It’s Official, Burnout is a Disease

It's Official, Burnout is a Disease

It’s official: burnout is recognized as a disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) insisted that burnout should be part of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) list and now it is – as the newly named ICD-11. The ICD classification is an important recognition that burnout exists, it impacts millions of people, and that it should be recognized and treated clinically.

If you are suffering from burnout, you are not alone. A 2018 Medscape survey shows that 42% of physicians report feeling burned out and up to 86% of critical care nurses exhibit symptoms. Now that WHO has successfully categorized burnout as a disease, it also has a definition, namely; “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.” 

WHO has also defined three symptoms of burnout: 

  1. Feeling of energy depletion or exhaustion
  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  3. Reduced professional efficacy

One of the reasons that burnout is so dangerous is that it impacts one’s ability to function properly in life. Not only does it remove the ability to feel joy, but it also causes physical and emotional exhaustion and detachment; all dangerous symptoms for healthcare professionals charged with the care of fellow human beings. 

The initial symptoms of burnout can be slight but if left untreated they can worsen over time until they impair your ability to function well in daily life. Symptoms can include, but are not limited to: 

  • Chronic fatigue: It can begin as tiredness but become physical and emotional exhaustion coupled with a feeling of dread of what the day may bring. 
  • Forgetfulness, impaired concentration: Burnout may make it impossible to get work done as lack of focus increases, along with impaired concentration and forgetfulness.  
  • Physical ailments: Burnout can cause chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, and/or headaches. It can also cause you to become ill more frequently as stress takes its toll on your autoimmune system. 
  • Anxiety, depression, and anger: As burnout increases, the ability to manage your emotions diminishes. You may become edgy and worry more. You may also become depressed, irritable and angry. As burnout worsens, these symptoms may begin to cause problems on the job and in your personal life. 

Symptoms of cynicism and detachment that can accompany burnout: 

  • Loss of enjoyment: It may begin with not wanting to go to work and then become worse, causing you to avoid social gatherings with friends and family. You may begin to find ways to avoid social interaction, and work, altogether. 
  • Pessimism: At first, this may present itself as negative self-talk and/or moving from a glass-half-full to a glass-half-empty attitude. At its worst, this may move beyond how you feel about yourself and extend to trust issues with coworkers and family members and a feeling that you can’t count on anyone.
  • Isolation: Not wanting to go out to lunch with friends may eventually turn into anger when someone speaks to you. You may begin to avoid all human interaction.
  • Detachment: Detachment is a general sense of feeling disconnected from others or from your environment. You may call in sick often, stop returning calls and emails, or regularly come in late.
  • Burnout can also cause accomplished people to feel a lack of accomplishment. It can cause apathy, hopelessness, irritability, and poor performance on the job. 

There are many other signs of burnout and in non-clinical terms they include: 

  • You have more bad days than good days on the job. You have lost your ability to find joy and energy in the job. 
  • Family and friends notice that you lack energy, enthusiasm, and interest in your job.
  • Your eating and sleeping patterns are changing. Either you can’t sleep or you want to sleep all the time; you have no appetite or you are eating more junk food to self-soothe. 
  • You complain about your job all the time. This is a sure sign that you are having difficulty sorting the good from the bad and are having difficulty prioritizing big and small issues. 
  • You can no longer imagine being a healthcare provider for a long term career. If these thoughts have begun to consume your time, it’s time to seriously search for another career path. 
  • says a sure sign of burnout is that you find yourself thinking about winning the lottery – and that you think about it all time. 

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek help sooner rather than later. Immediately begin employing strategies that significantly improve your self-care. Seek professional help to talk about the issues contributing to your burnout. Above all, don’t wait. Burnout can be devastating to your health, your personal relationships and your career. Addressing it will save you to accomplish all the great things that lie ahead for you.  

Deborah Chiaravalloti is an award-winning writer and former hospital executive. Her insider experience helps healthcare clients launch medical procedures, products including artificial intelligence software and knowledge sharing platforms. Deborah writes websites, blogs, opinion pieces, and marketing strategy for elder care, health care consumerism, revenue cycle management (RCM), and the business of healthcare. Her printed pieces have been published and her radio shows syndicated nationally.

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