Burnout is a condition that progresses over time until the sufferer reaches a point of complete physical, emotional and mental exhaustion.

Burnout (1,2) is the result of overload. It is a normal neurophysiological and endocrinological response to excessive and prolonged stress, and not an indication of deficiency or weakness in those who experience it. 

 

The neuroendocrine system has two primary pathways for dealing with potential stressors or potentially life threatening situations; the sympathetic system and the HPA (Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal) axis. Both of these systems control and mediate the brain / body connection. They set into motion cascades of hormones and neuroendocrine responses that turn the “flight or flight” mode on or off. Prolonged and chronic exposure to stressors (or even anticipation of stressors like worry or constant fear) may lead to a constant or sustained activation of this “flight or fight” mode or dysregulation of the HPA axis (3). This constant activation can eventually lead to endocrine related problems and imbalances such as hypothyroidism, insulin resistance (Type II diabetes), constantly feeling wired and tired or overwhelmed, and weight gain around the middle.

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From Burned out to Lit Up

Physical symptoms of burnout may include:

  • Exhaustion & chronic fatigue

  • Increased susceptibility to illness (a weakened immune system)

  • Muscle tension & pain, including headaches

  • Changed eating habits & weight

  • Sleep problems

  • Intolerance of sensory stimuli (eg. noise)

  • Asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, hormonal disturbances, high blood pressure 

  • Increased accident susceptibility has been shown in some industries (4)

Emotional symptoms may include:

  • Emotional exhaustion

  • Feelings of having nothing left to give

  • Loss of coping skills

  • Disillusionment with the organisation within which the person works

  • Loss of humour

  • Social withdrawal and/or inability to enjoy leisure activities

  • Irritability

  • Anxiety

  • Tearfulness 

  • Loss of self-esteem & self-confidence

  • Feelings of failure & self-blame

Cognitive symptoms may include:

  • Mental exhaustion

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Forgetfulness

  • Loss of motivation

  • Detachment

  • Difficulty with decision-making

  • Decreased efficiency

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Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicines, especially adaptogens can be immensely helpful in calming the stress response. Adaptogens are herbs that can modulate the immune, endocrine and other systems to bring them into balance, thus helping to reset burnout. Traditional Oriental Medicine (TOM) has been using adaptogens like Ren Shen (Ginseng), Wu Wei Zi (Schisandra) and Ling Zhi (Reishi) for thousands of years. 

 

In TOM, prolonged stress response activation damages different energy systems, the deepest being the kidney energy. By calming, modulating and nourishing the kidney qi as well as protecting and tonifying the yin and yang...one may move from a state of burnout to lit up! Modulating the stress response is essential for vitality, immunity, emotional, psychological and physical health. 

Herbal Medicine
Woman Sleeping
Sleep

Many people reach burnout due to overwork and extended periods of sleep deprivation. Huffington Post founder, Ariana Huffington is a highly successful public figure who has talked about her own burnout collapse caused by sleep-deprivation and a dominant work culture that promotes overworking without regard for wellness (5). Discover more information in our free downloadable booklet ‘From Burned Out to Lit Up’.

Bullying

In many burnout cases, the sufferer has tolerated a long-term toxic work environment, which may have included bullying or mobbing (6-10) (such as spreading inaccurate information aimed at discrediting and ultimately getting rid of the target (11)). Burnout is the ultimate symptom of bullying (12). Discover more information in our free downloadable booklet ‘From Burned Out to Lit Up’.

Stressed Woman
Parents with Newborn Baby
Home and Family Relationships

Although only burnout at work is currently recognised by the World Health Organisation1, there is mounting evidence that burnout can result from stressors in the home environment, such as exhaustion due to parenting (13). Toxic or emotionally-draining home environments, due to relationship problems, financial difficulty, illness or care of sick relatives, can be even more stressful than work environments. When an individual is overloaded and stressed within both the home and work environments, or has inadequate emotional support from the home environment, burnout is much more likely. 

Menopause

Many menopausal women are diagnosed with burnout and it can be hard to disentangle symptoms of the two conditions (14). There are significant interactions between cortisol production and the hormones affected by menopause (progesterone, estrogen, FSH), which suggests a possible endocrinological explanation for burnout during menopause (15). Support from workplace superiors has been found to be vital for women going through menopause in roles with high burnout risk (16,17). Discover more information in our free booklet ‘From Burned Out to Lit Up’.

menopause
expatriates
Expatriates

People who lack a support network of family and friends are more at risk of burnout. Expatriates are distanced from their network and face additional burdens related to living and working in a new country, culture and language. Expats may also find it difficult to access medical and other help in their non-native language. Discover more information in our free downloadable booklet ‘From Burned Out to Lit Up’.

 

References & resources:

  1. https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/. We describe here a set a symptoms that go beyond the official WHO definition

  2. InformedHealth.org. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Depression: What is burnout? [Updated 2020 Jun 18]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279286/

  3. Romm, A. (2018) Botanical Medicine for Women's Health. St. Louis, Elsevier

  4. Ahola K. et al. (2013) Occupational Burnout and Severe Injuries: An Eight-year Prospective Cohort Study among Finnish Forest Industry Workers. Journal of Occupational Health, 55(6): 450-457

  5. https://www.ariannahuffington.com/thrive/

  6. Conway PM et al. (2018) Workplace Bullying and Mental Health. In P. D’Cruz, et al. (eds.), Pathways of Job-related Negative Behaviour. Handbooks of Workplace Bullying, Emotional Abuse and Harassment 2 doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-6173-8_5-1

  7. Nielsen, M. B., & Einarsen, S. (2012). Outcomes of exposure to workplace bullying: A meta-analytic review. Work & Stress, 26(4), 309–332.  doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/02678373.2012.734709.

  8. Laschinger, H. K. S., & Fida, R. (2014). A time-lagged analysis of the effect of authentic leadership on workplace bullying, burnout, and occupational turnover intentions. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 23(5), 739–753. doi:  https://doi.org/10.1080/1359432X.2013.804646.

  9. Nabe-Nielsen, K., et al. (2017). The role of psychological stress reactions in the longitudinal relation between workplace bullying and turnover. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 59(7), 665–672. doi: https://doi.org/10.1097/JOM.0000000000001050.

  10. Tuckey, M. R., & Neall, A. M. (2014). Workplace bullying erodes job and personal resources: Between- and within-person perspectives. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 19(4), 413–424. doi: https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037728.

  11. http://www.safeworkers.co.uk/ten-symptoms-bullying-work.html 

  12. https://www.balmnet.co.uk/burnout.htm 

  13. Hubert S & Aujoulat A (2018) Parental Burnout: When Exhausted Mothers Open Up. Frontiers in Psychology,9(1021). PMID: 29997543 PMCID: PMC6028779 doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01021

  14. https://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2019/09/is-it-physician-burnout-or-perimenopause.html

  15. Woods, N. F., Mitchell, E. S., & Smith-Dijulio, K. (2009). Cortisol levels during the menopausal transition and early postmenopause: observations from the Seattle Midlife Women's Health Study. Menopause (New York, N.Y.), 16(4), 708–718. https://doi.org/10.1097/gme.0b013e318198d6b2

  16. Converso D et al. (2019) The relationship between menopausal symptoms and burnout. A cross-sectional study among nurses. BMC Women’s Health, 19(1):148. PMID: 31775724 PMCID: PMC6882317 doi: 10.1186/s12905-019-0847-6

  17. http://secondphase.co.uk/work/ 

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