Stress and Burnout

What is stress and burnout?

We may feel stressed when we feel under pressure. A small amount of stress can be motivating and help us to achieve our goals. However, too much stress, when it feels out of control, can impact our mood, our mental health and well-being, and our relationships.

Some people, when they go through long periods of stress, experience ‘burnout’ – a feeling of complete physical and emotional exhaustion. Fortunately, there are ways to stop stress getting out of control.

What are the symptoms?

People experience stress in a range of different ways. It can affect how we feel physically, emotionally and how we behave.

Physical symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Panic attacks
  • Sleep problems
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches and headaches
  • Chest pains and high blood pressure
  • Indigestion or heartburn
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Feeling sick, dizzy or fainting
  • Sudden weight gain or weight loss
  • Developing rashes or itchy skin
  • Sweating
  • Changes to your period or menstrual cycle
  • Existing physical health problems getting worse


Emotional symptoms can include feeling:

  • Irritable, angry, impatient or wound up
  • Over-burdened or overwhelmed
  • Anxious, nervous or afraid
  • Like your thoughts are racing and you can’t switch off
  • Unable to enjoy yourself
  • Depressed
  • Uninterested in life
  • Like you’ve lost your sense of humour
  • A sense of dread
  • Worried or tense
  • Neglected or lonely
  • Existing mental health problems getting worse


Behavioural symptoms can include:

  • Finding it hard to make decisions
  • Being unable to concentrate
  • Being unable to remember things, or your memory feeling slower than usual
  • Constant worrying or having feelings of dread
  • Snapping at people
  • Biting your nails
  • Picking at or itching your skin
  • Grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Feeling restless, like you can’t sit still
  • Crying or feeling tearful
  • Not exercising as much as you usually would, or exercising too much
  • Withdrawing from people around you


What can help?

If your symptoms are too intense or last for too long, it could be a sign that you might need additional support. Talking about it can be really helpful and is often the first step to feeling better. Speak to a trusted friend or family member, or contact our Therapy Service on to talk to one of our therapeutic counsellors. They can offer one-off drop-in appointments or weekly counselling sessions.

Below are some tips you could try to help you manage stress and build your resilience. Trying these ideas won’t make all the stress in your life disappear, but they could make it easier to get through stressful situations.

  • Recognise triggers:
    • Begin to track times where you have felt stressed and look for patterns in how you reacted. What was happening when you felt stressed? What did you think/feel/do just before you felt stressed?
  • Awareness:
    • Once you are aware of difficulties that are likely to make you feel stressed you can take steps to prevent stress or deal with it quickly
  • Self-care:
    • Be kind to yourself – stress is a human experience. Try to connect with friends and family, and talk about how you are feeling
  • Split up big tasks:
    • Sometimes academic work can feel overwhelming and impossible to complete. Even starting can be difficult.
      • Breaking up your work into smaller chunks can be helpful
      • Make time in your revision schedule for breaks and doing things you enjoy – balance is key!
    • Mindfulness and meditation:
      • Apps such as Calm, Headspace and Breath2Relax can help
    • Do something you enjoy:
      • Whether exercise, sports, art, music, reading, writing, film, TV, theatre, dance – anything! These things can help you to feel less overwhelmed, even just doing a little bit
    • Challenge unhelpful thoughts:
      • Reframing the way we think can help us to cope when feeling stressed:

    • Improve your sleep:
      • Getting better sleep can help to cope when feeling stressed:

    • Eat a more balanced diet:
      • Consuming lots of foods high in fat and sugar can make us feel sluggish, low and more easily overwhelmed. Eating healthier can make us feel more energised, and improve our mood and motivation. Try starting with one extra piece of fruit or vegetable and then working more into your diet
    • Focus on the positives:
      • It’s often easy to focus on the bad things we’ve done more than the good. Try to think of one or two things each day that you’re proud of or thankful for. You could write about them in the mood journal or collect them on bits of paper in a jar. Try to look back at what you’ve written after a few days
    • Plan ahead:
      • Being more organised – whether recording activities and jobs in a planner or creating a to-do list – and planning out upcoming stressful days or events can really help
    • Self-help guide:
      • Here is a resource with activities to help you manage your stress:

Additional Resources

Supporting your child who is stressed

If your child is struggling with stress, click on the links to find out how you can support them and places you can get help.

General stress:

Exam stress: