Although many people may think that burnout is a slang term, it is actually an ICD-10-CM billable diagnosis code. Burnout is a serious medical condition that develops from chronic stress. Burnout is most commonly associated in the medical literature with physicians, nurses, healthcare providers, and teachers, but I most often encounter it with mothers who are juggling a household, children, and work. Burnout can be found in any profession or life task.

Burnout as a syndrome is present in many individuals under constant pressure. Burnout develops from chronic stress, particularly as applied to our work. The word is derived from the idea that the altruistic flame in our heart has burned out, and has been described as an erosion of the soul. It is characterized by physical fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and cognitive dysfunction. Cynicism, depersonalization, and a low sense of accomplishment may develop. Detachment from work and relationships, withdrawal, and fatigue are part of the advanced stages of burnout syndrome.

Emotional exhaustion is one of the major symptoms of burnout syndrome. This can include being emotionally fatigued, fed up, and feeling burned out in your work or mission. Depression and anxiety may be present, along with compassion fatigue and hopeless frustration. Muscle tension and pain and frequent headaches are common. Frequent illness is common due to the decreased function of the immune system through prolonged stress. Rapid heartbeats, high blood pressure, and heart attacks have been associated with burnout. Sleep difficulty and upset stomachs may also occur. Other common symptoms are aggravation, negativity, cynicism, alienation, tardiness, absenteeism, and frequent mistakes. Memory can be decreased, and many people complain of ‘brain fog’. Substance abuse is also common in burnout syndrome.

Burnout can also be an issue for corporations and organizations. Productivity is decreased and work relationships can become broken. Workplace cynicism is increased and morale can plunge. Tardiness, absenteeism, and medical bills may increase.

Counseling and stress management are critical for treating burnout syndrome. Overperformance and hectic schedules, decreased recovery and rejuvenation time, and lack of support must be addressed and managed. A healthy lifestyle and minimizing stressors at work and at home are important.

Acupuncture can also be used for stress management, many patients finding it relaxing and rejuvenating. The function of the adrenal glands, which produce the body’s natural stress hormone, must often be improved. Ashwaghanda, which means ‘vitality of the horse’ in Sanskrit, is a prominent herb for rejuvenation therapy and adrenal improvement. The B vitamins can also be helpful in managing stress and aiding the adrenals. Always remember to breathe properly, and meditation and reflection, along with rest and recreation, can help re-ignite that flame of compassion in our hearts.

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