There is an important distinction to be made between stress and being burnt out. Stress is a natural part of human existence. Consider when we exercise, our muscles experience stress and this stress over a period of time results in stronger, healthier muscles. As anyone who has overdone it with exercise can attest, too much stress can leave us hurting the next day! With a little rest, we recover and carry on with our regime. Stress is a part of daily living; going to work, the challenge of tasks and achieving goals and even cultivating and sustaining healthy relationships.
The wrong kinds of stress can be extremely detrimental. Lifting a heavy object improperly or without adequate help can cause damage to muscles, ligaments and vertebra. This damage requires a longer recovery time, some professional help and may prove chronic in the future. So it is with chronic, oppressive stress or "bad" stress. This kind of stress over a period of time can lead to burnout. So if stress is normal, how can we tell if we are stressed out or burnt out?
Stress needs to be managed well. There are plenty of unhealthy ways of dealing with stress; booze, pills, over eating, pornography, retail therapy and alike, however healthy stress management techniques need to be in each persons life-skills tool box.
Identifying the source of stress in our lives is a healthy part of growing self awareness. By surveying our life we can identify those things which are causing us stress. In doing so we can evaluate the stress as a toxic situation, a unique event or a relatively short term season of stress which may require special adjustment for that particular season.
Assessing the stress can help us determine the best course of action. Some stress is normal and can be managed with healthy lifestyle choices, others may be just for a short season while others may, in fact, be chronic and require some more deliberate, long-term action.
Regular Exercise is a part of a healthy lifestyle and a very effective means of dealing with stress in a positive way. Interestingly, research has demonstrated how effective regular aerobic exercise is in combating depression.
Chronic stress may require some more deliberate and specialized tools to be employed. This may include avoiding the source of stress; people and situations, altogether. In many relational issues, some meditation can help us resolve the conflict that causes the extra stress. Likewise, vocationally, it may be possible to, with the support of your employer, make some changes to your job to address the kinds of stress you are experiencing. In extreme cases it may be necessary to make a career change.
Gratitude is an effective characteristic which can be cultivated to combat stress. Not simply a "Ned Flanders" style of optimism but a genuine awareness of the good things happening in your life and responding with a sense of gratitude. By choosing to be thankful for the good things in your life it helps keep life in perspective.
Prayer and meditation can also be an effective tool for dealing with stress. Prayer and meditation uses different parts of our brain and can produce an inner relief from the mental pressures of life. This can often help us to see situations from a different perspective which often reveals a different approach to problems and challenges. Prayer can also be incredibly fruitful to bring our stressors to God and get Gods perspective on them. In times of prayer I like to reflect on Psalm 23 or Romans 8.
Having another person to talk to and encourage you is key. A faithful, forgiving friend, a coach, pastor, spiritual director who can help you sort through your feelings, sources stress and help you formulate a healthy plan of action. Healthy support will help you stay accountable to yourself and be that cheer leader for healthy change.