Is it Stress, Anxiety or Burnout?

by Beth Granet, PsyD

Over the last two years, it has been a common experience for us to acknowledge that we have all had to handle a bit of extra stress. This includes plans being changed or canceled, kids remaining home from school, fears of getting sick, and shifts in our day-to-day routines. Although we can recognize this as a somewhat universal phenomenon, many of us have been able to feel a sense of a relief from the return to work, school, and our social lives. However, some of us have been left continuing to feeling tired, overwhelmed, and generally negative. If these feelings linger, should we still classify them as stress? Unfortunately, although anxiety, stress, and burnout are all related concepts, there are major differences between them that we should be on the lookout for. So, what are these differences?


  • Feeling overwhelmed with your responsibilities and tasks. You may be saying things like “there’s a lot happening” or “I have so much to do.”
  • The things causing us stress are usually external and more obvious or tangible such as work, childcare, juggling schedules, or a big project/event looming.
  • When stressed, you will feel like you are struggling or out of control yet know that it is probably going to be temporary.
  • The negative feelings you have will get better once the stressors change or are eliminated. For example, once your deadline passes or your kids can return to afterschool programming, you will feel a sense of relief.


  • Also feeling generally overwhelmed and taxed yet lacking the ability to regain control. You may be saying things like “there’s a lot happening, and I don’t know how to manage all of it.”
  • The causes of our anxiety are more difficult to tie to external or concrete factors. The associated emotions are intense, internalized, and hard to grasp.
  • When experiencing anxiety, it will be a challenge to utilize effective problem-solving skills to troubleshoot the moment. You will also find it harder to regulate your feelings and remain in a mindset of being even keeled or grounded.
  • The negative feelings will remain, even if external stressful things are removed from your life.
  • Anxiety is a longer-term experience and is unlikely to resolve itself without seeking help.


  • Includes similar experiences to stress and is what occurs when your stress goes unchecked or unchanged. It can also include feeling irritable, cynical, or dreading of having to complete responsibilities.
  • It is the physical and emotional exhaustion that happens after prolonged time periods of stressful events. Burnout usually feels like you are depleted or out of energy. You may be saying things like “I’m done,” or “I can’t deal with this anymore.”
  • When we have been in long stretches of stress, our bodies and minds move into a type of survival mode. Burnout occurs because we can no longer sustain this way of living, and we have no choice but to try and conserve resources. This is why burnout causes us to feel drained.
  • Unlike stress where you believe that you will eventually feel better or gain control, you feel more helpless and struggle to believe that what you are doing is good enough. It is also common to experience mixed emotions where on one hand you might be grateful to have a job, but on the other hand, you never believe you are performing well.
  • We are especially vulnerable to burnout when existing in an environment where we feel we have very little control, or where we are having to do things that feel meaningless or go against our values.

It is important to remember that although we are used to hearing about burnout related to the workplace, especially in the medical field, law enforcement, and helping professions, burnout can also come from non-work factors. This can include our partners or other relationships, being a caretaker, or parenthood burdens. Individuals struggling with burnout outside of their jobs might even feel less comfortable acknowledging their anger and dread in fear that they will be judged. Additionally, some of us are already struggling with other mental health related concerns or identify with communities that inherently are neglected or taxed. These factors can exacerbate our stress or burnout, and even cause internalized anxiety.

Learning about the differences between these concepts is useful, but what can we do to help with stress, anxiety, or burnout? Luckily, although the symptoms and experiences between them vary, there are several overarching ideas that can aid in alleviating these struggles. Firstly, do not be shy about talking to someone about these emotions and asking for help. You can start with a close loved one or trusted person, and if your negative emotions do not improve, you could consider seeking a professional. Finding a sense of meaning and purpose in your life will also reduce your exhaustion and make things feel more worthwhile. Speaking to a therapist can also help you identify your values and narrow down ways of finding meaning in the everyday. It will also reduce your stress to foster relationships that are important to you and work to find hobbies or activities that do not feel like obligations. Lastly, learn how to say “no” to things when your plate is already full, and try to minimize the time you spend multitasking. Overall, learning your personal signs of stress, burnout, or even potential anxiety, can be a powerful first step to feeling better.