In today’s fast-paced world, burnout is becoming more and more common. And the connection between burnout and your physical health and wellbeing is undeniable.
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, mental and spiritual exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. It’s a condition where you’re completely depleted and feeling hopeless, frustrated and fatigued. Chronic stress that’s tied to burnout has a significant impact on your body and mind, and it’s essential to understand the effects of this type of stress to prevent burnout and maintain good health.
Chronic Stress Causes Burnout
Chronic stress is the most common cause of burnout. It’s the result of prolonged exposure to stressors, like work-related stress, financial stress, relationship stress, or health-related stress.
In your body, chronic stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, triggering the body’s “fight or flight” response. When this happens, your body releases stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, to help you respond to the stressor. These hormones increase heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, preparing your body for action.
While the fight or flight response is needed for you to respond to acute stress that lasts from a few hours or days to a few weeks, it can be harmful when it’s chronic (lasts for months or years).
Burnout’s Detrimental Effects on Your Body
Chronic stress can lead to the overproduction of stress hormones, which has detrimental effects on your body. These effects include:
Chronic stress is known to increase the risk of heart disease by causing the heart to work harder than necessary. It can also lead to high blood pressure, which can damage the arteries and increase the risk of a future heart attack or stroke.
Immune system dysfunction
Stress hormones can weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to getting sick by picking up contagious infections and illnesses from others.
Chronic stress can also increase inflammation, which has been linked to a range of chronic health conditions, including chronic joint pain, autoimmune diseases, heart disease and cancer.
Stress can also lead to digestive problems like heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux and excess stomach acid. Chronic stress is linked to conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stomach ulcers and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Mental health issues
Chronic stress can have a significant impact on your mental health, leading to brain fog, the inability to concentrate, mood swings, anxiety, depression, and mood disorders. It can also worsen symptoms of existing mental health challenges and conditions.
Stress can disrupt your sleep patterns, leading to insomnia and other sleep issues. Lack of sleep can, in turn, worsen stress and lead to a vicious cycle.
Muscle tension and pain
Chronic stress can cause muscle tension and pain, especially in the neck, shoulders and back. It can also worsen existing chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia and arthritis.
Managing Burnout and Chronic Stress
It’s important to understand that the effects of chronic stress are cumulative. The longer stress is present and not addressed, the more damage it can do to your body. So don’t ignore the signs of burnout and chronic stress. It’s crucial to take steps to prevent burnout and manage stress levels quickly.
Here are some ways to manage stress and prevent burnout:
Self-care is essential for maintaining physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Taking care of yourself can help reduce stress levels and prevent burnout. Some examples of self-care include exercise/regular movement, getting good quality sleep, eating a healthy diet and practicing relaxation techniques like meditation or intentional breathwork.
Practice time management
Effective time management can help reduce stress levels by allowing you to prioritize tasks and manage your workload effectively. This includes setting realistic goals, breaking tasks into manageable steps, delegating tasks to others, and scheduling time for breaks and relaxation.
Crucial for preventing burnout is the setting of boundaries. It’s important to learn to say “no” to requests that are not essential or that will put too much strain on your resources. It’s also important to establish clear boundaries between work and personal life, and allow and plan your time to include rest and relaxation. Hint: add it to your calendar.
Seek social support
Talking to friends, family or a professional can help reduce stress levels and prevent burnout. Having a support system can provide a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness that often accompany burnout..
Practice being present (mindfulness)
Being present, or mindfulness, is a practice that involves being fully conscious of what you’re experiencing in the now – your present moment experience. And being fully engaged with it without distraction. If you’re lost in thought, reliving the past, worrying about the future, or going through the motions, it interferes with how you act in the present.
The famous philosopher Lao Tzu said “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” Being present by focusing and listening to others during conversations, or with practices like meditation and deep breathing can help you feel more connected, reduce stress levels and promote relaxation. Fully enjoying the little things in life, like savoring a hot cup of tea or coffee, or joyfully appreciating the blooms and wildlife in a garden during spring or summer, are other examples of being present.
Taking regular breaks throughout the day can help reduce stress levels and prevent burnout. It may not always be feasible, but a 5 to 10 minute break every hour is ideal. Taking a short walk, practicing deep breathing while stretching your body, or taking a brief nap helps recharge your batteries and keep stress levels in check. Listen to your body’s cues and don’t push through what it’s telling you it needs. Take that 10 minute nap if you’re exhausted. You’ll feel better afterwards.
Seek professional help
If stress levels are severe or chronic, it may be necessary to seek professional help. As an intuitive healing coach who specializes in burnout and stress relief, as well as a Corp HR burnout survivor, I believe everyone suffering with burnout deserves help to recover more quickly and effectively than suffering alone. I know first hand how important getting the right professional is to help you develop coping skills, manage stress and prevent burnout.
The connection between burnout and your physical health and wellbeing is clear. Chronic stress has a significant negative impact on your body, and can lead to a range of health problems like cardiovascular disease, immune system dysfunction, increased inflammation, digestive problems, mental health issues, sleep problems, and muscle tension and pain.
Because of this direct link, it’s crucial to take steps to prevent burnout and manage stress levels before it’s too late. Prioritizing self-care, practicing time management, setting boundaries, seeking social support, practicing being present, taking breaks and seeking professional help are all effective ways to manage stress and prevent burnout. By taking care of yourself and managing your stress levels, you can maintain good physical and mental health and wellbeing and avoid the detrimental effects of chronic stress.
Additionally, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout. These can include physical symptoms like exhaustion, headaches, and muscle tension, as well as emotional symptoms like irritability, cynicism, and a lack of motivation. Burnout can also lead to a decrease in productivity, quality of work, and job satisfaction.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of burnout, it’s important to take action sooner than later. Get professional help, adjust your workload or take time off to rest and recharge. Ignoring burnout can lead to long-term and serious health issues and a decreased quality of life.
Photo by Alexander Grey, Unsplash