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How Serious is Burnout and What Are The Long-Term Effects?

Burnout is a very real thing. It is so common nowadays that in May 2019, the World Health Organization classified burnout as an occupational syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress not successfully managed. There are three stages of burnout: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, and feelings of cynicism related to one’s job.

Of course, these refer to workplace burnout, but there are other ways for burnout to rear its ugly head. Whether you are experiencing trauma from a past event, or your family is overwhelming you, burnout is simply the mental and emotional exhaustion from long-term stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As long as the stress continues, you begin to lose interest and motivation. And these are just the short-term effects. The long-term effects of burnout are a lot more serious.

Burnout v. Stress

The two terms seem to go hand-in-hand, however, there are some distinct differences. Stress is having too much on your plate, including feeling like there’s too much to handle, too many responsibilities, or too many hours spent working. With burnout, there isn’t really too much of anything. All you feel is drained, no motivation to do anything, not enough energy, and not enough care to change those things. While stress is also a very common feeling among us all, burnout is the more serious of the two.

Long-Term Effects of Burnout

Burnout has a profound effect on you mentally and physically, and when left untreated, it can cause symptoms to worsen. One main symptom is constant exhaustion. The feeling of being drained, or even the sense of dread is prominent in exhaustion. When you feel this way, this can lead to decreased performance at work, strong fatigue, and feelings of being too tired to do things in your personal life. Feelings of exhaustion can also impact your eating habits and can cause you to experience a loss of appetite.

Another long-term effect of burnout is depression and anxiety. Mentally, if you are feeling down or frustrated, it can also lead to feelings of hopelessness. More often than not, depression can come with detachment, pessimism, and irritability that can impact all aspects of your life. In addition, anxiety can lead to insomnia, which is the feeling of being mentally tired but wired. Being on edge can negatively impact your sleep habits, making the feeling of being burnt out even more cumbersome.

However, the most serious long-term effects of burnout are possible long-term health conditions that are associated with chronic stress. Stress causes high cortisol levels, the hormone that triggers our fight-or-flight instincts. When these instincts are constantly at play, our immune system, respiratory system, and cardiovascular system take a major hit. This means we can become more susceptible to diseases like cancer, diabetes, and the common flu. It can also lead to panic attacks, increased risk of heart attacks, and increased risk of stroke.

Start Burnout Prevention

As you can see, the long-term effects of burnout should be taken very seriously. Creating habits that alleviate your stress levels can lead to a decreased risk of experiencing burnout. But sometimes, you just need extra help, which is why it's encouraged to seek a professional. A professional will help untangle everything that may be going on in your life and provide insight and clarity.

Source: Sarah Yang (2021) The 7 Scary Health Effects of Burnout and What to Do About It

Source: Integris Health (2021) What Are the 5 Stages of Burnout?

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