A burnout is not yet a term that can be found in any mental health professional’s handbook of diagnosable conditions. A burnout is defined instead as a lifestyle-related condition that stems from severe chronic stress. People do not burnout overnight. Instead, the nature of a burnout is much more subtle and progressive. Unfortunately, this slow-moving characteristic makes the condition that much more difficult to recognize.
Our bodies are fully equipped to sustain short bursts of stress related to high-pressure situations, which causes an influx of adrenaline and cortisol in the body. What our bodies are not used to, however, are consistently high levels of stress. Severe chronic stress can have a lasting impact on the brain’s physical structure, and can ultimately change the makeup of certain areas of the brain that are responsible for modulating our stress responses. Consequently, this makes our brains more vulnerable to neurotoxins. Other than impacting our brain’s structure, consistently high levels of stress can also impact normal body functions, such as our immune system, sleep hygiene and digestion.
A common burnout symptom may include physical exhaustion. This may manifest itself in insomnia, chronic fatigue and an increase in feelings of sickness. Victims of a burnout also often complain of a lack of productivity, which stems from an inability to concentrate and an increase in forgetfulness. Emotional exhaustion is a further burnout symptom and is characterized by feelings of cynicism and detachment and can also manifest itself in feelings of depression and anxiety.
Lifestyle changes are often considered crucial as a first step to recovery from a burnout. Finding some downtime in your day, where you can unplug from a stressful situation and engage in a hobby or activity that you generally enjoy doing, is one recommendation. A further recommendation includes connecting with others, in which you have cultivated a positive and meaningful connection with. This should involve going beyond immediate family, and extend to friends or distant relatives.
If you suspect that you may be suffering from a burnout, or if you are experiencing any of the symptoms outlined above, it is important to seek help from a professional as soon as possible.