If you experience a complete lack of energy, a loss of sense of belonging, or a drop in self-esteem, you may be suffering from burnout, according to specialists. You might feel pushed to the limit after two years of living in a seething pool of pandemic tension. Stay in that state long enough or at a high enough level of intensity, as doctors and nurses working in Covid-19 wards do and your brain might alter.
“You see symptoms like being angrier, more destructive, less motivated, and less hopeful,” Amy Arnsten, a Yale School of Medicine professor of neuroscience who investigates the brain processes of burnout, said. Understanding how your brain reacts to burnout can be beneficial since it demonstrates that many of your reactions are a “normal phenomenon,” according to Arnsten.
“This isn’t because I’m a nasty person; it’s just how the brain reacts to continuous stress. It’s doing it to protect me, even if it’s making things worse in this situation “she stated “Having that kind of understanding and perspective can help you stop the pattern of blaming yourself for not being better.”
Your mind is exhausted.
Chronic stress has long been known to play a role in mental and physical illnesses, and now scientists have a better understanding of how the brain reacts to it. “Thinning of the grey matter of an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex is one of the most noticeable (results),” Arnsten added.
“It assists us in making right decisions. It allows us to learn more about ourselves and others. It provides us a sense of perspective. It enables us to make difficult decisions and to think in a logical, abstract manner rather than reacting in a concrete or habitual manner.”
Experts suggest that by weakening that area, burnout can affect our capacity to pay attention and remember things, making it more difficult to learn new things and raising the likelihood of making mistakes. That’s not all, though. Researchers have discovered that burnout can cause the amygdala, the portion of the brain responsible for our “fight-or-flight” reaction when we are in danger, to grow. “It’s a two-for-one deal.
At the same time that the prefrontal cortex weakens and becomes more primitive, the brain circuits that generate emotion, such as fear, become stronger “Arnsten remarked.”You begin to see the world as dangerous, even when it isn’t.”
Is it possible to undo these brain alterations after they have occurred? It’s been shown in rodents, and a 2018 study in adults indicated that cognitive-behavioural treatment for burnout reduced the size of the amygdala and restored pre-stress levels in the prefrontal cortex. People’s research also demonstrates that if we believe we are in charge, we can prevent damage from occurring in the first place.
“There aren’t these damaging brain alterations if you feel in control of the stressor,” Arnsten explained. “When you feel out of control, chemical changes in the prefrontal brain weaken the connections, and over time, those connections are eroded away.”
What is the definition of burnout?
Experts suggest that burnout has three key symptoms that might combine in different ways for each person. “One of them receives the majority of the attention.” “It’s weariness,” Kira Schabram, an assistant professor of management at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, explained.
“When you wake up in the morning, you wonder how you’re going to get out of bed and go to work?” Many firms try to alleviate office burnout by providing time off for employees to rest and revitalize. While this is critical for rehabilitation, Schabram believes it may not be enough. “The issue is that there are two additional dimensions,” she explained.
“Inefficacy, or the feeling that you’re no longer accomplishing anything, and cynicism, or a sense of alienation, either from the task or from other people.” Sending staff home to rest without providing them with skills to address the other two symptoms, according to Arnsten, may be useless. “The issue is cynicism as alienation,” she explained. “Now I’m sending you on your way. You’re spending even less time with your patients or coworkers, and it’s making you feel disconnected. That’s when things get a little complicated.”
You are resilient
Experts say the good news is that studies suggest you can recover from burnout. First and foremost, be gracious to yourself. “Give yourself permission to indulge in self-care if it’s weariness, right? Take a rest. Taking a day off is a good idea. If you’re sick, call in “Schabram explained. As part of that self-care, Arnsten suggests doing things like “trying to get some sleep and eating nutritious, sugar-free foods.”
“People frequently turn to alcohol to relieve stress, but it makes them feel worse the next day… and the same is true of benzodiazepines like Valium. However, healthier physiological activities that provide perspective (such as exercising and meditation) can be extremely beneficial “Arnsten remarked.
When it comes to dealing with the isolation that comes with burnout, Schabram says the remedy may appear counterintuitive. “What we’ve discovered is that having compassion for others helps to reestablish that sense of belonging,” she explained. “Become a mentor to someone. Begin by volunteering.
What we’ve discovered is that doing something nice for someone else might help you break free from your feelings of estrangement.” And don’t forget to be compassionate to yourself, according to Schabram: “Both other-compassion and self-compassion have been shown to aid with burnout.”
Self-care and doing for others can also help with feelings of self-worth, by boosting your sense of accomplishment: “I took a cooking class or I picked up yoga for myself or I mentored someone else,” Studies show those activities don’t need to be massive or time-consuming to reduce feelings of burnout, she added.
“Even really small gestures had an effect the next day,” she said. “Giving someone a compliment, taking them out for a five-minute walk to get a coffee, we see that that pushes the dial on next day burnout.”