We live in the society of immediacy. If we have doubts, Google answers us; if we want to learn something, YouTube teaches us; and if we need something, Amazon sends it to us within few hours. It means that both the level of demand and personal abilities have had to adapt to very short times, increasing our level of stress and mental load.
Technological innovations have made our daily lives easier, but they also have pernicious effects. In this sense, the burnout syndrome (also known as burnout) is becoming one of the main causes of loss of health. Prevalence rates exceed 10% in Europe, reaching 17% in other continents.
Jobs that burn out
To fully understand how it occurs, first we must define what exactly we are talking about: burnout syndrome is classified as professional burnout syndrome by the ICD-11 (International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organization). In this guide it is identified as a psychological problem associated with employment.
We understand burnout syndrome, then, as a long-lasting process in which an imbalance occurs between the demands of the task and the person’s capabilities. The emotional damage it inflicts carries a series of always negative physical and psychological consequences.
Although it is associated with the workplace, there are similar phenomena in processes that occur outside of work. This is the case of school harassment (bullying, in English), with similar consequences in children and adolescents who suffer from it.
Both the individual and the organization can suffer the consequences of being burned out. The personal sequelae can be psychosomatic (fatigue, discomfort, digestive, cardiac, respiratory problems, etc.), behavioral (mood swings, depersonalization, substance abuse), emotional (emotional exhaustion, anxiety, guilt, irritability), attitude (apathy, cynicism, irony) and social (family conflicts, isolation, lack of communication).
On the organizational side, burnout syndrome can deteriorate communication and relationships between workers. Mistakes, complaints, accidents, or work absenteeism also increase.
Good stress or bad stress?
Unlike stress, which is punctual and sometimes positive (the so-called eustress), the burnout syndrome always causes damage, it is always negative. The best moments of our lives are marked by high levels of stress (a birth, a wedding, a graduation…) and yet we remember them as unique moments.
What happens if that emotional tension is prolonged, if we are not able to manage it, to control it? Well, the same as if an athlete performs over-training; when he exceeds his capacities, he can get injured. In this case, the injury is mild and with a week or maybe a couple of rest days (or a vacation), it is corrected.
However, if that athlete poorly plans an entire season and trains beyond his actual capabilities for months, it is highly likely that he will sustain a serious injury, not recover with rest, and require medical treatment.
Exactly the same happens with burnout syndrome: putting your mental abilities to the maximum for a long time causes deep damage that a vacation or a break cannot solve; only medical treatment can repair it.
At the end of the road, our body is not that different from our mind. If we force them, they warn us, but if we overuse them, they end up injuring themselves. Knowing our limits and recognizing what effects daily demands have on our abilities is relevant to maintaining our health. Let’s remember that all injuries leave sequelae (more or less serious) and that our mind is always more important than our muscles.