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Stress is primarily a physical response. When stressed, the body thinks it is under attack and switches to ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing a complex mix of hormones and chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol to prepare the body for physical action. This causes a number of reactions, from blood being diverted to muscles to shutting down unnecessary bodily functions such as digestion.
In the modern world, the ‘fight or flight’ mode can still help us survive dangerous situations, such as reacting promptly to a person running in front of our car by slamming on the brakes.
The challenge is when our body goes into a state of stress in inappropriate situations. When blood flow is going only to the most important muscles needed to fight or flee, brain function is minimised. This can lead to problems in both out home and work lives. If we are kept in a state of stress for long periods, it can be detrimental to our health. The results of having elevated cortisol levels can be an increase in sugar and blood pressure levels, a decrease in libido but also other health problems like headaches, muscular tension, digestion problems, etc.
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when people feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, people begin to lose the interest or motivation that led them to take on a certain role in the first place.
Having a “burnout” seems to have become a mass phenomenon receiving constant media attention. More and more people are missing work due to “burnout syndrome.” But is this set of symptoms a clearly-defined illness?
There are three main areas of symptoms that are considered to be signs of burnout syndrome
- Emotional exhaustion: People feel drained and exhausted, overloaded, tired and low, and do not have enough energy. Physical problems include stomach pains and digestion problems.
- Alienation from (job-related) activities: People find their jobs increasingly negative and frustrating. They may develop a cynical attitude towards their work environment and their colleagues. They may, at the same time, increasingly distance themselves emotionally, and disengage themselves from their work.
- Reduced performance: Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work, at home or when caring for family members. People with burnout are very negative about their activities, find it hard to concentrate, are listless and lack creativity.