Stress is a part of day to day living. As college students you may experience stress meeting academic demands, adjusting to a new living environment, or developing friendships. The stress you experience is not necessarily harmful. Mild forms of stress can act as a motivator and energizer. However, if your stress level is too high, medical and social problems can result. 

What is Stress? 

Although we tend to think of stress as caused by external events, events in themselves are not stressful. Rather, it is the way in which we interpret and react to events that makes them stressful. People differ dramatically in the type of events they interpret as stressful and the way in which they respond to such stress. For example, speaking in public can be stressful for some people and relaxing for others. 

Unremitting pressure certainly tests the fault lines that exist in all organisations. Unfortunately, pressure also makes most of us depart from our usual standards of behaviour and, in certain extreme cases, makes unlovable creatures of some people.

The worst facets of certain personalities are on full display and grace goes out through the window when they deal with others. As we move higher in the hierarchy, one of the qualities that needs to be internalised is to be graceful under extreme stress. It helps us behave in a cool and collected fashion and think of solutions to relieve the stress. Equally importantly, it helps calm down those who work with us.

What causes burnout at work and how to tackle it?

A burnout occurs when you reach a state of exhaustion through prolonged stress and you are overwhelmed mentally, physically and emotionally. When experiencing a burnout, you are unable to find pleasure and motivation in going through the work day and fulfilling the role you have chosen for yourself. A lengthy burnout harms your career, personal life and the bottom line of your employer. Here is how you can recognise a burnout and then work to recover or avoid it.

Facts [+]
The unintended costs associated with irregular schedules, night shifts and extended hours are eroding the profits of American businesses, according to a study by Circadian Technologies, Inc. The profit-eroding factors for businesses with shift operations include lower productivity, higher absenteeism, greater employee turnover, increased health care costs, and more job-related accidents.

Demanding schedules, high stress levels, lack of physical activity and poor eating habits has resulted in nearly 72% of the corporate employees become prone to cardiovascular diseases, according to a recent survey conducted by ASSOCHAM (The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India) on the occasion of 'World Heart day'. The survey further reveals that night shift workers have 52% more risk than day workers of suffering a stroke or heart attack. People in these working shifts also have higher levels of unhealthy behaviours such as eating junk food, sleeping badly and not exercising, which are linked to heart problems. Inactive lifestyle, lack of exercise and poor eating habits are making millions of urban Indians face a high risk of heart disease.

The survey was able to target corporate employees from 18 broad sectors, with maximum share contributed by employees from IT/ITes and BPO sector (17 per cent). Others include employees from those sectors (consumer durable, construction, energy, healthcare, steel, HR and misc) that have contributed about 1 per cent share in the survey. 

Employees working in engineering and telecom sector contributed 9 per cent and 8 per cent respectively in the questionnaire. Nearly 6 per cent of the employees belonged from market research/KPO and media background each. Management, FMCG and Infrastructure sector employees share is 5 per cent each, in the total survey. Respondents from power and real estate sector contributed 4 per cent each. Employees from education and food& beverages sector provided a share of 3 per cent each. Advertising, manufacturing and textiles employees offered a share of 2 per cent each in the survey results. 

The shift work defined as evening shifts, irregular or unspecified shifts, mixed schedules, night shifts and rotating shifts. The survey also contained day workers or the general population for comparison. Shift work was associated with a 52 per cent increased risk of heart attack, 28 per cent rise in coronary events and 10 per cent extra strokes. 

A workplace ethics survey of 1,121 managers and HR professionals, conducted by the Human Resources Institute, found that managers and HR professionals believe the leading factors that cause unethical corporate behavior are: pressure to meet unrealistic business objectives and deadlines, desire to further one's career, and the need to protect one's livelihood.


Physical: Your first symptoms are unusual tiredness and exhaustion. Either there is no time to eat or sleep or excess of either. That is nature reacting to stress. Soon your health deteriorates and you may experience multiple ailments like headaches, irritable bowels, skin infections and bouts of sickness.

Emotional: If you are a high achiever, this starts with an obsession to prove yourself against other achievers. Small mishaps lead to feelings of failure and self-doubt while successes do not give any added satisfaction. You feel isolated and lonely and then cynical and intolerant.

Behavioural: Unlike the physical and emotional symptoms, change in behaviour is evident to others. Behavioural changes include avoiding social contact for want of time, depending on food, alcohol, tobacco or drugs to cope with stress or avoiding work through procrastination or absence.

Symptoms of Stress 

There are several signs and symptoms that you may notice when you are experiencing stress. These signs and symptoms fall into four categories: Feelings, Thoughts, Behavior, and Physiology. When you are under stress, you may experience one or more of the following: 

 Feelings  Thoughts  Behavior  Physiology
  • Feeling anxious.
  • Feeling scared.
  • Feeling irritable.
  • Feeling moody.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Fear of failure.
  • Inability to concentrate.
  • Embarrassing easily.
  • Worrying about the future. 
  • Preoccupation with thoughts/tasks.
  • Forgetfulness.
  • Stuttering and other speech difficulties.
  • Crying for no apparent reason.
  • Acting impulsively.
  • Startling easily.
  • Laughing in a high pitch and nervous tone of voice.
  • Grinding your teeth.
  • Increasing smoking.
  • Increasing use of drugs and alcohol.
  • Being accident prone.
  • Losing your appetite or overeating.
  • Perspiration /sweaty hands.
  • Increased heart beat.
  • Trembling.
  • Nervous ticks.
  • Dryness of throat and mouth.
  • Tiring easily.
  • Urinating frequently.
  • Sleeping problems.
  • Diarrhea / indigestion / vomiting.
  • Butterflies in stomach.
  • Headaches. 
  • Premenstrual tension.
  • Pain in the neck and or lower back.
  • Loss of appetite or overeating.
  • Susceptibility to illness.


Your burnout is usually a result of a combination of your current job, daily routine and your outlook towards circumstances. At work, if you feel that you have no control over outcomes, you are facing job uncertainty, a demanding environment or are stuck in a monotonous role with no recognition or reward— you could be heading towards a burnout.

Similarly, your lifestyle accelerates a burnout when you spend excessive time at work at the cost of your personal off-time, health and social engagements, lose the emotional support of close relationships and choose to do everything yourself without engaging your team. The highly ambitious and aggressive Type A personalities experience burnouts more often. A need for power, refusal to share the spotlight, need for perfection, reluctance to delegate or a pessimistic attitude results in faster burnouts

Both positive and negative events in one's life can be stressful. However, major life changes are the greatest contributors of stress for most people. They place the greatest demand on resources for coping. 

Major Life Changes that can be Stressful 
  • Geographic mobility.
  • Going to college.
  • Transfer to a new school.
  • Marriage.
  • Pregnancy.
  • New job.
  • New life style.
  • Divorce.
  • Death of a loved one.
  • Being fired from your job.
Environmental Events that can be Stressful 
  • Time pressure.
  • Competition.
  • Financial problems.
  • Noise.
  • Disappointments.


A burnout is a prolonged process and you could be in that state for months. Thus, your health takes a beating—starting with exhaustion and leading to heart diseases, digestive and circulatory illnesses. At work, your decision-making ability suffers along with reduction in memory and attention resulting in accidents and negative results. Your efficiency drops, making goals and targets impossible to reach.

There is increased cynicism and the resulting doubt and distrust impacts your professional relationships, further damaging outcomes. As the effect of burnout spills into your off time, your relationships suffer. In extreme cases, your burnout increases thoughts of quitting your job as you seek to avoid the situation.

How to Reduce Stress 


At the personal level, choose positive social connections to make a speedy recovery. If you are experiencing a burnout, reach out to friends or loved ones who can provide you with great listening. Venting out, being heard and understood not only relieves stress but also deepens the relationship. A professional counsellor too works in a similar way and can be immensely helpful. At the workplace, avoid negative people and invest in positive relationships. Choose a social cause or a group that interests you to give new meaning to work and build additional social connections.

At the organisational level, as a leader help a colleague recover from a burnout by providing a mentor or manager to serve as a sounding board and recommending professional counselling through HR. Simultaneously address immediate causes of burnout like balancing workload, increasing individual control over outcomes and rewards and providing resources where required.


Preventing a burnout is far better than recovering from one! As a team leader, promote values and processes that both colleagues and the organisation can agree upon. These should relate to individual and teamwork, fairness, reward and control mechanisms. At a personal level, take charge of lifestyle choices and how you look at the world around you. Reassess your priorities to include health and relationships. In your daily routine, schedule in healthy eating habits, daily exercise, adequate sleep and time with loved ones. Take weekly time out to relax, engage in hobbies and switch off from technology.

A healthy and social routine reduces stress. Next, work on your attitude towards your current job and career or switch tracks if that doesn’t help. Find either meaning or enjoyment from tasks that you do—including coffee breaks with colleagues. Additionally, focus on meaning or enjoyment from your non-work life including your family and personal interests. Invest in building professional relationships and not simply transactional ones. . Finding meaning in life and bonding with people is the best way to prevent burnouts.

Many stresses can be changed, eliminated, or minimized. Here are some things you can do to reduce your level of stress: 
  • Become aware of your own reactions to stress.
  • Reinforce positive self-statements.
  • Focus on your good qualities and accomplishments.
  • Avoid unnecessary competition.
  • Develop assertive behaviors.
  • Recognize and accept your limits. Remember that everyone is unique and different.
  • Get a hobby or two. Relax and have fun.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a balanced diet daily.
  • Talk with friends or someone you can trust about your worries/problems.
  • Learn to use your time wisely:
    • Evaluate how you are budgeting your time.
    • Plan ahead and avoid procrastination.
    • Make a weekly schedule and try to follow it.
  • Set realistic goals.
  • Set priorities.
  • When studying for an exam, study in short blocks and gradually lengthen the time you spend studying. Take frequent short breaks.
  • Practice relaxation techniques. For example, whenever you feel tense, slowly breathe in and out for several minutes.