In today’s society, stress can be a major health risk to almost every age group and social class. Students feel the pressure both to excel at school and fit in with their peers, parents struggle to take care of their kids and their relationships while managing and balancing their work time and project management, and workers have multiple sources of stress, from heavy workloads, to the pressure to present results to maintain their place among the workforce, to pressure from the leadership or for being in a leadership position. Add in the social stress of an increasingly connected and fast-pacing living, and it’s not surprising that societies are heading for breakdowns as a whole.
All these factors contribute to the emergence of new, stress-related diseases and disorders, such as burnout syndrome. Although this may seem something quite new and unusual, the disease, which is often compared and confused with depression, is simply manifested as lack or energy, interest and will to work. This disease, for its relatively recent emergence and discovery, is still not recognized as such, and patients are usually classified as presenting symptoms of chronic depression, leading to the aforementioned confusion and perhaps wrong diagnosis.
Despite not being actually recognized among psychologists as a disease – not an officially indexed one, at least – burnout syndrome has been named in the 1970s, and is probably more frequent that some might think, even outside work environments, where it is believed to be more frequent, as it is usually the result of chronic or longstanding occupational stress, and being identified in other patients, such as students, who can also show lack out interest or energy at school, after long years of being pressured, or after a traumatic experience like being a victim of bullying.
The most common – and commonly recognized – symptom of burnout is exhaustion, or the general lack of energy. However, there are more easily detectable signs, like the lack of motivation to work, decreased ability for working efficiently, and cognitive problems, like the lack of attention and focus on tasks at hand. More worrisome though are some tell-tale signs, which if ignored can lead to permanent to the person suffering from the disease, both on a professional as well as physical and mental health levels.
Chronic stress may not always be taken seriously, especially these days, when seemingly everyone is chronically stressed, but if misdiagnosed or ignored, chronic stress can lead to inability to socialize and relate to other, chronic inability to work, and worse yet, it can lead to serious health problems like digestive and hearth diseases and chronic depression.
Since this is a stress-related disease, the key to preventing and treating burnout syndrome is obviously to reduce stress. The first thing that has to be done if someone or someone they know has it is to have it diagnosed, and make sure the symptoms aren’t dismissed as something else which may have similar signs associated to it.
After that, the next step is to eliminate the sources of the stress. If it an excessive workload which is provoking the added stress, then it is time to slow down, and delegate, maybe even set yourself, or have your superiors, lower your expectations and goals, so as to lift some pressure. Likewise, if the stress is provoked by the inability to put work down, you will need to force yourself to leave work at the office, even if you have to ask your boss to cut down the work, which can be an awkward, a job endangering situation, but is certainly a necessary step in this case. If it is a loved one suffering from the disease, it is good to make an effort to spend time with them, forcing them to be away from work.
If there is, however, another reason behind the occupational stress causing the burnout, like for instance long running incidents of mobbing, which are impairing the victim’s ability to work or enjoy their job, then it is urgent to have these incidents reported, so as to eliminate the likely main source of stress before any permanent damage can be made. If there are no minimal conditions for the victim to continue performing their job for their current employer, it may be necessary to leave the job.
Burnout syndrome is a serious modern disease, and should be treated as such, at the risk of becoming a chronic society impairing problem, as the increased stress of the current lifestyle choices imposed by nowadays standards will surely continue to take a toll on several members of society, if not the group as a whole.