Are you feeling stressed? Or anxious? How about burned out? Counseling Today recently dedicated an article to differentiating those three terms, and it’s no surprise, considering the circumstances. You’ve probably been affected by at least one of the above, thanks to the lingering effects of the pandemic, relational dynamics, and workplace stressors. You may be able to think of many areas in life that deplete you of energy and leave you feeling drained and exhausted. You may even notice physical symptoms like trouble sleeping, fatigue, a lack of appetite, or experience tension headaches. It may be hard to relax, as you could feel constant pressure to be productive. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it could be a sign of stress, anxiety, or burnout. Learning to differentiate between these three terms can help you determine what kind of next steps to take. In this article, we’ll define each term and give you 5 ways to make life improvements. 

Stress vs. Anxiety vs. Burnout

As you evaluate your feelings and symptoms, consider these definitions:

What is Stress?

Counseling Today defines stress as something that often comes “from an external source,” meaning stress tends to be more short-term and situational (Phillips, 2022). Once the circumstance goes away, the stress symptoms tend to go down. 

Stress exemplified: You have a big presentation coming up at work. You may have trouble sleeping the night before the presentation, or experience nervousness or an elevated heart rate leading up to the event. After the presentation is over, your symptoms likely go away.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is often “an internal response…[and] future-focused” (Phillips, 2022). Often, anxiety may cause one to feel overwhelmed and worried that they cannot deal with their problems. 

Anxiety exemplified: You’re feeling worried about finding a job after college. You may find yourself constantly imagining what-if scenarios in your head, and feeling so worried about the future that you are unable to focus on everyday activities.

What is Burnout?

Burnout develops over time after one has been experiencing long-term anxiety, and may cause one to feel “disengage[d], both physically and emotionally” and to notice thoughts such as, “What’s wrong with me? I don’t feel like myself” (Phillips, 2022).

Burnout exemplified: You’re feeling numb and apathetic about your job. You may feel as if you have no energy to get work done and no ability to cope with the stress. You may also isolate yourself from friends and family. 

5 Self-Care Ideas to Alleviate Stress, Anxiety, and Burnout 

While self-care is not a substitute for therapy and professional help, thoughtful self-care can help reduce symptoms and get you on track to feeling better. Research shows that self-care is essential to living a full life. Although it may seem paradoxical, when we practice self-care, we are able to show up more effectively in other areas of life. It is important to define what self-care looks like for you. Here are some ideas that may help to promote feeling rested and restored.

  1. Get enough sleep. Our memory, judgment, and mood is improved when we get adequate sleep. A long-term lack of sleep can weaken your immune system and potentially cause health problems. Sleeping well is, quite literally, a way to take care of yourself.
  2. Schedule time for yourself. Find a day or time and schedule it into your calendar as time for you. Do your best to protect your self-care time, i.e.don’t let it get booked up by an event or by friends. This time is reserved for you to do whatever you need to rest.
  3. Turn off your phone. Create a ritual of choosing to power your phone down, whether it’s over the weekend or for a few hours in the evening. Your brain will have a break when it’s not constantly bombarded or distracted by texts or email notifications. Seeing these notifications pop up can actually activate your fight-or-flight response. This phone-free state will give you the proactive freedom to choose how to spend those hours, rather than being reactive to notifications.
  4. Take care of your body. This can be as simple as a walk or as literal as scheduling a dentist appointment. Taking care of your body could also mean getting a massage or taking a bubble bath. Whatever that looks like for you, consider what your body needs, and honor that instead of choosing to push through it.
  5. Find one hobby to engage in each week. Part of self-care means recognizing that you are a human being, not a machine. This means that you should spend time doing activities and tasks that are not solely measured on productivity. Consider what it looks like for you to “play” — find a hobby you enjoy purely for the fun of it, not because it has an end goal or produces something.

Self-care is not a luxury–it’s essential to our survival. When we engage in self-care, we can decrease symptoms of stress, anxiety, and burnout, and live a more fulfilling life. If you want support as you manage any of these symptoms and learn how to practice self-care, you can reach out to a therapist here.

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