Burnout: What It Is and What You Can Do About It

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By: Dr. W. Scott West, Medical Director, Nashville NeuroCare Therapy

Have you heard of burnout?  According to the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG), burnout was coined by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s to refer to the exhaustion experienced by professionals in “helper” fields such as medicine, education, and childcare. Today, this state of chronic exhaustion and fatigue appears to be more and more prevalent in our workplaces and homes.

Not to be confused with ordinary exhaustion, the Worldwide Health Organization (WHO) states that burnout results “from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” and is characterized by:

  • “Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.”

What makes burnout different and so debilitating is the chronic nature of the stress that causes it. While not all stress is bad— according to the NIMH, manageable levels of stress can help us build resilience— when stress is severe, unrelenting, and unpredictable, we can become overwhelmed.

When our bodies are in danger, or even if they just perceive that we’re in danger, they activate our sympathetic nervous system. This is our fight or flight. Our bodies flood with the stress hormone cortisol that gives us the energy we need to either fight back or flee from danger. However, if our sympathetic nervous system stays active for too long, our bodies pay the price. Harvard Health likens chronic stress’s effect on the body to “a motor that is idling too high for too long.” Elevated stress hormones can lead to physical health problems and can deplete energy stores over time. This is what we experience as “burnout.”

According to Juli Fraga, a licensed psychologist in California, people experiencing burnout often “feel like they have nothing left to give and may dread getting out of bed each morning. They may even adopt a pessimistic outlook toward life and feel hopeless.” Does this sound familiar to you? Burnout shares quite a bit of overlap with depression and, if gone unchecked for too long, can lead to clinical depression.

Because burnout shares many symptoms and causes with depression, it can be managed similarly to depression. At Nashville NeuroCare Therapy, we specialize in helping you overcome depression with TMS Therapy. TMS, or Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, is an innovative therapy that treats depression by using magnetic-pulse technology to stimulate areas of the brain that have low metabolic activity or, in other words, aren’t working to their full potential.

We’ve learned that our brains look and function differently through neuroimaging when comparing a depressed brain with a non-depressed brain. Most notably, centers that regulate mood aren’t as active in a depressed brain. TMS Therapy helps encourage your brain to heal itself by building and strengthening the neural networks that help control your mood and behavior. This offers real, lasting relief from depression.

While “stimulating the brain with magnetic pulses” might sound a little intimidating, TMS Therapy is not to be confused with electroconvulsive (ECT) therapy (commonly known as “shock therapy”). TMS Therapy is 100 percent medication-free, non-invasive, safe, and offers no adverse side effects. Plus, TMS Therapy is widely covered by most private and public health insurance, and the American Psychiatric Association recommends it as a great alternative to antidepressants if your medications aren’t working for you. If your burnout is turning into depression, we understand that treatment options aren’t one size fits all, and there is hope for you. If you’d like to learn more about TMS Therapy and how it could help you or somebody you love, feel free to request a consultation with our office. We’d love to see if TMS Therapy is a good fit for your path to healing.