From relaxation to overload: understanding stress and preventing burnout

28 February 2024

After a holiday, returning to work often means facing a mountain of tasks. Are you still enjoying the positive effects of a relaxing holiday, or is stress already creeping back in?

Blog - Van stress naar burnout

It's crucial to incorporate regular recovery periods to manage stress effectively. Chronic stress without sufficient breaks can lead to burnout, a serious condition becoming increasingly common. In 2022, Securex reported that 28.5% of Belgian employees were at risk of burnout (Securex).

Understanding stress

Stress is a natural response to challenging situations, often triggered by new experiences, unexpected events, a lack of control, or feeling threatened. Short-term stress can be beneficial, helping us react quickly, focus, and solve problems. It's a survival mechanism that allows us to navigate challenges. However, persistent stress can lead to various health problems.
If stress persists without enough recuperation time, it can lead to overextension and eventually burnout. During burnout, the body's stress hormone system becomes imbalanced, leading to complete emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. This exhaustion makes everyday tasks difficult, reduces motivation, and makes social interaction draining.

Recharging your batteries: importance of recovery

To combat stress and its long-term effects, regular recovery periods are essential. This involves consciously relaxing and recharging from the physical and mental strain caused by stress. When stressed, the body produces stress hormones. Recovery allows these hormones to return to normal levels. These recovery periods can include short breaks throughout the day, relaxation in the evenings and weekends, and longer periods of rest like two- to three-week holidays.

Recognizing stress signals

Stress manifests in various ways. You might experience physical symptoms like headaches, muscle tension, stomach problems, sleep disturbances, or a rapid heartbeat. Emotional responses can also be affected, making you more irritable, prone to emotional outbursts, or prone to anxiety and panic attacks. Additionally, stress can impact cognitive function, making it harder to concentrate or retain information, often accompanied by decreased motivation.

When these symptoms persist for around 3 months, it's considered overextension. If they last longer than 6 months, it can be classified as burnout. This is why recognising stress signals is crucial. These signals are your body's way of telling you to pause and take a break. Identify your personal stress responses and develop strategies to calm down effectively. This helps maintain a healthy balance with stress.

Remember, stress can affect your colleagues as well. Check in with each other regularly, even a simple "how are you?" can go a long way. You can even learn to manage stress together as a team by taking breaks together, going for walks, enjoying coffee together, and so on. Small actions go a long way in supporting ourselves and each other.