Stressed Face: Understanding The Signs Of Burnout

By Sarah Fader |Updated August 3, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Aaron Horn, LMFT

What Is Stress?

Do You Feel Your Facial Tension Might Be Caused By Stress?

Stress is a feeling that we all experience. It happens throughout our lives when we're overwhelmed or adversely affected by events, tasks, or relationships. Stress can be caused by everyday experiences such as work or school issues, interpersonal problems, family conflict, and so on. We all experience it at different times for different reasons. Stress can affect someone to an extent where they need to seek professional help. Much of the time, however, it is something that goes away on its own when things cool down. One of the things to take into account is that stress takes a toll on both the mind and the body. Today, we're going to discuss the ways that stress manifests itself in the body, and how to know if you're being affected by burnout.

Facial Tension

A stressed face can be the first sign that something needs to change in your work life. Tension is a phenomenon that happens in your body in many different places such as your neck, shoulders, or face. It's when your muscles become stiff, and is a common thing that occurs when a person is emotionally or physically stressed. Tension can be highly uncomfortable and burdensome. When someone experiences a high volume of stress for a sustained period of time, they may experience tension in the face, which has a significant negative impact on their lives. Facial tension occurs on a sliding scale; it can be mild or severe. The symptoms of facial tension include redness in the face, jaw stiffness, dull or aching pain across the forehead, and numbness or tingling. It's speculated that stress can cause tension headaches or migraines. If you're searching online for "headache in back of head" chances are, you may be experiencing tension headaches.

There are different kinds of tension headaches, and they can typically be considered episodic or chronic. Episodic tension headaches are more short-term and can last around thirty minutes, but if you have them frequently, they can disrupt your daily functioning. Chronic tension headaches differ because they go on for a longer period of time; they don't just go on for minutes, but for hours, days, or weeks. Chronic facial pain as a result of stress can contribute to symptoms of depression or anxiety and can impede on an individual's daily life. If you're experiencing chronic facial tension, it's important that you see a medical doctor, which may be a psychiatrist who can help you cope with stress and get to the root of your stress-related pain. Chronic facial tension can be a sign of another issue, so it's important that it doesn't go on untreated.


Facial tingling is associated with anxiety. It can be a somatic symptom of anxiety, so if you're experiencing chronic generalized anxiety, you might feel numbness or tingling in your face. If you experience panic attacks, you may experience facial tingling during the attacks. If you have MS or other neuromuscular conditions, you may also have facial tension or tingling.

Redness Or Flushing

When your face becomes red or flushed due to anxiety or stress, it's often due to dilation of the capillaries in the face. It can make you appear differently to others, and it can last for a period of hours or longer. The meta-anxiety that can come alongside this symptom can be hard to cope with as you may worry about people noticing that your face is red or that you look different. Anxiety can be a feedback loop in which the more that you notice others seeing that you are anxious, the more anxious you become.

Lip Damage

Lip damage can occur due to stress, as a result of chewing on your lip or the inside of your mouth. You may be biting your lip due to anxiety and not realize you're engaged in that behavior. Sometimes, we have unconscious behaviors that are detrimental to our mental health, but because we're unaware of them, they're dangerous to our emotional and physical wellbeing. The first step to stopping actions like lip biting is developing the awareness that you're doing it. Once you know that, you can start to take action to stop it. One way to refrain from biting your lip is distraction. When you notice yourself engaged in chewing on your lip or the side of your mouth, redirect that energy and do something productive. Maybe that means writing in a journal, or perhaps you can call a friend and vent about your emotional issues. Whatever you need to do to make sure you take away from maladaptive coping mechanisms, do that.

TMJ or Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction

TMJ (Temporomandibular) is a condition that can be extremely painful. It can be so debilitating that you may need to have surgery. TMJ has a number of potential causes including face or jaw trauma, misalignment, braces, chewing gum excessively, and so on. It can also develop as a result of stress, anxiety, clenching your jaw, or grinding your teeth. It is something that, if it gets severe enough, could require medical intervention. If you find that your quality of life is impacted by TMJ, seek the attention of a medical professional immediately. You’ll want to make sure that you confront the wellness issues to start healing.

Home Remedies

In addition to medical interventions, and mental health counseling, there are things you can do at home to help with your facial tension. It's empowering to know that you can take matters into your hands and get the help you need at home to start. There are many home remedies that can help you cope with facial tension. Let's examine some of the things that you may help you get relief from your face pain:

  1. Taking hot showers or baths
  2. Massage (whether you use a massage tool or another individual massages you)
  3. Yoga
  4. Meditation or relaxation techniques
  5. Deep breathing exercises
  6. Facial exercises

Specific Facial Exercises To Try:

  1. You can do what's called a "happy face" - smile as wide as you can and hold the face for a count of five. Repeat this ten times.
  2. Furrowed brow - intentionally wrinkle your forehead and arch your eyebrows. If you hold this position for a count of 15-20 seconds then release it, you'll release tension. You can do this exercise in a set of three.
  3. Eye squeeze - close your eyes gently and hold it for about 20 seconds.

Biofeedback Training

Biofeedback training is an intervention that can help to monitor how tense your muscles. It also takes into account your heart rate and blood pressure. It's a form of medical treatment that can result in a healthier body and mind. Biofeedback takes into account your base body state and then seeks to improve your mental and physical health. It’s a system that can help control and monitor body responses. It can help you learn to slow your heart rate. When using biofeedback training, you'll start to see results over time, and it can be extremely useful for stress and stress-reduction.

Fight, Flight, Or Freeze

When we're faced with a substantial trigger or threat, the body goes into survival mode, and as a result of that we might experience a fight, flight, or freeze response. "Fight" means that your body is trying to combat a situation, "flight" means that you're trying to run away, and "freeze" means exactly what it sounds like—your body tenses up and freezes. People with conditions such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and other anxiety disorders are likely to be familiar with the fight, flight, or freeze response, but it can happen as a result of general stressors, without a diagnosed mental health condition. While you may or may not experience facial affects as a result of this, it's important to acknowledge so that you're able to name what's going on when you experience one of these things.

Results Of Long-Term Stress - Burnout

Long term stress can cause detrimental results to your body and mind. You may have heard of the term "burnout." It refers to a state that results from overworking to the point of exhaustion. Where did the term come from? Burnout is a phenomenon that occurs as a result of stressors that are left untreated. It's a relatively new term that was coined by Herbert J. Freudenberger. In the book "Burnout: The Cost of High Achievement," Freudenberger says that burnout is "the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one's devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results." Burnout is typically a reaction to a chronic stressor, and is commonly experienced as a result of stress in the workplace in Western culture. There are three components to burnout; exhaustion, cynicism, and feeling like your professional ability is compromised. If you start to experience fatigue or exhaustion at work, or if you start to dislike your job intensely, you may be gravitating toward burnout, and it may be time to reduce your stress levels. You don't have to stay in a job that makes you unhappy and is pushing you toward the state of burnout. There's a solution, and that might mean changing positions or careers entirely.

Symptoms Of Burnout

Do you think that you might be experiencing burnout? All of the symptoms of a stressed face that we talked about earlier can take place as a result of burnout. Here are some common symptoms that you should look out for:

  • Stress headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Stomach aches or headaches
  • Poor work performance or reduced work performance
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Difficulty managing work and life balance

Risk Factors

Burnout has particular risk factors, and it's essential to be aware of them so you can prevent yourself from burning out. The risk factors for burnout vary from person to person. It doesn't have to be that your job is stressful or high-stress. It sometimes has more to do with a personality type; for example, if someone is more type A and doesn't regulate how much he is working, he may burn out.

There are some professions that are more prone to burnout than others. Burnout commonly affects those in helping jobs. In fact, the National Physician Burnout, Depression, and Suicide Report released in 2019 stated that 44% of physicians experience burnout. With that said, it can affect people who work in any role or industry. Other workplace risk factors for experiencing burnout include high stress levels and situations, bullying, harassment, or other unfair treatment at work, and a workload that is too high or that feels hard to manage.

How to Cope with Burnout

When it comes to the physical symptoms of burnout, you may find relief in practicing some of the facial exercises and home remedies that we spoke about earlier. If you find yourself facing burnout, it might be the case that you need to take time off of work, if at all possible. There's no shame in requesting time off or using your vacation time or sick days if you have them. If you can't take vacation time, make the most out of the time that you're not working. Remind yourself that you don't need to think about work if you're not at work. Emphasize your positive friendships and family relationships. If you're a freelancer, set work hours and boundaries for yourself, and do not work outside of those hours. If you're the employee that usually stays late, make sure to circle back and check in with yourself to make sure that you're not overextending yourself. Make time for your hobbies and take the time to de-stress after work.

Online Therapy For Burnout And Stress

Do You Feel Your Facial Tension Might Be Caused By Stress?

Recent studies have shown that online counseling can help those experiencing stress and other symptoms of burnout. In a study published in Computers in Human Behavior—a peer-reviewed academic journal—researchers examined the benefits of online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) when helping manage stress. They found that online therapy can be a user-friendly, easy-to-understand option for improving mental health in participants. These findings are in line with an increasingly large body of research that points to online platforms as beneficial methods of providing accessible mental health care. Cognitive-behavioral therapy works by helping individuals understand and replace the negative, intrusive thoughts that may be underlying unwanted emotions and behaviors, such as facial tension and other signs of burnout.    

As mentioned above, online counseling is an effective method of treatment if you’re experiencing feelings related to stress or burnout. The online mental health professionals at BetterHelp care about you and want to help you manage your professional life as well as your personal home life so that you can avoid the negative consequences of stress and improve your overall well-being. Read below for reviews of counselors, from those who have experienced similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

“Kevin was very helpful in helping me go through a traumatic time. He knew right away how to help me and taught me techniques to cope with the stress from it. I feel a lot better just talking to him through the situation.”

“I've been working with Veronica for a few weeks and it has already helped relieve some stress off of me by just sharing my concerns and stressors in life. She is a great listener. She is wonderful at articulating my feelings when sometimes I cannot quite figure how to express how I feel. She makes helpful suggestions on ways to cope with stress and I can see an improvement with how I'm coping. I highly suggest her for your counseling needs.”


Burnout is a serious condition that can take a physical and mental toll when left untreated. If you’re experiencing feelings of stress that could be leading to burnout, know that help is available. A mental health professional can guide you on a journey toward a more balanced and healthier lifestyle.

Helpful mental health resources delivered to your inbox
For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Therapist
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.