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How burnout can impact your brain and cause paranoia – and how to fix it


woman looking stressed and exhausted at her desk

This is how burnout can cause paranoia (Picture: Metro.co.uk/Getty)

Much-need conversations about burnout, its symptoms, and its causes have dominated discussions both on and offline for a few years now.

Workers are starting to call their work-life balance and the environments of their workplaces into question, rightly prioritising their physical and mental health so that burnout can be prevented.

We all know that burnout causes emotional exhaustion, fatigue, and feeling unmotivated and helpless, but a recent twitter thread from a PHD student studying burnout, backed up by a lot of research, reveals some unexpected physiological symptoms of burnout too.

It turns out, burnout can actually change parts of your brain, triggering all kinds of problems for the tired and overworked.

Emma G Cartisano writes in the thread that when people are burnt out, their amygdala – the part of the brain that controls our emotional response to perceived threats – enlarges.

Basically, our amygdala is responsible for our flight or fight response – the part of us that decides if we’re running away or putting up a defence in the moments when we feel like we’re in danger. When the amygdala is working properly, we only do this in moments that are appropriately deemed a potential danger. But if the amygdala is enlarged by burnout, you can see how the system won’t work properly.

Cartisano’s information likely comes from this study in Stockholm, where researchers closely analysed the physical changes burnout caused in the brain. They performed MRIs on healthy people without chronic stress problems, and compares to those experiencing severe burnout, attributing their symptoms to stressful working conditions, entailing more than 60 to 70 hours of work per week continuously for several years. 

The main takeaway from the study was that, when we are burnt out, the amygdala is no longer able to do its job well and we start perceiving absolutely everything as a potential threat, triggering our fight or flight system when it’s not necessary.

This could explain why so many people with burnout talk of fear when their manager asks for a meeting, or overreact when their partner says something inoffensive but a little ‘off’.

It also explains why so many people have quit their job when things have become too difficult. Considering most people spent the last two years working on top of the stress of the pandemic, could The Great Resignation, and the hike in divorce numbers, be a result of burnout?

Cartisano goes on to explain that, on top of paranoia problems, chronic stress (which leads to burnout) also affects the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that’s responsible for helping us learn.

‘Stress makes it harder for us to maintain attention and make new memories,’ she writes. ‘All this means that when we’re experiencing burnout, we struggle to pay attention to the world around us and respond appropriately to …read more

Source:: Metro

      

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