Blog Company Culture What is Burnout?

What is Burnout?

John Earls Jul 06, 2020 Company Culture

Recognising and treating Burnout

Burnout is the end of the stress spectrum. Essentially it is chronic stress that has built up to unmanageable levels and presents itself as over stimulation both psychologically and physiologically which results in tension.

Stress is a normal part of life. We experience it, to varying degrees, almost every single day. But when things really start to feel overwhelming, you’ll likely notice stress starting to affect your physical health. Maslach & Jackson state there are two generalised categories of stress. There is acute stress which is the body’s reaction to a short term stressful event. On the other hand chronic stress, otherwise known as Burnout, is usually a result of ongoing psychological or environmental demands, such as work, monetary problems, marital conflict, etc. Many studies have shown that stress responds well to interventions that work with the mind like Mindfulness and Yoga.


In Burnout, the acute sympathetic response, which is basically a fight-or-flight [reaction], gradually diminishes, but the cortisol levels remain high—which in the long-term can have adverse effects on the body. The long-term effects of stress in whatever form can negatively impact our bodies if we don’t use tactics that will keep it at bay. Maslach & Jackson claim the best way to beat stress is to become better at recognising the signs so that you can take action earlier. It has also been shown that Burnout is prevented when a person has a routine that helps you prevent the build-up of stress; like a regular Mindfulness or Yoga practice. Prevention really is better than cure.




The signs of stress

After One Day

General symptoms are irritability, increased heart rate and difficulty concentrating.  Some people might experience fatigue. The overall consensus from experts is that your body can withstand a singular stressful day just fine. Using a simple Mindfulness exercise, like the body-scan meditation, for 5 minutes a day removes these symptoms. So a person is back to a normal functioning state. The best time to do this is first thing in the morning or just before bed.


After One Week

One week of stress makes us prone to viral infections, cold sore outbreaks, acute stress, and sleep deprivation. Elevated cortisol levels interfere with sleep, which can result in poor memory, lowered defence of the immune system, depression, fatigue, and weight gain.


While your body can probably endure bouts of stress every so often, elevated cortisol levels can make individuals prone to getting sick more often. A good example of this is an increased risk of viral and bacterial infections when someone has been working long hours to meet a deadline then gets a terrible cold.


Research into Yoga has proven that the stretches in Yoga release both psychological and physiological tension. Just going to one Yoga class a week for a minimum of 60 minutes can make a difference. It has the power to release most of the toxins and stress tension that has built up. This will relieve the symptoms and reset the body back to a restful state.


After One Month

If you’re constantly feeling high levels of stress, you may notice both psychological and physical symptoms of Burnout. You may begin feeling irritable, tightness in your body, a change in your appetite, and start having anxious thoughts.  Maslach & Jackson confirm that Burnout is characterised by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment. In practice, this means that a person can seem exhausted and become cynical and detached. Burnout can also cause patchy hair loss, diarrhoea, or constipation. It is also said to be responsible for chronic gut issues as well as abdominal pain and bloating.


At this stage, this is where using both a cognitive and physiological approach is needed. The mind is overstimulated and the body is physically stressed. Over the last 4 years, researchers have tested Mindfulness combined with Yoga to treat both forms of the stress condition. Mindfulness exercises that work on conditioning the left hemisphere of the pre-frontal cortex like Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy exercises aimed at thought relationships have proven to be effective at de-regulating mental stress. Certain Hatha Yoga stretches have proven just as effective at reducing physiological stress. The interesting thing about these studies has shown that when Yoga is used with Mindfulness participants have scored far higher for Mindfulness scores compared to when Mindfulness is only present.


After Six Months

If you’re constantly stressed out, you could experience all of those symptoms and reach a full-blown case of chronic Burnout. You might feel a lack of enjoyment, become really pessimistic, and unconsciously isolate yourself from others. Burnout is responsible for people not being able to go to work. Those people often look to self-medicate using drugs or alcohol. Burnout is serious and has also been linked to joint pain and development of arthritis in the long-term. Increased blood pressure and your risk of heart attack and stroke is dramatically increased if you reach a state of Burnout.


If things have reached this stage a person will recover quickly if they are referred to a Mindfulness & Yoga for Burnout programme. This treatment will use a combination of elements that are known to be effective at lowering perceived stress and increasing emotional resilience. Which is what’s needed for a person to make a full recovery. The good news is that this course lasts just 8 weeks. 70% of all people who have attended these courses have recovered from Burnout.


For more information on treating Burnout or the Mindfulness & Yoga for Burnout programme please contact


Wellness and Mental Health

John Earls

Managing Director at The Heart Base. The Heart Base builds wellbeing cultures for organisations worldwide by offering the complete wellbeing programme that includes leadership coaching, resilience training, cultural change initiatives and physical health products.

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