Also known as the burnout syndrome, burnout syndrome is a kind of chronic and more severe stress related to the work context. It is characterized by three dimensions: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a low sense of accomplishment.
Since its first description in the 1970s, the understanding of the subject has evolved. The WHO (World Health Organization), through the International Classification of Diseases, already recognizes the syndrome of burnout as a serious problem in contemporary society.
Next, we’ll talk about each one of them and also other signs that may indicate that you have this condition that affects people all over the world and about 32% of the more than 100 million Brazilian workers, according to estimates by International Stress Management Association.
1. Emotional exhaustion
If you constantly experience feelings of fatigue and the feeling that emotional resources are lacking, it is good to be aware. Exhaustion is one of the most important characteristics for identifying burnout and happens when the professional feels that he or she does not have the energy to deal with stressful situations and the common demands of work, in addition to a loss of enthusiasm.
Depersonalization is a characteristic that manifests itself among people with the syndrome. It is important to note as it is categorical in differentiating burnout from stress. Also called cynicism, it occurs when people start to act with indifference, to have hostile behavior and a negative attitude towards the profession and people involved in the work environment, such as colleagues, bosses and, in the case of professionals who deal with the public, patients and clients, for example. Depersonalization is called that because of the emotional distance from other people.
3. Low sense of accomplishment
Workers with burnout tend to have lower achievement rates than those without the syndrome. They feel frustrated, unmotivated, constantly dissatisfied with their professional skills, think that their skills fall short of those needed, that they don’t have the proper competence and are unhappy with the work environment. Everything at work becomes a reason for dissatisfaction and displeasure.
Just as a football player with an injured leg will have difficulty in making a good game, the burnout worker will not be at the fullest of their cognitive abilities, which can negatively impact their performance, leading to less achievement. This problem is even more worrying because, instead of absenting themselves from the professional environment, the person with burnout is often unaware of the situation and continues to work. She invalidates her own difficulty by thinking that this process is “normal”.
Prolonged anxiety or at more intense levels can result in psychological distress that affects an individual’s daily functioning, generating both cognitive and physical symptoms, such as insomnia, irritability, difficulty concentrating, muscle pain, etc. Research has shown that burnout is correlated with anxiety symptoms. A meta-analysis (Maske et al. 2016) identified that 59% of individuals diagnosed with burnout were also diagnosed with anxiety disorder.
Burnout is multifactorial, that is, there are organic, social and psychological issues involved. For this reason, these individuals also tend to present depressive symptoms, ideas of uselessness, failure, high irritability, and will hardly be socially inserted. Keeping in touch with other people, being empathetic, interacting, pondering and communicating are brain functions that are affected when you have burnout. With this imbalance in normal brain functioning, a search for greater isolation and reduction of social interaction is inevitable, since these events would demand an activity from the brain that is transiently more complex for it.
Insomnia is a common burnout symptom. It appears as an effect of all psychological, physical and social impairment. It is also heightened because these individuals tend to engage in work-related self-demandings and an unhealthy lifestyle. The work overload, which appears as a compensatory strategy for the constant feeling of failure, in which they may eventually become involved, can impair the necessary measures for restful sleep, such as finding a time to rest, having a time to go to bed, sleep in a quiet environment without lighting and noise, among others.
7. Physical symptoms
When we are going through a phase of emotional imbalance, for whatever reason, it is common for the body, due to neurobiological and hormonal reactions, to also show physical symptoms. In the case of burnout, research indicates that it is related to a series of physical disorders, such as: metabolic syndromes, impaired immunity and cardiovascular disease. It is also possible that symptoms such as muscle pain, headache and migraine, gastrointestinal problems, sexual dysfunction, fatigue, shortness of breath, tachycardia, dizziness, dizziness, tingling sensation, among others, may appear.
8. Changes in appetite
Our organism tends to partially modify its functioning to deal with adversity, through the mediation of hormones, such as cortisol. Among these physiological changes, there may be a reduction in appetite in burnout or even depression. However, it is important to say that the opposite can also happen and there is an increase in appetite due to the predominance of the action of other substances and systems, such as the brain reward system, modulated by dopamine.
Our ability to ponder and mediate conflicts stems from specific activations in the prefrontal cortex. In short, he is the great moderator between our impulses and the external environment. In burnout, this region presents a reduction in inhibitory activity, and other areas are more activated, which leaves the individual vulnerable to respond in a more impulsive, irritable and immediate way.
10. Difficulty concentrating/forgetting
It is common to have impaired memory and poor concentration in professional burnout syndrome. Given sleep difficulties, tiredness, and emotional symptoms such as anxiety, we stop paying attention to our surroundings, something that in psychiatry is called hypotenacity.
11. Feelings of defeat/incompetence
The worker feels a reduction in their professional effectiveness, which means that they constantly experience frustration, have low expectations regarding their own performance and cognitions related to failure.
Burnout affects the functioning of the healthy brain, affecting the functioning of different brain pathways, such as the prefrontal cortex, which in its more lateral portion is responsible for the presence of depressive symptoms such as excessive sadness, lack of pleasure in activities that the person enjoyed , lack of concentration.
Burnout and depression have a high correlation. A study even found that 53% of patients with severe burnout were also diagnosed with depression. However, it is important to emphasize that despite sharing common characteristics, they are different conditions. While the burnout syndrome is related to the work context, depression occurs more broadly in different areas.
Sources: Pedro Shiozawa, psychiatrist, professor at the Department of Psychiatry at the Faculty of Medical Sciences of Santa Casa de São Paulo, co-founder and COO of Jungle, a mental health startup focused on the organizational environment, and one of the authors of the book “Unveiling the Burn- out: An Interdisciplinary Analysis of the Burnout Syndrome”; Leonardo Baldaçara, psychiatrist, midwestern regional director of the ABP (Brazilian Psychiatric Association), and professor at the Federal University of Tocantins; Anelisa Vaz de Carvalho, PhD and Master in Psychology from USP (University of São Paulo), specialist in cognitive-behavioral therapy, author of the book “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Burnout Syndrome”, psychology professor and founder of the @dra.anevaz and @anevaz projects. clinic)