I’m at BREAKING POINT! 😫 English Idioms & Phrases about STRESS

Lesson Overview

Lesson Summary 

When you are stressed out and feeling under pressure, the best thing to do is TALK about it! So, let me share some common English Idioms & Phrases to help you talk about stress!

This English lesson includes:
– (to be) burnt out
– (to be) under pressure
– (to be) at breaking point
– (to) bite someone’s head off
– and many MORE!


Video Transcript
Section 1
Hey there I’m Emma from mmmEnglish! There are a lot of reasons why our stress levels have been on the rise lately. Our lives are incredibly busy, full of information, ambition, problems and challenges to overcome.

For me, for you, for all of us, it is so important to recognise stress and to try and manage it. It’s also really important to talk about it with others and so that is exactly what this lesson is gonna focus on, thirteen common English expressions to talk about stress. So get your pens out, get ready to take some notes.

I really want you to be thinking about how these expressions could apply to your life. I’ll be sharing idioms, verbs, phrases to help you explain and express stress so let’s get into it.

If you stop by my channel often, take a quick moment to hit that subscribe button down there, that would be so lovely of you. Plus, that’s the way that you’ll see all of my lessons. I make new ones every week and by subscribing, you’ll see them pop up in your feed here on Youtube.

Like I said earlier, we all live pretty busy lives. We work, study, family, responsibility, not enough money, not enough time, not enough sleep. All of these things.

I’m certain that you have felt stressed at some point. If not today, then yesterday or last week or maybe a few months ago and this is how we describe people when they’re tired, anxious or grumpy because they just have too much going on.

1. stressed /strest/ (adj)

We can feel stressed.
We can look stressed.
We can be stressed.

And it’s stressed. So I know that it’s really odd to pronounce -ed as a T sound but that’s a really common feature of English pronunciation. When the consonant before -ed is an unvoiced sound. This is an unvoiced sound so -ed is then pronounced. Stressed.

This is true for the adjective and also for the past tense form of the verb ‘stress’ and I’ve got a whole pronunciation lesson about this actually, about past tense regular verbs. You can watch it up here if you’re interested to learn a bit more about it.

But it’s also really common to hear “stressed out” and stressed out means exactly the same thing, the phrases are really interchangeable. Stressed. Stressed out.

  • I’m always stressed out at the end of the month when our accounts are due.
  • Are you doing okay? You look a bit stressed.

2. (something) stresses (one) out

What’s stressing you out? What is it that is stressing you out?

We use this phrase in the past and the present to talk about what’s causing stress, what creates stress.

  • For me, traffic always stresses me out.
  • Being in such a big crowd yesterday stressed me out.
  • You’re stressing me out!
  • I don’t want to do it because I know it will stress me out.

So did you notice how with all of those examples, I was using them across tenses? It’s a really useful expression to remember, to try and put into use.

3. (to be) burnt out / burnout

Another synonym to describe how you’re feeling when you’re stressed is to be or to feel burnt out. So when you’re really tired and you’re stressed because you’ve been working hard for way too long, you don’t have any energy left to do anything else, that’s when you’re burnt out.

  • By the end of final exams, both the teachers and the students are completely burnt out.

And you also hear the noun ‘burnout’ used for that complete exhaustion.

You always want to try and avoid burnout right by taking time off and relaxing a little. I feel like I’ve just created this whole lesson to offer advice to myself.

  • Try to avoid burnout. Don’t get stressed out.

4. a lot on (one’s) mind

Now when you’re worried about lots of things you know you’re thinking about them all the time, it’s really distracting. You can’t focus and you’re really mentally tired. That is when you have a lot on your mind.

Okay so you know if you forget something really important or you find yourself not listening or not paying attention to someone who’s talking to you, then this can be a really good way to excuse yourself.

  • Don’t take what he said personally. He’s got so much on his mind at the moment. I’m sure he’s just really stressed out.

5. a lot/too much on (one’s) plate

So a similar expression is ‘to have a lot’ or ‘too much on your plate’. So think about going to a buffet right and you’ve got your plate, you load up so much stuff onto that plate. There’s lots of delicious things that you want to try but you overdo it and everything starts spilling off the sides of the plate right.

So if someone asks you to do something extra, you know, on top of everything else you’ve got to do that day, you might even say

  • I’m sorry, I can’t do it. I’ve just got too much on my plate right now.
  • Are you sure you want to volunteer at the local church? You’ve already got so much on your plate.

6. (to be) under pressure + to do (something)

So again, when you feel stressed because you’ve got too much to do or too many responsibilities, you’re under pressure.

Okay you can use this phrase on its own without any further explanation. You can say

  • I don’t know what’s wrong with him. I think he’s under a lot of pressure at work.

You don’t need to explain more detail or you can be more specific and include an action. You can say ‘under pressure to do something’ you know to explain what is creating that stress and pressure.

  • He’s under pressure to get board approval by Wednesday.

It’s also really common to hear that someone put another person under pressure.

  • My boss has put me under a lot of pressure to present the results by Friday. I just don’t think we can do it.

Do you feel under any pressure at the moment? Is someone putting you under pressure? Tell me about it down in the comments below.

7. (to be) under the pump

Okay so this is very similar to ‘under pressure’ but perhaps a little less formal right. If you’re under the pump, it usually means that you have a specific task that you need to do and there’s a limited amount of time that you have to finish it in so there’s urgency right? It’s not just that you have a lot of work to do but you also have a limited amount of time to get it done.

  • I won’t be home by five tonight. I’m under the pump to get this report finished today.

8. (to) burn the candle at both ends

This expression has some great imagery. What happens if you burn a candle at both ends? Very quickly, there won’t be any candle left, right?

So if you’re waking up early, going to bed late in order to get more work done, then you are probably in order to get more work done, then you are probably feeling exhausted and very quickly, you’ll completely run out of energy and enthusiasm to get the task done right.

So this expression is great for when you are doing a lot, you’re still coping but right now you know that you can’t continue to work at this rate for much longer, right? You’re burning the candle at both ends.

  • Please try to take it easy over the weekend. I’m worried you’re burning the candle at both ends and we need you to perform at Monday’s meeting.

9. (to) run/work (oneself) into the ground

This is definitely not a good scenario when you overload your schedule and trying to finish everything but you completely exhaust yourself. You burn yourself out by working too hard.

That’s when you’re working yourself into the ground. Or you could say you’re running yourself into the ground, it’s the same thing.

And interestingly this expression is usually reflexive so the subject and the object are the same. We say

  • I ran myself into the ground.
  • He worked himself into the ground.
  • I know I got sick because I worked myself into the ground.

10. (to be) at breaking point

And that’s when you’re at breaking point. And that’s when you’re at breaking point. Oh no, you can tell that things are getting worse by the second here right?

This is bad when you’ve reached breaking point. It’s that moment when the build-up of stress is so big inside of you that you break. For me, this usually ends up in a whole lot of tears and stressful crying.

Can you think of the last time that you were at breaking point? Hopefully, it’s not too recently or it doesn’t happen too often but have you ever been at breaking point? Let me know about it.

11. (to) come apart at the seams

This is another really fun idiom to imagine. So imagine a stuffed toy, one that’s been loved for many years. He’s very worn out and the seams, the stitching starts to come undone, the stitching starts to come undone, and the stuffing starts to come out. You know that he’s not going to last for much longer right, eventually, the whole thing falls apart and that is the feeling behind this phrase.

Everything is falling apart. Everything’s going wrong.

  • Our customer complaints are up thirty per cent since our manager resigned. Everything is coming apart at the seams.

So you can use this expression in your home life, personal relationships and also at work as well. It’s really versatile.

12. (to) snap

This is a really great verb, it’s a reaction to being stressed or under pressure right. So stress sometimes causes us to lose control and we snap. In an instant, we’re not our normal selves, we’re annoyed, we’re frustrated, we’re angry.

And if we snap at someone, we yell at them usually without warning, usually it’s quite unfair.

  • Stop watching TV! You’ve done nothing else all day.

That was me snapping at you because I’m stressed out.

  • I’m sorry I snapped at you. I’ve just had a really long day.

And an even more aggressive response would be…

13. (to) bite (someone’s) head off

Sounds dangerous. Of course, it’s not a literal expression but it’s a great way to say that someone’s really freaked out and lost control because of stress.

They’re annoyed, they’re frustrated, they yelled at someone who was probably innocent and not asking for it. And it’s like whoa, okay, calm down.

  • My boss basically bit my head off when I tried to ask for an extension! It was a bit unreasonable.

So I hope that this lesson wasn’t too stressful for you and that you did learn a few new and interesting expressions that you’re able to practise and explore this week.

Now I know that I shouldn’t be getting you excited about seeing someone stressed but try to look out for this type of behaviour this week. You know if you see your boss or a family member stressed out about something see if you can apply some of these expressions you know.

Keep a notepad handy, a journal, just write them down. If you’re feeling stressed as well, it’s actually good stress relief to write down and to vent and to let all these things go but try to use some of these expressions as you do.

And for your final challenge today, I want you to choose three of the idioms or expressions that I shared in today’s lesson and write a short paragraph using them down in the comments below this video.

I’m going to come down, check them out and give you some feedback if you need it very soon. Thank you for joining me. Like I said, I hope I didn’t stress you out or you’re not too stressed but it is important to be able to talk about how you’re feeling right.

Make sure you check back for new videos full of everyday useful English expressions just like these ones. I will see you in the next one. Bye for now!

Links mentioned in the video

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