How burnout affects your health and what to do about it

Too often, the realization comes too late.

“When people have a major medical event like a heart attack or stroke, they go back and say, ‘Oh, I was so stressed, maybe that’s why this happened to me,'” says Dr. Ian Kronish, co-director of the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York. “But they don’t think ahead of time that it’s better to take that stress for their health.”

There are many causes of stress, but experts say one leading cause has increased dramatically in recent years: work-related burnout.

“The burnout thing is real, and we’re seeing a lot more of it these days,” said Dr. Tene Lewis, an associate professor of epidemiology at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta. “People are overwhelmed by everything. And we know it’s bad for your heart, your blood pressure and your brain.”

Recognition of the problem is growing. In the year In 2019, the World Health Organization classified burnout as an occupational phenomenon “caused by chronic stress that is not successfully managed in the workplace.”

The Covid-19 pandemic seems to have exacerbated it. In the year In a 2021 survey by, 52% of workers said they were getting physical activity, up 9% from pre-pandemic. Of all respondents, 2/3 of the outbreaks increased the burn condition.

Many media reports cite burnout as a major contributor to the so-called “Great Resignation,” when large numbers of people leave their jobs. In an advisory issued in May, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy warned that health worker burnout is creating a workforce shortage that threatens the entire public health care system.

He said that if we do not take action, we will lose the health of our country.

So what is burnout? The World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as a feeling of exhaustion, tiredness, absent mindedness or apathy towards work, reduced efficiency and effectiveness at work.

“One of the definitions of stress is that you’re being asked to do more than the resources you can control,” Kronisch said. Stress can lead to burnout, and burnout perpetuates stress, he said. “So it leads to a vicious cycle.”

A 2017 study in PLOS ONE reviewed decades of research linking job burnout to a host of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, insomnia and depressive symptoms.

In addition to direct effects, chronic burnout can cause unhealthy behaviors that increase the risk.

“It can lead to smoking, drinking too much alcohol, not getting enough sleep,” he said. “They all have a downstream biological effect that can lead to atherosclerosis,” the buildup of plaque in the arteries that can cause heart attacks or strokes.

Kimberly Beckwith McGuire, a clinical health psychologist in West Orange, New Jersey, says the first step to dealing with burnout is prevention. “All the things we know now are good for us: sleeping well and getting enough exercise, eating healthy, drinking water and getting some hobbies outside of work.”

She said that if you can’t protect it, you will know it. “Are you feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated? Are you getting headaches if you’re not normally a headache person? If you’re normally pretty, now you’re frustrated? Are you making more mistakes at work? More than usual? These are all signs of burnout.”

If these symptoms are present, the worst thing to do is “try to toughen it up,” says McGuire. “I think a lot of people just have to push, push, push because we’re invincible.”

Instead, don’t hesitate to seek help from occupational therapists or a faith community. Find positive coping strategies – delegate tasks at work, take short walks during the day, do regular breathing exercises.

Louis agreed.

“The first thing you have to do is stop and really pull back and find a way to protect yourself,” she said. “Make sure you have positive things in your life every day.”

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