Identifying burnout and stress


4 min read

Stress and burnout 10 signs Different types of stress How to help someone Emergency contacts

Burnout is a state of exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. This page helps you understand the different signs and symptoms of stress and burnout in yourself and your team. It covers good stress that motivates, excessive stress that overwhelms, and burnout that exhausts. There's guidance on spotting these signs early, so you can take steps to feel better. It also offers advice on what to do if you or someone you know is headed towards burnout or depression, including emergency contacts and support for farmers. Practical tips such as taking time out, talking about feelings, and making good food choices are highlighted.

Understanding stress and burnout

Battling unhealthy stress for long periods of time can lead to a full crash – known as burnout. It is essential to understand the different signs and symptoms of stress and burnout, so that you can take care of yourself and your team’s mental and physical well-being. This page will help you learn how to spot the signs early, and identify the different kinds of stress you and your team may be feeling, so you can identify if you are at the unhealthy end of the scale and take steps to get back to feeling your best.

10 signs of illness and burnout

Look out for these ‘red flags’ in both you and your teammates:

  1. Continually tired and rundown
  2. Often sick with colds, flus or tummy bugs
  3. Constantly irritable
  4. Quick and noticeable weight loss or gain
  5. Dependent on caffeine to get through the day (more than four caffeine drinks daily)
  6. Frequent arguing with friends, family and work colleagues
  7. Making self-degrading comments (e.g. ‘I’m useless’, ‘I’m going nowhere’, ‘I can’t do anything right’)
  8. Sudden changes in mood, personality or behaviour, which last for several weeks
  9. Lack of appetite
  10. Prolonged disinterest in jobs or things you used to enjoy

If you notice a number of these happening at once, it's likely that you’re not doing the things needed to stay well. Spend some time figuring out which ones you could put into practice, so you can start back on the road to wellness.

When in doubt, take time out, or give your affected team member some time off. Talk about what’s going on, rather than ignoring it. Also, make or encourage good food choices.

Different types of stress

Good stress

"I'm excited about being on farm today. I love what I do."

You know that feeling when you have a goal, and the challenge of reaching it excites you? That’s good stress. It’s when we feel motivated and slightly pushed, but not overwhelmed.

For example, you’re facing a wet, challenging spring, and you need to make some critical decisions. Working through the options and scenarios is encouraging, and makes you feel like the end is in sight. This motivates you to carry on and find the solution.

Excessive stress

"I don't really want to deal with the farm. I'm dreading what it will throw my way today."

When you’re experiencing negative thoughts and feelings, rather than excitement and motivation, you’re probably under excessive stress.

For example, you’re lying in bed at night thinking/worrying about all sorts of things: the round length is too short, the cows are losing weight, we have a herd test next week, the calves need drenching. Everything piles on top of each other and you start to get a feeling of helplessness, like it’s getting out of control. Despite this, you carry on each day.


"I don't feel like I can cope with the farm today, but I know I have to."

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged excessive stress.

For example, you’ve been under financial stress for such a long time that you just don’t have any energy left to deal with the issues. Even so, you plod along and do the best you can.

Mental illness

"I can't think straight. I don't know where to begin with running this farm. I just want to stay in bed."

This is that state where our normal functioning – eating, sleeping, daily tasks – is seriously impaired. It’s a mental or bodily condition marked by the disorganisation of personality, mind, and emotions.

Any of us can end up in this situation if we get too overwhelmed. It’s important to get help if you find yourself in this place. There’s a huge amount of support available for farmers.

If you want to talk to someone right away, please call these numbers:


"I'm useless and a waste of time. I don’t want to be here anymore."

If you’re feeling like this, please seek professional help right away. Talking to someone is so important, and there are caring people who want to help you. Many people have felt this way and found their way out.

  • If this is an emergency and you or someone else is at risk phone 111
  • Or call Samaritans on 0800 726 666, or Lifeline on 0800 543 354
  • Or go to your nearest hospital emergency department
  • Or phone your local DHB Mental Health Crisis Team - get the details at Healthpoint or by calling 0800 611 116

How to help someone who looks like they're headed to burnout or depression

  • Be on their side – let them talk! (listening is a powerful tool)
  • Show understanding and sympathy
  • Don’t judge them
  • Avoid offering advice
  • Avoid making comparisons
  • Don’t try to minimise their pain or act like it’s not a big deal

Check out Farmstrong’s advice on how to manage stress and burnout.

Who to contact in an emergency?

If you're worried someone may already be depressed, encourage them to speak to their health practitioner, and encourage them to talk to someone about it.

These numbers are good:

  • Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254
  • Depression helpline - 0800 111 757
  • 1737 Need to talk? - free call or text for free – 24 hours a day to talk to (or text with) a trained counsellor or a peer support worker

If you are worried someone is suicidal, get professional help. Do everything you can to get the help he or she needs, and call a crisis line for advice. Encourage the person to see a mental health professional, help locate a treatment facility, or take them to a doctor’s appointment.

These are the numbers to call:

Last updated: Sep 2023

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