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Learn about the signs and symptoms of the three categories of burnout: physical, mental & emotional and what to do when you notice them!

The 3 Categories of Burnout: Physical, Mental & Emotional

Learn about the signs and symptoms of the three categories of burnout: physical, mental & emotional and what to do when you notice them! I am so excited to share this information packed guest post brought to you by Christie Hays, MA, LPC. In today’s post Christie will discuss what burnout is and the symptoms in the 3 burnout categories.

Without further ado, let’s turn it over to Christie!

The 3 Categories of Burnout: Physical, Mental & Emotional


Burnout. It’s probably a word you have heard a time or two, but might not know exactly what burnout means. It is the result of too much stress for too long a period of time without enough resources to allow for adequate recovery. It is stress run amuck and it’s just too much. Burnout is exhaustion in its purest form: physical exhaustion, mental exhaustion, and emotional exhaustion. When you are in burnout, you have nothing left. You are in modern day survival mode, where life is happening to you. Day in, day out, wake up, survive what life throws at you, attempt to sleep, and repeat. No time or energy to be proactive or more engaged with life, just survival.

It’s a pretty grim picture, but a picture that many of us are currently living in right now. Here’s the scariest part of burnout and living in survival mode: it’s hard to see when it’s happening to you.  There is a badge of honor that comes with exhaustion in our society. Pulled an all-nighter? People will be downright impressed. So busy that you forget to eat lunch every day? “What a cool new diet trend”, they’ll say. We have been taught to admire this burnout way of life, and we are all suffering because of it.

So how do you know if you are in burnout? Everyone experiences burnout in different ways, but the signs of burnout come in three different categories: Physical, Mental, and Emotional.  You may experience impacts in all three areas, or even just one. Let’s take a look at each category.

1) Physical

Physical signs of burnout include anything with the physical body that might be causing you trouble. It can also be one of the first signs of too much stress or burnout.  Our bodies are remarkable and capable of wonderful feats; however our bodies don’t have a way to lie to us. Our bodies are constantly “speaking” to us and telling us what it needs. The basic hunger and thirst signals are one of the many ways that our bodies “speak”.  Physical pain is another.

Here are some tell-tale physical signs of burnout:

  • Physical Pain– usually neck, shoulders, and back
  • Muscle tightness – usually neck, shoulders, and back
  • GI issues
  • Skin flare ups– acne, eczema
  • Allergy flare ups– especially seasonal allergies
  • Headaches
  • Immune system– getting sick more frequently
  • Flare up of other chronic conditions
  • Sleep disturbances– initiating sleep, staying asleep, getting enough sleep, lack of restful sleep
  • Grinding your teeth at night – jaw pain in the morning can be a sign.
  • Decreased energy
  • Changes in appetite – eating too much, not enough, using food for comfort


2) Mental

When you are stressed out your brain gets stressed out. Too much stress also has a negative impact on your brain’s ability to function at a high capacity. Studies have shown that children with high levels of stress have a decreased ability to learn in school. Same is true for adults. Your brain gets stressed out and you suddenly are more forgetful, have trouble concentrating and a host of other concerns.

Here are a few mental signs of burnout:

  • Decreased motivation – kind of like your drive and ambition have been turned down or even off. Things that you care about aren’t so important anymore.
  • Avoidance or even denial that stress or burnout are issues. Avoidance comes in all types of forms- binge watching tv, stress eating, drinking, excessive exercise, shopping, etc…
  • Busy to be busy – Being still allows for anxiety and negative thoughts to come to the surface easier, so you keep busy with anything and everything, but you’re not really getting anything done
  • Procrastination – Doing everything but that one thing that really needs to get done
  • Survival mode – only able to do the bare minimum required to get through each day
  • Increase in negative thoughts about yourself and even others
  • Forgetfulness or memory problems
  • Difficulty concentrating

 3) Emotional

In addition to our brains cognitive problems under stress, our brains also have more difficulty regulating our emotions under stress.  Emotional signs of burnout relate to either an increase in difficult emotions or a decrease of overall emotions.

Here are a few emotional signs of burnout:

  • Increased feelings of anxiety, which often have physical symptoms as well (ex: increased heart rate)
  • Sense of dread
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Numb, not feeling much of anything, or seeking to feel numb (though food, alcohol, drugs, tv)
  • Detached, feeling like you are not in your own body
  • Apathy, general indifference or even laziness toward things you care about


This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but a general overview of how some people experience burnout. I’ve gathered this information from my client’s experiences, studies and articles, and even my own experiences. You may find that your experience is similar and you experience burnout in all three categories or that you tend to have more signs in one category.  The important thing to know is your own signs, so that you can recognize burnout easier, and get on the path to recovery faster.

Once you know you are in burnout, or quickly approaching burnout, the first step is to start with some gentle self-care. Start with the basics: sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Also,  I always encourage my clients to get a physical check-up with a physician for any on-going issues. If your energy level has been low, go get a check-up. Often times stress and other chronic issues combine for a bad case of burnout.

If you are in burnout out, I encourage you to take steps toward your self-care. How could you be gentle with yourself this week? Be curious about what your body is trying to tell you, because it can and will tell you what it needs. Be gentle with yourself. You are the only you, you’ve got.


 Guest Bio:

Christie Hays is a counselor and coach based in Austin, TX who is dedicated to helping women be unapologetically themselves. She helps women find and proudly own their femininity, kick butt in the corporate world, and empowers them to create lives where perfectionism and burnout are things of the past.  Christie helps through individual sessions and small group workshops designed specifically for driven, exhausted, and stressed out women.  Christie received her Master of Arts in Counseling from St. Edwards University and has been practicing counseling in Austin and surrounding areas ever since.  Christie is able to uniquely combine her past corporate experience with her counseling knowledge to help high achieving women get back to living the life they want to live.

Be Happy. Be Awesome. Be Less Stressed.

Learn More from Christie: Website | Facebook | Instagram | Email: [email protected]


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