Can Burnout Cause Brain Damage? Here’s the Answer

Burnout syndrome has recently been officially classified as a medical condition, which might lead you to question its lasting effects. Burnout syndrome can result from severe stress, anxiety, and fatigue typically brought on by an individual’s work. The struggles of everyday life can easily become overwhelming if someone does not have techniques to manage suppressing signs of burnout syndrome.

Burnout syndrome can cause brain damage. Several studies have been conducted that show deterioration of certain parts of the brain related to an emotional response, memory, and more. On top of that, a few professionals have found that burnout could also have the potential to bring about other health problems.

In this article, you will learn a basic explanation of the science behind burnout syndrome and how it can damage your brain if it is not taken care of. You will also be introduced to information regarding studies that show that burnout can affect more than just your brain. If you’re interested in how burnout causes brain damage, keep reading.

How Burnout Syndrome Cause Brain Damage

According to recent studies, severe cases of burnout syndrome can cause brain damage. The Association for Psychological Science likens the effects of burnout syndrome on a person’s brain to the problems that a traumatic experience can cause.

The scary thing is, a person with burnout syndrome might not be aware that they have burnout syndrome, so if these symptoms go unmanaged, brain damage can sneak up on someone.

Swedish scientists provided their findings to the Association for Psychological Science, showing that burnout syndrome can cause severe neurological dysfunction, resulting in problems with the nervous system that can ultimately damage certain parts of a person’s brain. Studies found the following results:

Enlarged Amygdalas

People who suffer from burnout syndrome show signs of enlarged amygdalas. The amygdala deals with the part of the brain that processes emotional responses, particularly when involved with a person’s overall mood.

An enlarged amygdala can cause a person with burnout syndrome to experience bouts of aggression, agitation, and negative moods. However, the amygdala was less directly connected with other emotional responses, preventing people from acting normally.

Thinning of the Frontal Cortex

The frontal cortex is essentially responsible for every typical human behavior: work ethic, attitude, memory, motor function, and more.

It is a fact that the frontal cortex in a person’s brain becomes thinner with age, but the studies taken on burnout patients showed that their frontal cortices thinned at a much faster rate.

As a result, a part of their brain that is responsible for daily function appeared to belong to someone much older than the burnout patient whose brain it actually was.

Shrinking of the Caudate

The caudate in a person’s brain is somewhat of a nucleus or a central piece. It is further responsible for things like memory, learning ability, motivation, and emotion.

Research showed that the caudate in a burnout patient’s brain had noticeably shrunk, which is one of the reasons their job performance had likely decreased. Lack of motivation and ability to learn prevents a person from being able to perform appropriately.

These were the main findings studied and reported to the Association for Psychological Science that proved that symptoms of burnout syndrome could cause brain damage.

Burnout syndrome can literally shrink central parts of a person’s brain and enlarge parts that can cause that person to be more aggressive, less understanding, and unable to process emotions effectively.

Other studies involving the ability of burnout syndrome effects to be reversed have proved promising, but only in the sense that burnout syndrome can definitely be helped, but not always gotten rid of.

If you think you are experiencing symptoms of burnout syndrome, it is extremely important that you consult a professional for further information. In the next section, you will learn how burnout syndrome can affect physical health as well as mental health.

How Burnout Syndrome Affects Your Brain

Like any other mental illness, burnout syndrome can take a toll on your mental stability. In addition, it can do more than alter your mood. If not taken care of, burnout syndrome can affect your brain in a very serious manner.

As we continue to learn more about burnout syndrome, we’re finding more ways to identify the issue. Thankfully, this is something that will help reduce long term effects, as people are more alert and aware.

However, it is important to recognize the early signs of burnout syndrome in order to manage them before they worsen. Below are a few telling symptoms that you might have early stages of burnout syndrome.

High Stress Levels

If your work is costing you long hours and maximum effort without giving you the chance to catch a break, your stress levels can rise immensely, especially if you are too focused on meeting deadlines and preparing projects.

High Anxiety Levels

The same factors that can affect stress can also make your anxiety go through the roof. This might cause panic and result in you failing to do your job correctly, procrastinating, or putting too much focus on too many things at once.

Severe Fatigue

If you find yourself extremely tired throughout your workday, it might be a sign of early burnout syndrome. Overworking and sleep deprivation can cause fatigue that will not just make you sleepy but will likely deteriorate your motivation, productivity, and job performance.

Struggles In Other Daily Aspects

Burnout syndrome caused by work can also affect your life outside of work: your sleep schedule, social life, overall mood, physical health, etc. If you feel any of the symptoms above and notice that it might be affecting these other things, it might be a sign of burnout syndrome.

You might be wondering how these signs have anything to do with brain damage. Well, their early stages do not, but as mentioned before, if burnout syndrome is not cared for, these signs can lead to brain damage in severe cases.

Other Problems Burnout Syndrome Can Cause

If the fact that burnout syndrome can cause brain damage is not enough for you to seek advice if you are experiencing symptoms, continued studies by scientists in the Netherlands have shown that burnout syndrome can cause major physical health problems.

They found that severe instances of burnout syndrome can lead to excessive amounts of cortisol release, the hormone responsible for stress.

Burnout syndrome can cause chronic stress, which, unlike typical stress, can not lower levels of cortisol once they have been released.

Essentially, after you have experienced a moment that caused a release of cortisol which resulted in your feeling stressed, your cortisol levels will balance out after the moment has passed.

With chronic stress, your body is not able to lower these levels on its own, which basically means that your ability to process stress will be nonexistent while you continue to live stressfully at a constant rate.

Further studies showed that this process of lowered controlled stress levels with excess amounts of stress could cause “buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries.” As you may know, the most common heart disease in the United States is coronary heart disease, and hundreds of thousands of people die from coronary heart disease-induced heart attacks each year.

Final Thoughts

After realizing the effects that burnout syndrome can have on you, you might be frightened by these studies.

However, this article is not meant to scare you; it is meant to influence you to seek help if you think symptoms of burnout syndrome might be affecting your day-to-day life.

It is important that these signs be found early on in order to prevent more severe health problems in the future.

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