Stress, Worry and Burnout

Stress is the physical and emotional reaction of your body to the environment.  A more formal name for stress is anxiety.   Tense muscles, jitteriness, increased perspiration, and racing thoughts are some of the symptoms of acute stress or anxiety.  Stress can be subtle and accumulate over time, manifesting itself in physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, stomach or headaches, as well as elevated blood pressure.  Chronic stress can become a generalized anxiety disorder.  It may also contribute to substance abuse, deterioration in job performance, and emotional or interpersonal problems.  Worry accompanies stress.  It is recurrent thoughts and fears that intrude on thinking.   For example, people may worry about their health, finances, job, relationship or family.

People vary greatly in their reaction to physical or emotional life stressors.  At work, morale and productivity can be reduced, accidents or mistakes may be more frequent. Likewise, job turnover and excessive absenteeism is higher.  At home, enjoyment and pleasure may diminish and arguments might increase in frequency.


At home:

  • I am easily startled and jumpy
  • I am often tense and unable to relax
  • I don’t have as much energy as I used to
  • I find myself drinking/eating more to relax
  • I have high blood pressure, chronic back pain, or digestive problems
  • I have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep
  • I rarely have fun these days
  • I seem to get frequent headaches, body aches, and colds
  • It is hard for me to concentrate and remember things because I am so nervous
  • My interactions with people are becoming difficult because I am so stressed
  • My debts are overwhelming

At work:

  • I do not have much control over my work and seldom have input in decisions
  • Incivility and rudeness are common
  • I get little feedback on how I’m doing and what I do get is mostly criticism
  • I have little opportunity for learning new skills
  • I’m not “part of the team” and I don’t think the organization cares about me
  • I can’t get that work issue out of my mind
  • It’s hard to juggle work and my home life—both are so demanding
  • People often complain about management
  • People in authority can be arrogant and mean to others

What Can You Do?

Take a short break several times a day to help keep you focused, energized and productive.  Your breaks can last a few seconds to several minutes, depending on your workplace guidelines.

For a quick pick-up:

If you just need to catch your breath, a few seconds’ pause could do the trick.  For a quick pick-up, take several seconds to change position.  Try thinking about something funny or an activity you enjoy.  Repeat this pause at strategic times throughout the day.

When you have a break:

  • Close your eyes and relax briefly.
  • Meditate – If you don’t know how to get started, many websites and books can offer guidance. Or try 5 minutes of deep relaxation.  Concentrate on breathing deeply and rhythmically to release tension.
  • Talk to a friend - Develop supportive relationships at work.
  • Go for a walk, get some fresh air.
  • Keep breaks to a reasonable length -You may create more stress by not doing your work.  A good support system can help diffuse stress and boost morale.
  • Take snack breaks – Keep healthy snacks such as pretzels or dried fruit on hand to provide extra energy.  Stay hydrated. Drink ice water instead of cola or coffee.
  • Massage your pressure points - For example, press the pressure points near your jaw joints in front of your ears.

Check your work environment

Keep the “big picture” in mind as well.  What changes can you make in your work environment that could help lower your stress level? If you have an office or cubicle, try personalizing your space.  A few photographs or colorful posters could brighten your space and make it a more pleasant environment.

Watch your posture

Posture can play an important role in keeping your stress level under control as well.  Sit up straight—don’t slouch!  Maintain good posture while walking or moving.  If you catch yourself hunching toward your computer or telephone, take a second to straighten up.  If necessary, consider asking for a different chair. 


Burnout is physical and emotional depletion accompanied by concerns about your competence and the value of your work.

You may be experiencing burnout if you have several of these symptoms:

  • I am often irritable and impatient with people at work
  • I don’t look forward to or enjoy  the work anymore
  • I am critical and cynical about work
  • I don’t have the same job satisfaction I used to
  • My motivation and energy are diminished
  • I am using food, alcohol or drugs more than is good for me
  • I have frequent headaches, back aches and other physical discomfort

What can you do about Burnout?

Try to identify your sources of stress at work.  Make a list and evaluate each item.  Can you eliminate or work around some of these stressors?  It could help keep you healthy!

If the symptoms of burnout persist, you may need to make some bigger changes in your professional life.  This might include a change in your job duties, or taking a vacation or a sabbatical.  It may even require rethinking where work fits into your life.  You may want to speak to a behavioral health clinician, a work-life coach or another professional.  The Faculty Staff Assistance Office is available as a resource for you.