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Am I just stressed and tired or is it burnout syndrome?

Researcher & Writer: Nisa Jasrotia

Illustrator: Ellie Liu

What is burnout syndrome and why is it important to learn about it?

From time to time, everyone feels exhausted and overwhelmed with work. Whether it be exams coming up or many assignments due, there are moments when it may feel like everything is piling up all at once. Burnout syndrome is on the rise in teenagers with young millennials and Gen Z reporting the highest levels of stress and burnout symptoms. Teenagers in today’s society are constantly faced with unreasonable expectations to achieve good grades, soar in extracurricular activities and complete loads of homework daily and simultaneously. Due to this, the national suicide rate has been increasing amongst teenagers, with suicide being the 2nd leading cause of death in the USA in 2017. This is because teenagers fall into the thought process of not being able to maintain such a stressful lifestyle. Therefore, it is important to recognize when this feeling becomes persistent as it could be more than just stress if experienced daily. 

Although not classified as an actual disease, burnout is classified as an occupational phenomenon in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Disease (ICD-11). Burnout is defined as a syndrome characterised by chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. 

It is identified through 3 main characteristics:

  • Feelings of energy loss or exhaustion

  •  Increased mental disengagement from one's work

  • Emotions of negativism or cynicism regarding one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.

What are the causes of burnout syndrome?

There are a variety of different factors that contribute to burnout syndrome. One of them includes a heavy workload. Overwork is the leading cause of burnout if there is too much work to complete in a short period of time, people find it difficult to find time for themselves to relax, socialise and unwind. Therefore, this could lead to increased stress, anxiety and ultimately feelings of depression if it is not managed. Another cause of burnout includes a lack of social support. If people feel like they can’t share their feelings with others this can add more stress and pressure to their work environment. In order to take on the day it is vital to get proper rest every night, eat healthy and nutritious food and get in daily exercise. With a heavy workload, it can be easy to neglect your health which just contributes to the negative feeling of anxiety due to burnout. 

Telltale signs of burnout syndrome

There are many different factors that contribute to burnout syndromes and people may even experience a combination of these symptoms. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Panic attacks

  • Decreased attention span

  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, sore muscles

  • Unhealthy eating and sleeping habits

  • In worst cases- self-harming behaviour and suicidal thoughts

The difference between stress and burnout

People may often confuse the two concepts of stress and burnout as they are quite similar. However, it is important to understand the key differences between these two. Some of the differences include:

  • Duration and causes- Stress is usually a short-term response to a specific situation and goes away, however, burnout is a constant state of anxiety, depression and negative emotions that can last for a long time and is chronic

  • Response vs. state- Stress is a biological response while burnout is a state of physical and mental exhaustion caused by too much stress.

  • Symptoms- Stress causes symptoms such as irritability and anxiety while burnout can lead to detachment, low self-esteem and emotional exhaustion.

How can burnout syndrome be treated and prevented?

There are various different methods that can be used to help treat and prevent burnout syndrome. 

  • Reach out Talk to teachers, classmates, friends or loved ones to let them know about feelings at work or school as they can help reduce workload or provide support and help with time management skills.

  • Seek professional help- if symptoms are feeling unmanageable reaching out to a counsellor or therapist may be useful as it can be a place for a person to let out emotions and learn coping mechanisms.  

  • Exercise and soothing activities- Trying activities such as yoga, medication and physical exercise can help people divert their mind from work. Taking part in physical activity can fuel the body and provide energy to get through the day. Furthermore, activities such as watching movies or listening to music can help people destress and unwind after a long day and provide them with something to look forward to.


World Health Organization. (n.d.). Burn-out an “Occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases. World Health Organization.

Akkayagorn, L. (2023, August 29). Burnout syndromes - causes, symptoms and treatment. MedPark Hospital.

What is burnout? what causes burnout? symptoms - midwestern university. (n.d.).

LaPorte, K. (2021, May 11). Teenage burnout: An epidemic. Naperville Counseling Center.

Gillette, H. (2022, May 19). Stress or burnout: Here’s how to know the difference. Psych Central.

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