7 Physical Symptoms Of Burnout (Plus: How To Get Relief)

It’s frightening, isn’t it?

Some days your heart feels like it’s going to pound its way out of your chest.

Other times you’re gulping for air as though you were being strangled. Then your stomach twists into knots so painful it hurts to eat.

Though you’re endlessly busy, at the back of your mind is the nagging thought that you ought to get your symptoms checked by a doctor.

Yes, please! If you’re experiencing worrisome physical symptoms, I urge you to get evaluated by a physician to rule out any potentially dangerous health problems.

And if you’ve been galloping flat out, sleeping for what seems like mere seconds, and the teenager at the drive-thru knows you by name, consider this: your physical symptoms could be signs of burnout.

Typically, the physical symptoms I describe in this post are experienced by people who are burned out. In fact, 65% of adults in the US report both stress and burnout symptoms because they are so closely related. So while you may believe you’re simply stressed, you can quickly move into burnout – with all of its heightened symptoms that take longer to recover from.

Stress-related anxiety  is also closely linked to burnout – although stress can lead to burnout whether it initially creates anxiety, or only after you’re in full-on burnout.

Here’s an example:

Awhile back, before I let myself slide into full-on burnout, I sometimes felt a low level of anxiety. Rarely would my anxiety rise as high as a medium level. But when I was in full-on burnout, my ability to handle stress was compromised, which triggered high levels of anxiety.

Talk about a no-win situation.

Now that you know how burnout, stress, and anxiety can weave together, let’s dive into these seven physical symptoms of burnout so you can more readily identify them rather than dismissing them as just more stress than usual.

#1 Chest Pain

You may have been to the doctor already, who’s ruled out a biomedical condition such as heart disease.

However, here’s one reason why you still might be experiencing chest pain: your burnout-related stress throws you into what’s called the fight or flight response. This stress response includes tightening your body’s muscles to make them more resilient to damage. Your chest and rib cage muscles may be affected, resulting in chest pain.

#2 Heart Palpitations

You know that feeling when your heart’s fluttering like a wounded bird? Scary, isn’t it? And that’s not all. Heart palpitations can feel like your heart is:

  • Skipping beats
  • Beating too fast
  • Pounding
  • Flip-flopping

They can occur when you’re active or at rest. Heart palpitations are another way the fight or flight response can show up in your body, signifying you may be on the path to burnout.

#3 Shortness Of Breath

Shortness of breath can manifest a few different ways.  You may feel like you can’t catch your breath at all. There may be tightness in your chest. Or, it may seem like you’re suffocating.

Studies have shown a strong association between anxiety and respiratory symptoms, including shortness of breath.

#4 Gastrointestinal Pain

Are you one of the many people who feels stress in your gut? There’s good reason: it’s caused by a part of the nervous system known informally as the brain-gut axis.

In a nutshell, your brain interacts with the rest of your body through the nervous system. And if you guessed this is another way the fight or flight response shows up, good! Your brain sends a signal to slow or even stop digestion during stressful events, often triggering abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating and constipation.

#5 Dizziness

Anxiety-related dizziness can leave you feeling woozy. You may have a feeling of motion or spinning inside you, or feel like you’re swaying even though you are standing still.

A range of environments like grocery stores, crowded malls, or even wide open spaces may cause you to feel wobbly.

These symptoms are caused by legitimate physiologic changes within your brain when you’re anxious.

#6 Fainting

Fainting may have a variety of causes but the most common type of fainting spell happens because your body overreacts to triggers such as anxiety and stress. Your brain directs your blood pressure to drop and reduces the circulation to your brain, causing a lack of consciousness.

#7 Headaches

So many of us get headaches caused by anxiety and stress. It’s that feeling like there’s a clamp tightening down on your skull, and it’s caused by muscle contractions in your head and neck.

Your doctor may ask you which of these two types you have:

  • Episodic  tension headaches, which happen fewer than 15 days per month
  • Chronic tension headaches, which happen more than 15 days a month

While taking ibuprofen is a short-term way to relieve your pain, it does nothing to relieve the root cause of your headache – which could very well be that you’re burned out.

Now that you see how your physical symptoms could be signaling you that you’re burned out, here are some of my recommendations for how to soothe them.

Self-Care Practices To Get Relief

You can take steps right now to get yourself back into balance.

  • I’m a big proponent of practicing what’s called good sleep hygiene to improve your sleep. Without enough quality sleep, you’ll stay frazzled and burned out. Conversely, your body repairs and restores itself while you sleep, helping bring you back from burnout. Check out my tips on how to sleep better.
  • Conduct a regular spiritual practice to nurture yourself. This could be meditation, praying, journaling – whatever is right for you. As the late Leonard Nimoy said:

“I’m touched by the idea that when we do things that are useful and helpful – collecting these shards of spirituality – that we may be helping to bring about a healing.” – Leonard Nimoy

  • Eat healthy food. I know, fast food or tossing a packaged dinner into the microwave is so tempting when you’re busy! But I also know the toll unhealthy food takes on your overall health. Your body needs high quality food as fuel for adequate performance. Consider having a couple of simple go-to meals for when you’re busy; there’s no need to push yourself to make something complicated.

And for an additional way to support yourself, sign up to receive my complimentaryFrom Burnout To Balance: A Simple 10-Minute Daily Self-Care Practice.

Are You Ready To Go From Burnout To Balance?

You know how frightening it is when stress and anxiety turn into the distressing physical symptoms of burnout.

It’s a relief when your doctor rules out obvious medical causes like heart disease.

Yet then you’re left with a feeling of “Now what?”

How can you get yourself back to feeling good again? How can you bring yourself back from burnout?

Using these practices will get you on your way.

But you don’t have to do this alone! Sign up for a complimentary From Burnout to Balance consultation with me. In this 60-minute consultation you’ll get simple and practical tips for how to break free from your burnout symptoms; create a clear and compelling vision of the burnout-free life you want; tap into greater energy and inspiration; and explore how having a partner on your journey will provide a shortcut to all that you desire.  Together, we’ll get you on the path to wellness.


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