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4 Minutes

Understanding stress, burnout and coping strategies

Explore the differences between stress and burnout, their types, and the various coping strategies to handle them effectively. Learn how to identify burnout subtypes, maintain work-life balance, and seek help when needed for a healthier, more fulfilling life.
Animated vector of a stressed out individual in a workplace
Written by
Bloom Clinical Care Counselling and Therapy Services
January 31, 2023


Stress is probably the most familiar word for most adults. Though the terms ‘stress’ and ‘burnout’ are used interchangeably, they are different but related.

Stress can make a person more reactive and hyperactive whereas burnout can lead to depression, detachment, disengagement, hopelessness, and feeling resentful and unmotivated. Burnout is the result of excessive and prolonged stress leading to emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion.

Types of stress

Stress can broadly be categorized into 3 categories:

Acute stress: 

This can result from facing new or challenging situations like exams, job interviews, annual general meetings, etc. Even positive experiences like planning an event, or trip, or going on a roller coaster ride can cause acute stress. This is generally short-lived and the body gets to return to its normal state relatively quickly.

Episodic acute stress:

This results from the situation when a person keeps getting exposed to acute stress on a very regular basis e.g. emergency workers, health care providers, or tasks involving strict timelines. Here the body barely gets time to return to its normal state and the stress keeps accumulating. The person may feel that they are constantly dealing with a crisis.

Chronic stress:

The person exposed to stressors for a prolonged period from rocky relationships, toxic workplace, shady living conditions, etc, may start experiencing chronic stress. They may feel that they have no control over changing their situation or getting out of it,

Cumulative stress

Cumulative stress can be further divided into 4 distinct phases depending on severity. It moves from phase 1 to 4 over a while (if left unattended). Early intervention is the key to recovery.

Cumulative stress phase 1 (warning phase)

It may take over a year of exposure to stress before signs may be noticed. Signs are generally emotional like vague anxiety, depression, boredom, apathy, and emotional fatigue.

Cumulative stress phase 2 (mild symptoms)

If phase one is ignored for 6-18 months, the symptoms become intense and fixed. In phase 2 physical symptoms like sleep disturbance, headache, cold, muscle ache, fatigue, withdrawal, and irritability are introduced.

Creating a work-life balance can help overcome this stage or short-term counseling may be considered.

Cumulative stress phase 3 (entrenched cumulative stress)

Entrenched phase results when the previous stages are ignored. This stage can put the family, job, career, and personal happiness at risk.

Medical and psychological help is usually required.

Cumulative stress phase 4 (severe or debilitating stress reaction)

It takes 5-10 years of ignoring previous phases to get to this stage. This phase may be termed as self-destructive with severe symptoms that can prematurely end careers. Intense treatment and interventions may be needed.


Burnout can lower productivity and motivation. It can be draining and make a person feel fatigued. Backache, headache, loss of appetite, erratic sleep, and feeling withdrawn and isolated are very common for people experiencing burnout. Missing targets, increased sick calls, feeling less confident, a sense of failure, and feeling stuck or helpless can be prominently seen. 

Since we don’t control life expectations and occasionally feel helpless, for people experiencing burnout, this feeling of helplessness is amplified many times over. They may find their work overwhelming, demanding, worthless, or may feel undervalued, unheard, disrespected, and unappreciated for what they do.

Subtypes of burnout

There can be different subtypes of burnout. ‘Burnout Clinical Subtypes Questionnaire’ (BCSQ-12) helps in identifying different subtypes of burnout:

Frenetic subtype:

The person may feel ‘overloaded from work’ and may have a feeling that they are ignoring their needs to meet the demands of work.

Under-challenged subtype:

People may feel stuck and not able to develop. They may feel their abilities are not used or are underutilized.

Worn-out subtype:

The neglect dimension may be prominent in this subtype. People seem to quit trying as they feel that things don’t turn out the way they expect.

Categories of burnout

There are two categories of burnout:

Rapid onset:

This is seen when a person is exposed to tremendous amounts of stress within a very short period e.g. healthcare workers exposed to tremendous stress during Covid -19.

Gradual onset:

This may be experienced by people exposed to stress for extended periods. The gradual onset category has more serious and long-lasting effects compared to the rapid onset category.

Coping strategies

Coping strategies may be seen as cognitive, emotional, and/or behavioral responses to stress. People use different strategies to cope with stress. Coping strategies can loosely be understood as behaviors, cognitions, and perceptions people use to deal with life challenges.

Stress requires people to do 2 things - solving the problem and regulating their emotions (very similar to problem focussed coping and emotion focussed coping). It is important to understand that solving problems may also include avoiding problems. Problem focussed coping involves approach-avoidance coping whereas emotion-focussed coping involves emotional equilibrium-disequilibrium coping.

Approach-oriented coping involves understanding problems, accepting them, and finding solutions. Avoidance-oriented coping involves avoiding stress or distracting oneself from it. Uncontrollable emotional release, continuous worries, and suppressed emotions are indicative of emotional disequilibrium coping. Deploying strategies for emotional control, relaxation and calming strategies mark emotional equilibrium strategies.

Some people may resort to healthy coping strategies like: 

  1. Seeking social support
  2. Resorting to spirituality or religion
  3. Humor for relief of tension
  4. Focusing on problem-solving
  5. Engaging in personal growth and development activities
  6. Positive reinterpretation like reappraising negative situations to see the positive aspect 
  7. Acceptance
  8. Healthy venting
  9. Practicing restraint to not act impulsively 

Others may resort to unhealthy or ineffective coping strategies like substance use, or being in denial. They may seem disengaged, withdrawn or isolated. Cognitive avoidance like distraction (watching TV instead or working) or worry or thought suppression, etc is also common.

Stress and burnout can be handled more effectively by:

  1. Reaching out to others
  2. Having supportive social network
  3. Socializing
  4. Exercising
  5. Finding interest, purpose and value in life and things we do
  6. Work-life balance
  7. Healthy eating
  8. Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, substances and sugar 
  9. Resting
  10. Proper sleep discipline
  11. Mindfulness and meditation
  12. Time management; connecting with nature
  13. Knowing when to reach out for professional help

Are you struggling with stress management? We may be able to help. 

At Bloom Clinical Care Counselling and Therapy Services, we have a team of Psychotherapists and Social Workers who are experienced and qualified to help you with stress management. Our therapists can help with a wide range of mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, grief, couples therapy, child therapy, anger management, workplace stress, and stress management, to name a few. 

We currently have two locations, in Scarborough and Mississauga, to serve our clients and families across the Greater Toronto Area. All therapists on our team also provide virtual therapy across Ontario via phone and secure video calls. Our collective goal as a team is to help you flourish in life, guide you to your important milestone, and provide unwavering support. 

Scarborough Location

Our Scarborough Therapists are located at Third floor, 1200 Markham Rd suite 306 c, Scarborough, ON M1H 3C3 for in-person and virtual psychotherapy appointments.

Mississauga Location

Our Mississauga Therapist are located at 3024 Hurontario St #206, Mississauga, ON L5B 4M4 for in-person and virtual psychotherapy appointments. Similar to our Scarborough Psychotherapy clinic, the new Mississauga location also supports individuals, families, couples, and children seeking help with anxiety, panic attacks, depression, grief, couples therapy, relationship counselling, stress management, and child and youth counselling.

Struggling with you mental health? We may be able to help. Book a free consultation today.
Disclaimer: This article is solely intended for informational purposes and should not be construed as professional advice. The content of this article should not be used as a substitution to therapy, counselling, medical attention, or any kind of professional help. The author and Bloom Clinical Care Counseling and Therapy services strongly encourages readers to seek guidance from appropriate professionals if they are in need of assistance.