The Physiological Difference
Stress and Burnout are words that are often used interchangeably. But, actually, they are two very different states. And did you know that they both have a physical aspect – it’s not all in the mind.
It’s true. The adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys, produce stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. They create a reservoir of these hormones within the body, which the body and the brain can then draw on in order to navigate the typical challenges, big and small, of each day.
When we’re in a state of stress, we can draw on that adrenal reservoir if we need to make an extra push for a period of time or stretch ourselves to tackle a challenge.
Drawing from our reservoir gives us some extra push. But those reserves are not unlimited. If we’re pushing ourselves – working extreme hours, working at a very fast pace, handling a huge workload – for a sustained period of time, what’s going to happen? That reservoir is going to get used up. And once it falls below a certain critical point, that is when we move from a state of stress to a state of burnout. Because suddenly there is no reservoir to draw from.
Typically, people say that they’ve been experiencing stress symptoms for six to 18 months before they think they need to do anything about it, or before they realize that they have crossed over the threshold into burnout.
With stress, we can bounce back by taking a couple of days off. There’s still enough mojo in the adrenal reservoir. Once we are in burnout, our reservoir has been depleted to the point where it takes a minimum of two months for the adrenals to physically replenish it.
And if we have seriously depleted our reservoir, thus moving deeper into a state of burnout, it can take six months, nine months or even a year before we can get back to our usual level of functioning.
I frequently see people who get to a breakdown point, having ignored their stress and burnout symptoms, until they literally can no longer function. We all know the phrase ‘the final straw’. Often, with burnout, it’s a tiny little thing that will trigger us moving into collapse. We might suddenly break down in the office and need to be signed off long term from work because one tiny little extra thing – after 6-18 months of pushing too hard, of course – tips us into collapse.
How can high performers recover from burnout?
I am often asked what does it actually take to help people recover from burnout. Unlike with stress, even just taking time off doesn’t necessarily turn burnout around because quite often our ordinary ways of coping with stress try to kick in but usually make it worse.
This particularly applies to people who are high performers, who I specialise in working with. Obviously they’ve got a ‘can do’ attitude. “I’m just going to push through and get this outcome delivered, get this project done on time”. They’ve learned to ride through discomfort and obstacles in order to deliver what they need to deliver, which is fantastic. But when you’re talking about something like burnout, then actually that’s ultimately going to be harmful because all you are doing is increasingly depleting the adrenal reservoir.
This is where I come in, with my Resilient Success coaching programme.
*I have a well tested methodology for how to turn burnout around on a week by week basis, as what the body needs at the various phases of recovery will differ.
*I understand how to work with burnout in a way that supports the body (and mindset) instead of working against it.
*But I go much further by looking at how to achieve Resilient Success – helping high performers update their familiar working practices so that they can still be on top of their work game without losing the resilience that makes it possible.
Want to know more?
I offer a bespoke 1-1 Resilient Success coaching programme over the course of one year for high performers who want to solve the deeper issues that get in the way of their high performance.
I also have a self study programme ‘Burnout Masterclass’, as well as a group programme, ‘Banish Burnout’.
Schedule a free Strategy Session – I might well have some ideas about the next steps you need to consider. And if I think any of my programmes would be a good fit for you, we can talk about how they would take you forwards.