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Causes of Burnout:
Popular belief is that burnout is the result of excessive stress, particularly in the workplace.
Recent research shows that burnout can be caused by four factors:
· Excessive long-term stress
· Stress followed by rest
·Negative mental attitude
Selye believed that Burnout had three main stages:
1.) The alarm phase at the onset of the stress, which causes the adrenal cortex to discharge all of
its supply of stored hormones into the blood.
2.) The stage of resistance, where the adrenal cortex enlarges due to continued stimulation by
ACTH, which results in an enhanced ability to manufacture and secrete higher levels of cortisol.
During this stage there is a greater ability to deal with stress.
3.) The stage of exhaustion, which eventually comes after continued stress, and results in
symptoms similar to the alarm phase. During this phase the adrenal glands shrink and levels of
cortisol fall, resulting in an inability to cope with stress.
Study on Teachers:
A study on teachers suffering from burnout found that those teachers who scored highest on the
"Maslach Burnout Inventory" had the lowest levels of cortisol throughout the day. The teachers who
said they were under stress but not suffering from burnout had the highest levels of cortisol.
The study also found that those teachers who were highest on the burnout scales had the highest
levels of physical illness complaints. The stress level did not alter the number of physical complaints
among the teachers who were low on the scale.
The factors associated with high levels of burnout were:
·low job satisfaction
·low perceived levels of support
·low perceived levels of being able to cope with stress
·high levels of emotional exhaustion (although this last one could be a symptom rather than a
This study highlights a number of important findings.
First of all, that mental attitude has a large influence over the ability to handle stress without
suffering from burnout.
Second, that people suffering from burnout have higher levels of physical illness complaints.
And third, that low levels of cortisol (and a suppressed HPA axis) seem to be associated with low
stress tolerance and high levels of burnout.
This particular study also found that stress and burnout are separate variables - people can suffer
from burnout in the absence of stress, and vice-versa.
Can burnout be prevented or
· Because burnout is related to stress, many of the
methods effective in countering stress can help prevent
burnout as well. For one thing, it's important to build or
maintain a foundation of good physical health, so be sure
to eat right, get enough sleep, and make exercise part of
your daily routine.
· The most effective way to head off job burnout is to quit
doing what you're doing and do something else, whether
that means changing jobs or changing careers. But if that
isn't an option for you, there are still things you can do to
improve your situation, or at least your state of mind.