Burnout is said to cause a wide range of physical and emotional conditions, and now it has been linked to irregular heartbeats.
The research has been published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, and is part of a new wave of studies into the phenomenon.
This new study found “vital exhaustion is associated with an increased risk of incident atrial fibrillation” – a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heartbeat.
In other words, the symptoms of burnout may put you at a higher risk of arrhythmia, or heart rhythm problems. While most people with an abnormal heart rhythm can lead a normal life if properly diagnosed, having it does mean your risk of stroke is five times higher, according to the NHS.
So what actually is burnout, and what are the signs you might have it? We asked the experts to find out more…
Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger is credited with first using the term ‘burnout’. He described it as “the extinction of motivation or incentive”.
It’s now a medically recognised condition by the World Health Organisation, described as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.
Medical director of Healthspan Dr Sarah Brewer says: “Essentially, it’s a state of extreme emotion, physical and mental exhaustion associated with excessive, prolonged stress in which you feel overwhelmed and so empty and drained that you are unable to keep meeting these constant demands and are unable to do your job effectively.”
Does anyone else have that thing where they have an idea they want to execute like a story or a drawing, but then they are just too damn tired to go into their bag and get their sketchbook or start up their computer, etc?
lol is this burnout— Fictograph | grace p fong (@fictograph) January 11, 2020
The World Health Organisation characterises burnout by three main things: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.
Brewer says: “Burnout is a state in which you become detached and disengaged. You feel empty, hopeless and helpless with little motivation to do anything. You can become severely depressed and life may seem not worth living.”
While burnout is mainly associated with emotional symptoms, Brewer links it to increased stress which “is associated with physical symptoms”.
Brewer says prolonged stress leading to burnout can contribute to a range of conditions like reduced immunity, eczema, asthma, insomnia, recurrent colds, fatigue, high blood pressure and more. As we’ve discovered from the latest study, it’s also linked to atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder.
These are quite wide-ranging symptoms, so what might you be experiencing on the day-to-day if you’re suffering from burnout?
Burnout coach and nutritionist Rosie Millen cites these five signs: “You find small tasks challenging, you wake up even after a good night’s sleep and still feel tired, social interactions feel like a chore, you’ve lost your drive and motivation and you snap at the tiniest thing.”
Millen’s first tip for avoiding burnout is watching what you eat. “Increase your calories!” she says. “Most people I see are not eating enough and they are over-exercising. Please remember that food is energy!”
Next, it’s worth thinking about how much sleep you’re getting. “You need to be getting at least eight hours a night to function properly,” Millen advises.
She also advocates meditation and supplements to help manage your stress levels, as well as what she describes as “productive rest”. This is taking “10 mins in the morning or in the evening take yourself away and lie down to do some deep breathing and switch off your mind.
“Our minds are constantly busy and naturally tend to overthink. By taking 10 each day and just breathing out slowly it actually lowers the stress hormone cortisol,” she says.