Burnout is now officially recognised as an illness

Burnout is now officially recognised as a chronic condition – so you can finally get a doctor’s note to explain that stress has become too much to bear.

As of today, burnout is listed in the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases, meaning that as of 2020, it will be a globally recognised medical condition.

Interestingly, the WHO lists burnout as only relating to workplace stress.

Their definition reads: ‘Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

‘It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy.

‘Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.’

Essentially that means that stress caused by other life situations or another chronic mental illness would not be recognised as burnout. The same goes for the stress of unemployment.

This is the first time burnout has been officially recognised as a medical condition.

While stress is normal, burnout describes when stress becomes excessive, leaving a person exhausted and rundown.

Signs of burnout:

  • Exhaustion
  • Insomnia
  • Interrupted sleep
  • Getting sick more often
  • Gum disease
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Lack of motivation
  • Low mood
  • Being unable to stop thinking about work
  • Impaired memory
  • Struggling to make decisions
  • Feeling irritable or snapping at people

Dr Luke Powles, associate clinical director at Bupa UK, told Metro.co.uk that burnout is when ‘the pressure you’re under exceeds your ability to cope […] which may cause both mental and physical problems.

‘If left untreated, burnout can lead to mental illnesses like depression and may aggravate some physical conditions such as asthma and eczema. It’s important to get help early if you’re struggling with your mental health.’

Dr Luke Powles’ tips for preventing burnout:

Manage your expectations

It’s important to remember that you’re not invincible and there’ll be times when you can’t do everything you’re asked. By trying to do too many things, you’ll increase your stress levels and your risk of burning out.

Ask for help

If you’re stressed it can help to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. It’s also a good idea to talk to your boss about your workload if you’re struggling. There are self-referral counselling services that are free to access. You can find more information about these at your GP practice.

Exercise and meditate

If done on a regular basis, meditative approaches like practicing mindfulness or yoga can really help. While you may not feel like exercising, it can really help boost your mood. Exercise boosts your endorphins, which are your ‘feel good’ hormones. It also helps to bring cortisol levels (stress hormones) down which can impact your mood and energy levels.

Healthy lifestyle

It’s important to also maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise and enough sleep. While it might be a struggle to fit this in, it can have a big impact if you’re able to get it right.

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