Burnout: Taking Stress to the Next Level
Author: Stephanie Camins – MA, LPC
Burnout syndrome is a response to chronic or sustained stress which may be job-related, but there are many exceptions. This syndrome causes physical and mental problems that prevent you from maintaining your routine and lifestyle.
The disorder is more common in women who are single or have a lack of family support. It also affects people recently hired more severely, so young patients (under 35) are most often affected.
Understanding the Burnout Syndrome
We all suffer stress at some point in life, but then why do some have Burnout and others don’t? This syndrome is the coalition of many risk factors with chronic exposure to stress in a toxic environment.
To explain it more practically, let’s approach it this way: we all have some resistance to stress (which we’ll call threshold), in some people it’s high, and for others, it’s lower. This threshold is forged from childhood, under the upbringing of our parents and the influence of our peers and the amount of work we have in our lives.
Several factors can affect that threshold: self-esteem, emotional resilience, illness, etc. It is those people who have the lowest threshold that are most often affected. Even so, in the case of burnout, there is always a clear trigger: overload.
Although it has been related more to the work environment, it is not exclusive to it. Almost anyone can experience burnout if they are under chronic stress. Typical examples are students, caregivers (family members) of sick people, and those working in high demand areas or toxic workplaces, etc.
The key “cause” of the burnout is stress, and there is no doubt about that. However, what makes some more likely to suffer from this syndrome than others? The answer is simple: the instability or deficit of their threshold markers. These factors are:
- Self-esteem: Over 95% of those who suffer from Burnout have low self-esteem. Our susceptibility to stress seems to be determined in large part by our perception of ourselves. Do we feel we have control of our situations or the ability to set boundaries and make changes in our lives or do we feel powerless or useless?
- Emotional Lability: Emotional strength is also a determining factor. Many people with burnout have disproportionate emotional responses, meaning your emotional response is not congruent with the situation.
- Environmental Overload: Whether it is your job or your responsibilities, working hard every day without stopping and without enough positive rewards or reinforcement can lower your threshold for burnout.
- Lack of Fairness: the self-perception that the “system” (whatever entity is governing your performance, such as your employer) is softer with some than with others also matters.
- Ambiguity and Limbo: not being aware of what your goals are and not having ambition also contribute to the origin of this syndrome. In fact, even poor work organization (where you don’t know if you can get promoted or you’ll just be doing the same thing forever) can also affect you.
The impact of Burnout on our Body
First, let’s remember something: stress has an undeniable biological (organic) effect on our body. When we are stressed our blood pressure, heart rate, blood glucose, etc. increase. Our body prepares itself to “run or fight”, instinctive reactions that saved us from danger millennia ago.
Now, however, these reactions are only hurting us. Since burnout is a state of chronic stress, it is normal to expect a major impact on our body, not just on a mental level.
Several studies have shown that the cardiovascular system is the one most affected by Burnout. Some hypotheses mention that this syndrome can “wear out” part of our systems, such as the hormonal system. In the face of chronic exposure to stress, hormones are secreted for very long periods, which fatigue our system.
Some of the hormones that are secreted, such as cortisol, have a direct effect on our body. This is the first one involved in the changes in the cardiovascular system, but also in other sectors of our body.
For example, there can be insomnia (reconciliation or maintenance), inflammatory problems, coagulation disorders, even immune deficit (so you would get sick frequently).
Some experts claim that Burnout can enhance those unhealthy traits you have. If you have an unhealthy diet and build up cholesterol in your arteries, Burnout may encourage complications (such as myocardial infarction or stroke) to occur more quickly.
Many of those with Burnout often experience frequent “simple” infections, such as common cold, flu-like illnesses, or gastroenteritis. In addition, there may also be significant neurological symptoms, such as musculoskeletal pain or neuralgia.
Burnout is also a major predictor of depression. Stress alone is a recognized marker and trigger of depression, but the combination with burnout (one of the highest expressions of stress) is a corroborated factor, which has been frankly linked to the origin and development of depression.
Burnout as a result of chronic stress has become a major public health issue. We are pushing too hard, too fast without enough support from others or self-care. So what can we do? Focus on supporting those around you. If you are a boss/manager/executive, support your staff, empower your staff, give your staff control of their environment. If you are the employee (whether it be self or for a company) take self-care seriously.
Take micro-breaks in your day, exercise, stay hydrated, get support from friends and family. For additional support, neuro-coaching techniques such as EMDR for performance, hypnotherapy, solution-focused counseling for anxiety can help give you the edge you need to take control of your situation. Contact Stephanie Camins, LPC for more information about these techniques.