Thousands of people every year suffer from burnout - the emotional exhaustion brought on by stress overload - and the way to fight back is to deal with stress physically and emotionally.

The breakup of a relationship, the death of a loved one or an unsuccessful job search, according to an article in the current issue of Cosmopolitan, can make people susceptible to panic attacks, nervous breakdowns, depression and sometimes suicide.Dr. Paul J. Rosch, president of the American Institute of Stress, likens stress to a roller-coaster ride, saying:

"Some people sit in the back, their eyes shut, cringing, white-knuckled as they hold the restrianing bar; they can't wait for the ride to end. Then you see the wide-eyed thrill seekers, yelling and relishing every plunge; they can't wait to get on the next ride.

"In between, you may find a group with an air of insouciance."

If you have been through a stressful time, watch for these warning signals of emotional exhaustion - increased dependence on alcohol or drugs; low self-esteem; nervousness, irritability, frustration, anxiety or depression and, of course, overwhelming fatigue.

Physical symptoms include chronic headaches, diarrhea, nausea, heart palpitation and excessive perspiration.

Brooding itself is stressful.

"It doesn't give you the option of doing anything," said Dr. Kenneth Greenspan, director of the Center for Stress and Pain-Related Disorders at New York Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center.

If you are the victim of emotional exhaustion, you can help yourself.

Lead a healthier life. Get enough sleep. Maintain a wholesome diet. Reduce alcohol and caffeine consumption, Greenspan advised. He also recommended aerobic exercises such as fast walking, jogging, swimming or bicycling 20 minutes every other day.

Take responsibility for yourself. "It's a relief to realize you're in charge of your own life," Greenspan said.

Set limits. Don't place excessive demands on yourself and don't let others do it. Accepting unreasonable demands diminishes self-esteem and deepens exhaustion.

Be good to yourself. Buy yourself flowers or candy, whatever makes you feel good.

Join a self-help group. "Talking with people who are experiencing problems similar to yours is helpful," said Dr. Carol Nadelson, a teacher and clinician at New England Medical Center in Boston. "One of the worst parts of emotional exhaustion is that people isolate themselves. You may think you're the only person in the world who feels this way, and you're a failure."

Consult a mental-health professional.

"If you find yourself balking at the expense, you need to recognize this is just one more way in which you deny yourself," said psychologist C. Jane Sanders of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The physical symptms of stress, brought on by the body's fight-or-flight responses, can be controlled. Psychiatrists recommend these techniques to relax muscles, slow breathing and lower blood pressure, metabolism and heart rate.

- Deep muscle relaxation, tensing, then relaxing the muscles in your body, working your way up from your feet.

- The relaxation response, in which you close your eyes, relax your muscles and focus on a word, thrusting away invading thoughts.

- Focused breathing, in which you focus on the flow of air in and out of one nostril, then the other, then both.