By Karen Eisenbraun, CHNC
Burnout is a widespread and serious problem. Heavy workloads and chronic stress—combined with a never-ending news cycle and the pressure to always stay connected to work—can lead to emotional and physical exhaustion, along with physical symptoms such as an impaired immune system, frequent illness, chronic headaches, and a change in appetite or sleep habits.
Recent research shows that burnout may have more serious consequences than previously realized. A new study revealed an association between burnout and a higher risk for a dangerous heart condition. It’s important to learn the signs of burnout and take action before a serious health condition develops.
Burnout is defined as a state of excessive and prolonged stress that leads to physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.
Though traditionally associated with high achievers who work long hours and take on heavy workloads, burnout has become more widespread in recent years. A 2018 Gallup study found that out of 7,500 full-time employees, 44 percent reported experiencing burnout “sometimes,” while an additional 23 percent reported feeling burned out “very often” or “always.” That means that two-thirds of full-time workers feel burned out at work.
And burnout isn’t limited to the workplace. Parents often experience burnout due to the chronic stress of parenting—a condition commonly referred to as mommy burnout, although it can affect dads as well.
Burnout is a term that often gets tossed around by people who are feeling emotionally or physically exhausted. And while it’s normal for a rough day or week to make you feel more tired than usual, it’s important for anyone who’s experiencing actual burnout to recognize the warning signs and know when to take action. The warning signs of burnout typically come on gradually and are often ignored. If unaddressed, burnout can lead to serious health consequences.
You may be experiencing burnout if:
- Every day is a bad day
- You’re always exhausted
- You constantly feel overwhelmed
- You don’t have the energy to care about your work life or home life
- You feel like nothing you do is appreciated
Burnout can lead to both psychological and physical symptoms, including:
- Sleep disorders
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Impaired decision making
- Impaired immune system
- Frequent colds
- Respiratory problems
- Back pain
- Sexual dysfunction
A recent study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, also revealed that burnout is associated with atrial fibrillation, or AFib, a type of irregular heart rhythm that can be potentially fatal.
AFib is a common condition that affects roughly 2.7 million Americans. In addition to an irregular heart rhythm, AFib is associated with chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and blood clots. AFib increases the risk of stroke and doubles the risk of heart-related deaths, yet many people are unaware that it is a serious condition. Some people with AFib may not have symptoms and may not discover their condition at a regular medical checkup.
Burnout is also associated with weight gain. Chronic stress triggers the release of the hormone cortisol, which causes the body to store fat cells, particularly in the abdominal area. Cortisol also promotes the development of fatty liver disease, which can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Research shows that burnout also leads to unhealthy behaviors that promote weight gain. People who are feeling the effects of burnout are more likely to engage in emotional eating, to eat without stopping, choose foods higher in fat, and neglect physical exercise.
It’s critical to get a handle on stress and burnout before serious health complications develop. If you’re already experiencing work-related burnout, you may need to speak with your employer about setting healthy boundaries. If possible, avoid work email or other work-related activities after working hours.
Focus on getting adequate, quality sleep. Good sleep goes a long way toward warding off mental and physical health issues, and being sleep deprived can further impair your focus and decision-making abilities. If you’re having difficulty sleeping, talk to your doctor about prescription sleep aids. If your healthcare provider prescribes you a sleep medication, our ScriptSave WellRx savings card can help you find the lowest price.
Make time to exercise, even if it’s just a walk around the block or a short yoga session. In addition to helping control weight, regular exercise helps reduce stress, boosts the immune system, and lowers your risk of heart disease.
Finally, consider seeing a therapist. Techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy can help change negative behaviors that develop because of stress and may also improve your sleep.
Karen Eisenbraun is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant. She holds an English degree from Knox College and has written extensively about topics related to holistic health, clinical nutrition, and weight management.