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What's the Relationship Between Chronic Stress and Burnout

Chronic stress and burnout are like brothers that look alike. Maybe twins even. At first glance, it might be hard to tell them apart. But when you dive a little deeper and get to know each of them a little bit more, you'll start to recognize important differences and understand that they aren't all that similar, even though they are still related.

Wow, I like that analogy! 🤓

But let's get to the good stuff- If you're new here, I'm Kaylin and I am a licensed marriage and family therapist for high-achieving stressed-out millennials. I am also a mental habits, holistic health coach. Keep reading to discover the relationship between chronic stress and burnout.

I consider myself to be well versed in all things stress (and anxiety), but sometimes I will use the word burnout in place of stress. I realized that the difference was probably subtle, but I got curious and wanted to know more. If you’re wondering what the difference between chronic stress and burnout is, don’t worry, I did the hours of hyper-focused deep dive for you, and you can read all about it in less than 10 minutes (because I know you’re busy with other hyper-fixations, right?)!

To begin, let me start with defining each experience. 

Burnout - a state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. Feeling empty and drained completely. Burnout creates mental negativity.

Chronic Stress - a consistent state of feeling pressured and overwhelmed over a long time. 

They seem pretty much the same right? Like twins- that’s what I thought too! Looking closer, I can oversimplify the comparison like this- chronic stress is over-engagement, burnout is disengagement.

You become burnt out when you give too much; like a people pleaser or a workaholic. And someone without a solid self-care protocol. 

You are chronically stressed when demands are placed on you, and you have to keep showing up under pressure; like with kids, high-demand jobs, progressing towards achievements… and again, a lack of a solid self-care protocol combined with never disengaging from work and obligations.

I think that with either, you are never fully able to turn off your mind.

A cartoon man in the middle of two lists describing the difference between stress and burnout
Photo from Doctor on Demand

But here’s the biggest takeaway that I found: Burnout is the result of chronic stress.

With stress, you are still engaged and trying to find something that works. With burnout, it feels hopeless like you’ve given up. 

So what does this mean for you? Are you asking yourself, “Am I stressed or burnt out?”

The first step is to answer that question and figure out where you are along this spectrum. We’ve all been trying to get re-grounded after 2020 and maybe even before. Do you feel like you are still engaged, looking for a solution, or do you feel more depleted and apathetic?

a five stage model of burnout
Photo taken from Dr. Paula Redmond's blog

Regardless of how you feel, I believe that you can change your situation and your state of mind. In my experience as a stress and anxiety therapist, I have developed some tips that I found that can help with both chronic stress AND burnout… unfortunately they aren’t “quick tips” and will require some time and energy.

With chronic stress and burnout, it is likely that you will need a complete lifestyle overhaul if you want to start feeling better. These tips will help you know where to start on your journey to recover from stress and burnout.

How can I recover from chronic stress or burnout?

First of all, when it comes to lifestyle, I believe that habits and routines are the most important piece. Here’s what I believe that you need every day:

  1. Movement - it doesn’t have to be an intense workout, but it can be. It can be stretching, walking, dancing, lifting weights, ice skating, rock climbing… whatever gets your body moving.

  2. Stillness - meditation, reading, lying on the floor, taking a bath, etc… You’re not allowed to scroll on your phone during whichever form of stillness you choose. The point is for your mind and body to slow down.

  3. Nutrition - I personally prefer a plant-based diet, because it helps me to be more mindful about my food intake and aligns with a lot of my core values. Ultimately, you need to pick something that works for you and focus mostly on whole foods, feeding your brain and body the nutrients they need to run properly and efficiently. Like Michael POllan said, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

  4. Sleep - Get your hours in for quality sleep. I always tell my clients that sleep is the foundation for everything else. This is my biggest struggle that I continue to experiment with, and is a big reason why I’m working on my Sleep, Stress and Recovery Coaching Certificate through Precision Nutrition. 

The above habits will work well to help give you relief from burnout OR chronic stress. 

Step two, once you’ve established healthy habits and routine, is that you need to focus on disengaging from your stressors as much as possible with either experience.

For burnout, it might mean extended time away from work (or whatever the source is) to re-engage with life and the things that bring you joy. 

For chronic stress specifically, some stronger boundaries will help allow you to disengage with your stressors, especially if it's work-related. 

Neither chronic stress nor burnout is an easy fix. The ideal situation would be to quit your job (or whatever is stressing you out so much- I’m just assuming work because I work with high-achievers and their job is usually the culprit) and move to an island to reconnect with yourself, your loved ones and your hobbies.  🏝️

I know that’s not possible for most of us. So, the second best option is to figure out how to incorporate as much self care as you can into your days. Learn what boundaries you need and how to set them with people around you. 

The simplest rule for setting boundaries is to talk about yourself and your experience; aka use “I statements.”

“I statements” keep the focus on you and take out the blaming language. Here’s a couple of examples:

“I hate it when you leave your shoes in the hallway! Put them away!”

⬇️ turns into ⬇️

“I keep tripping on your shoes when you leave them in the hallway, and it feels really dangerous, can you please try to put them in the closet so I don’t get seriously injured?”

“You never text me during your work day.”

⬇️ turns into ⬇️

“It helps me to feel loved and cared for when you text me during the day”

“I can’t believe you let this happen again! What were you thinking?!”

⬇️ turns into ⬇️

“I feel really disappointed that this happened again. It seems like you’re struggling with it, is there anything I can do to make it easier?”

Those are a few general examples- here are a few more that actually involve setting boundaries for chronic stress and burnout recovery.

😃 “Hey boss, I am feeling really overwhelmed with the deadline on this project, can help me to decide what to de-prioritize so I can focus on the most important things”

😃 “Hey husband, I have a big project deadline coming up. I know that I usually make dinner, would you be able to help me out and prep the meals this week so I can focus?”

😃 “My dear friend, I would love to go to your party this weekend, but money has been really tight lately. How about you and I get coffee and connect after your party?”

Ultimately, what these boundaries are doing is explaining your mental state to someone, and asking for help in someway. Or if not asking for help, giving them options that work better for you and take some of the pressure away from you. 

Setting boundaries requires a level of humility that might feel really hard or scary if you’re not used to it. Many high achievers are used t pushing through and putting their heads down to work. But remember, that’s what got you here in the first place. That’s what you're trying to change! You have to try something new if you want a different result. 

Can you cure the relationship between chronic stress and burnout?

The short answer is YES. But like I said above, it requires doing things different, and what I like to call a complete lifestyle overhaul. To cure chronic stress, you must first get really familiar with your habits and what is actually stressing you out.

It isn’t just “work,” but maybe it is the pressure to prove yourself as a woman in a male dominated field. Perhaps it is long hours and performance demands that you aren’t sure you can meet. Maybe you are doing really wel on the outside but you have imposter syndrome sneaking in and making you feel unworthy of the success. 

This is the level of self awareness that you need before you can properly transform your lifestyle to recover from chronic stress and burnout.

Are chronic stress and burnout associated with long term problems?

Also, YES. But this yes isn’t as exciting as the above. When you are in a state of stress or burnout, you are living in survival mode. Your body functions differently when it is trying to survive compared to when things are safe and you are able to grow and thrive. 

Some of the symptoms of chronic stress and burnout are also long term health issues- such as insomnia, digestion issues, heart disease and high blood pressure. If you use drugs or alcohol to cope, you can develop a dependence or addiction. Irritability and emotional reactivity can affect your relationships and self-esteem. 

These are just some of the reasons why it is important to set boundaries, step away from w your stressors and start working on your recovery from chronic stress and burnout- like yesterday. 


If you recognize yourself in these words and you are looking for support, schedule a free consultation today!

I briefly mentioned above that I am currently working on a certificate for Sleep, Stress, and Recovery- and I would love to invite you on as a beta tester for my 1:1 program, Grounded. 

Grounded is a 6 month coaching program, aimed at the intentional lifestyle overhaul to help you recovery from chronic stress. Each month we will focus on a different dimension of the 6 dimensions of deep health and wellness. 

Here's a quick summary of what you'll get:

  • 2 meetings with me over zoom each month ($400 value alone)

  • Professionally made worksheets and trackers ($300 value)

  • Each month will focus on one of 6 Dimensions of Deep Wellness

  • Homework and habits to incorporate into your life in between meetings.

  • More TBD

I specialize in working with busy over achievers, and I don’t want to take away your productivity. My goal is to make your productivity and goals work for you, in a way that allows you to still enjoy your life. 

Grounded will be starting at a monthly investment of $699 per month, but the beta testers get a special discount of more than 50% off, for just $299 per month! AND if you pay in full, you can get a month free, for a total of $1495 ($4194 value).

Apply here for Grounded. As long as this link is up, the offer stands. 

Kaylin in a white shirt smiling. at the camera in front of a black background

Kaylin is a Self-Mastery and Mental Habits Coach located in Orange County, California. 

Her focus is teaching high achievers how to recover from chronic stress so they can enjoy their lives again. 

You can learn more about Kaylin here, or schedule a consultation to work with her here.

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