can be managed properly by a person, it will never halt one's performance and lead to burnout. Therefore, developing healthy habits and keeping track of your routine will make you better manage your stress. Many life stressors play a significant role in our daily life activities. At certain levels, they are healthy, but anything excessive will always lead to disruption of health and performance. One of the main life stressors is pressure. Its importance is always valued, but its side effects are what take us on the journey of suffering.

Its effect on performance is briefly explained by Yerkes-Dodson Law, created by Robert Yerkes and John Dodson in 1908.

Looking into the graph, it is clearly shown that low pressure on a person generates a stress reaction to be "boring." It does not matter how important the task is; without a proper amount of pressure, focus and awareness are much lower to complete the task. However, strong pressure does not necessarily translate into great performance; rather, it has the opposite effect of low pressure, which is low performance brought on by "unhappiness" or other adverse emotions brought on by excessive stress. Nevertheless, there is an area known as the "area of greatest performance." The maximum degree of performance is achieved in this area when there is moderate pressure, which leads to either optimal stress or tension that is completely bearable and prevents burnout. When we talk about performance, most of us are clear at a conceptual level because it is related to our dedication, enthusiasm and energy.

What is the Meaning of Burnout?

Burnout is a state of an individual in which, he/she feels physically, mentally, or emotionally exhausted; as a result, his/her motivation decreases, motivation lowers, and in some extreme cases, negative attitudes also develop towards oneself or others.

Stress Vs. Burnout

More often people get confused between burnout and stress. There is misconception that at some point, stress and burnout are the same kind of sweet with different flavors, which is not true. The basic difference between stress and burnout is explained below:

The person feels fatigued. 
The individual encounters chronic exhaustion.
The person is anxious.
The individual is hypertensive.
The person feels moody.
The individual feels impatient, irritable, and unwilling to talk to others.
The person undergoes physiological changes such as increased blood   pressure and heartbeat.
The individual begins to voice psychosomatic complaints.
The person feels guilty.
The individual encounters mental depression.

Moreover, stress is a bodily response to a situation, burnout is an end stage, where instead of fire, only debris remains in the body of a human being which definitely affects the creativity, memory and problem-solving capacity of a person.

Types of Burnout

To get a better idea of burnout, it can simply be divided into three different types as:

  • Overload burnout: Humans who are burnout with overload strive harder and more feverishly to achieve their goals. They do not care about their health or the time frame and develop whining as their coping style. They are like an overwhelmed, sturdy sailor who lost his way to the shore.
  • Under-challenge burnout: Humans who suffer from under-challenge burnout always have dullness in their routine. One of the main reasons can be a lack of learning opportunities and never feeling valued. These people deal with a kind of burnout by avoiding their jobs, abduction of duty, and general disagreement, leading them to more suffering and problems.
  • Neglect burnout: The name preaches its existence as it leads to helplessness within the work a person is commencing. They feel unmotivated and passive towards their job and cannot meet the demands within time.

So, burnout is a deceptive ailment. It takes a long time and happens gradually. Recognizing the warning signals as soon as possible is essential because the implications might be life-altering.


Ending with burnout and starting with stress and performance looks like a dubious feeling but adopting a conscious lifestyle is a magic potion to this ALL-IN-END situation because eating a big mac is cool once in a month but not every day as it makes us unhealthy. Humans, in general, will always have certain boundaries and limitations and we should honor them for long and healthy lives.


Updated on 13-Oct-2022 11:19:47