The World Health Organization (WHO) calls it an “occupational phenomenon” and it seems inextricably linked to the psychological burden of modern employment. It is about work stress or burnout, for the term that has become more popular.
The international health agency recognized it as a risk factor. “It can lead to dysfunctional behaviours, contribute to poor physical and mental health, cause psychological problems, psychiatric disorders, and end up in situations of work absenteeism”, he warns.
As the American Psychological Association (APA) notes, workplace burnout is at an all-time high rate in many professions. This is driven by the Covid-19 pandemic and the potent combination of personal, profesional, and health stress.
“Burnout syndrome was recognized in 2019 as a mental disorder in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) prepared by the World Health Organization. The WHO describes it as a syndrome resulting from chronic stress at work that was not successfully managed”. This was explained to Infobae by Dr. Daniel LópezRosetti, cardiologist and specialist in Stress Medicine.
Experts from the Mayo Clinic in the US warn that job burnout is a special type of work-related stress; a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also implies an absence of a sense of accomplishment and loss of personal identity.
Burnout: A kind of dangerous fatigue
Also called “burnout syndrome”, it is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that is linked to the workplace, the stress caused by work and the employee’s lifestyle. It can have very serious consequences, both in the physical and psychological sphere.
It is characterized by 3 factors: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and decreased ability to make decisions or initiative. And it goes far beyond job performance; burnout can extend throughout life and increase the likelihood of many diseases.
“This work burnout can affect any worker, whatever role they play. It is an inadequate way of coping with chronic stress, whose main features are emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and decreased personal performance”, said Liliana E. Moroni (MN 5855), coordinator of the Psychopathology Team at the Fitz Roy Comprehensive Medical Center.
The graduate added that “the worker may feel more workload, less free-recreational time. He begins to have feelings that generate discomfort, conflict, dissatisfaction, insecurity; he leads him to place himself with less confidence in himself, and even subjectively contempt for this decrease in valuation ”, she pointed out.
Burnout and the pandemic
The specialist affirmed that the birth of this syndrome is not linked to the pandemic. However, she did emphasize it and accentuate it even more. For those who work remotely, not only did work tasks increase, but those who have children had to dedicate part of their routine to helping and accompanying them, without neglecting the demands of work.
According to a study carried out by the Bumeran employment portal, carried out in 2021, the occurrence of burnout syndrome in Argentina was 80.2%, the same as in Chile. In Peru it is 72.9% and in Panama, 53.6%. At the regional level, users have mostly experienced stress, lack of motivation and unusual exhaustion due to excessive workload.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a big effect on work stress, whether working from home or going to work. After a year and a half of the pandemic, according to this report, 86% of users in the region claimed that they were more “burned out” than the previous year. The pandemic only put the organization of working hours on the table, since with it phenomena have accelerated that could fuel this trend that increases periods of employment.
The 5 warning signs
Here are some common signs, feelings, and symptoms that can be experienced when being “burned out”:
Feeling psychologically overwhelmed can manifest in physical exhaustion and fatigue. Basic tasks, like taking a shower or preparing a meal, for example, may seem more difficult, while a long day at work seems impossible to accomplish. Feeling more tired than usual is a sign of burnout.
Feelings of fear and lack of motivation
Burnout often coincides with feelings of anxiety or fear related to work, especially after a couple of days off. If we find that the days are getting harder and harder to get through, the quality of work is plummeting, and the prospect of going back to work after a break leaves us in a state of anxiety, it is likely that burnout has entered our lives.
Sleep problems are a typical symptom of burnout: difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, and resting deeply.
Sleep quality is a crucial part of our health. Not getting enough rest can contribute to burnout, while exhaustion itself can affect sleep quality, leading to a vicious cycle of restlessness and insomnia.
Exhaustion could make it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, along with other physical symptoms like headaches, body tension, and stomach problems.
Although people react in different ways when it comes to eating, losing your appetite or overeating can be signs that something is wrong. During periods of exhaustion, the appetite is also affected. People may crave “comfort” foods, find their appetite increases a lot or loses it, especially in the morning before going to work.
Cynicism and irritability
Mood can be the first thing to take a nosedive in the early stages of burnout. Feeling frustrated or irritated can be a sign that you are nearing burnout. As a result, personal and professional relationships begin to be affected.
The different levels of burnout
Burnout or burning syndrome can manifest itself according to 4 levels:
Mild- The person feels tired, has difficulty getting up in the morning, complains vaguely.
Moderate- Characterized by irritability, isolation, negativism.
Severe-Slowdown, self-medication with psychotropic drugs, absenteeism, aversion, alcohol or drug abuse.
Extreme- Very marked isolation, collapse, psychiatric symptoms, suicides.
Recovering some time to do physical activity, yoga, meditation, walking outdoors, and disconnecting is the most natural way to deal with the problem.
When symptoms appear, it is advisable to consult a doctor together with a health profesional; that is, a specialist in the area of mental health and/or stress medicine. “For the assessment of the syndrome there are various questionnaires, but one of the most used is the MBI. After having the diagnosis that confirms the presence of the syndrome, companies should implement various tools such as talks, workshops, and training led by the leaders of the most affected sectors, among others”, explained Moroni.
In the first place, according to the graduate, it is important to pay attention to a lack of energy, irritability, increased anxiety and a feeling of dejection for early detection of burnout. “To combat it, it is recommended to take some habits -which were surely suspended due to the state of mind that is going through-, such as going to the gym, taking the time to enjoy a healthy lunch, going for a walk, among others. Likewise, it is suggested to lower the expectations or proposed goals so that they are realistic and in accordance with the true possibilities.
It is also important to reconsider screen time. While devices can make us feel more connected to others, spending too much time in front of screens can be detrimental to our well-being. It is recommended to set limits to check email and social media applications, so as not to affect sleep.
Lastly, self-care is very important, not only to address burnout but also to prevent it. This includes exercising, meditating, and eating a healthy diet. Also, make sure you disconnect from work during free time, which means fully participating in activities. Spending time in nature, such as walking in a park, has been shown to reduce acute and chronic stress.