Mental Burnout and Breakdown: Coping with stress

by Elia Strange

In my other article ‘Signs and Stages of Stress’ you can actually learn what stage of stress you might be in by now.

There you can also see that there are 3 stages of stress that we might experience.

Whereas stages 1 and 2 might be somewhat manageable, the stage 3 of stress will certainly make you ill.

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When you find yourself in the stage 3 for long periods of time, you become exhausted to the point of breakdown. Breakdown can occur slowly or fast, there are no hard rules about it. A lot would depend on your personality and even your genetic make up.

It is difficult to separate the feelings of unhappiness or depression, and psychological breakdown. But it is possible to define ‘breakdown’ nevertheless: ‘Breakdown’ occurs when the individual exhibits behaviour that makes it impossible for them to continue functioning normally in society.

Symptoms of a nervous breakdown are often more obvious to others than they are to the sufferer and include:

- obsessive activity such as persistently washing hands or checking that a door is locked;

- manic depression, where there are extreme mood swings;

- behaving irrationally, for example shoplifting, giving up a good job, breaking up good relationships;

- screaming, shouting and self mutilation.

These are just examples. When breakdown is suspected, please see professional help urgently.


Often burnout occurs when individuals who were extremely enthusiastic and hard-working appear to lose interest in life, and particularly in their job. It is not unusual for hard-working people to become emotionally, psychologically or physically exhausted. There are 3 ways in which burnout can be seen:

1) the individual loses interest in job (and in life to some degree)

2) emotions such as happiness, enthusiasm and security become
replaced by the feelings of depression, apathy and anxiety

3) the person seem ‘does not fit’ for the job anymore

Common symptoms of burnout are:

- an increasing tendency to think negatively

- a feeling of lack of control over events

- a feeling of being ‘useless’

- problems with relationships in and out of work

Unfortunately, burnout is not taken seriously by employers, and often seen as laziness and inefficiency. And what happens in the end is that the person becomes ill or changes the job.

Please spot the symptoms if you have any, and seek professional help (such as counselling) as soon as you can.

Other Articles you might be interested in:

Symptoms of Stress

Best Ways to Manage your Stress

Stress and Illness


Are you mindful (Quiz)

What to do when you are stressed

Reduce your Stress

'Mental Burnout and Breakdown' Reference:

Edworthy, A. (2000). Managing Stress. UK, Buckingham: Open University Press.

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