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Burnout is between your ears, myth or not?

Updated: Apr 10

Have you ever talked in general about burnout with somebody and only got the dismissive remark, "Oh no, please, that is all in between your ears"?

End of conversation.

While it may sound like a cliché, there's actually some truth to it – but not in the way most people think.

When someone suggests that your exhaustion or burnout is "between your ears," they might mean it as a dismissal, implying that it's not a real issue but only an illusion of your mind.

However, the reality is that burnout does manifest within the brain itself.

Studies have shown that chronic stress, which is often a precursor to burnout, can lead to structural changes in the brain.

Prolonged exposure to stress hormones like cortisol can affect the size and functioning of certain brain regions, particularly those involved in emotion regulation, memory, and decision-making.

For instance, the hippocampus, a brain region crucial for memory and learning, may shrink in response to chronic stress.

Meanwhile, the amygdala, which plays a key role in processing emotions, can become hyperactive, leading to increased feelings of anxiety and emotional reactivity.

Moreover, burnout can also disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters – the chemical messengers in the brain – such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

These neurotransmitters regulate mood, motivation, and stress responses, so any imbalance can worsen more and more feelings of exhaustion, apathy, and despair.

So, when you say you're experiencing burnout, it's not merely a matter of feeling tired or overworked.

It's a complex interplay of psychological, physiological, and neurological factors that are reshaping your brain's structure and function.

Therefore, dismissing burnout as something that's "just between your ears, an illusion of the mind" overlooks the profound impact it has on your mental and physical well-being.

It's not just a matter of attitude or perspective; it's a genuine health concern that requires understanding, support, and appropriate interventions for healing.

Instead of downplaying someone's burnout symptoms, it's essential to validate their experiences and encourage them to seek help from healthcare professionals.

Whether it's through therapy, lifestyle changes, or medication, addressing burnout requires a comprehensive approach that acknowledges its neurological foundations.

In conclusion, when you are experiencing burnout, it's crucial to make clear to your inner circle that it's not merely a matter of mindset – it's a legitimate health issue that affects the brain in profound ways.

By understanding and acknowledging the neurological aspects of burnout, you can get better support while you are struggling and at your work they can start moving towards the creation of a healthier, more sustainable work environments for everyone.

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