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Stress from overwork, pay attention to these signals

July 4, 2018

It is easy to think of the stress of overworking as an inevitable condition from which you cannot escape. A minimum dose of stress can also be healthy and provide the right fuel to make us even more capable in what we do. The so-called “Burnout”, a real emotional and energetic collapse due to too much work, kills the motivation to work and it is dangerous for our health. We talk about this topic with Humanitas psychotherapist Agnese Rossi.


When stress is prolonged

There are two forms of stress: the first is eustress, which consists of a physiological and psychological activation that we implement in emergency situations and that allows us to give our best in terms of concentration, attention and investment of our resources towards the achievement of a goal.


The second is distress, that is, a prolonged, acute and constant stress, which involves a psycho-physical suffering that manifests itself with anxiety, insecurity, fears, fear of losing control of ourselves and what surrounds us and with somatic symptoms. It can be activated when we experience traumatic events, for example when we are told about the diagnosis of a major illness or a radical and unpleasant change, such as loss of job or the end of an affective relationship, a bereavement, the illness of a family member.


Sometimes, however, even changes that we consciously choose, such as the birth of a child, a move, a new job, have a potential pathogenic influence: it depends on the meaning that each of us gives to these events and how we deal with them.


What does a burnout consist of?

Burnout syndrome, which literally means “burned, melted, exhausted”, stems from a prolonged and intense response to stress at work when a person is drained of the burden of obligations and tasks to be carried out.


It is a particular type of distress that occurs especially in jobs that involve a strong emotional involvement (health professions, social work, etc.). This condition manifests itself in the difficulty of adapting to changes and facing the consequences that the stressful event implies, with sensations of greater vulnerability and worsening of the quality of life, also from a relational and social point of view.


These are some signs that should not be underestimated if we feel at risk:

Burn out manifests itself with physical symptoms:


  • Generalized fatigue
  • Muscle tension
  • Headache
  • Skin, intestinal, gastric disorders
  • Lack of appetite or unorganized diet
  • Insomnia




  • Decline in employment performance
  • Reducing the efficiency of your work
  • Loss of confidence in one’s own abilities
  • Detachment, disinterest and dissatisfaction
  • Sense of powerlessness, frustration, failure
  • Loss of interest, isolation, closure
  • Anxiety, panic attacks, depressive notes
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Can this disturbance be prevented?

First of all it is important to be aware (sometimes we are submerged and we don’t realize) that we are living a moment of our life that requires special efforts, especially emotional, and listen to how our body reacts to this request.


Let’s remember that the body does not lie, so if we perceive even some of the symptoms listed above, let’s stop and ask ourselves if we are investing our resources in a creative and constructive way and if we can make sense of what is happening to us, gradually integrating it into our daily lives.


It is important to recognize the emotions that hinder us in relationships or create conflicts that accentuate stress (anger, grudge, apathy) and communicate and share these emotional experiences with people who know how to listen in depth.


If all this becomes difficult to manage, it is important to request psychological support, with the aim of strengthening our adaptive resources.


A good workout…

We must train (and educate children from an early age to do so) to strengthen our creative skills in managing change, to tolerate frustration, to develop constructive defense mechanisms, to integrate emotional life with cognitive life (not just rationalize) and find a balance between them, learning to listen to our inner world.


If work vehemently invades our private lives, it is necessary to draw a clear line and give space back to relationships, to what relaxes us and satisfies us and disconnect from electronic devices that risk keeping us in constant contact with work, without healthy and recharging breaks.


Changing the perspective

Finally, to prevent and combat a ‘Burnout’ it is necessary to take care of oneself. Maintain healthy habits such as exercise, proper nutrition, rewarding interpersonal bonds and limit the use of “quick” solutions to stress such as alcohol, nicotine or drug use or any form of abuse that risks becoming an addiction.


Sometimes it is necessary to review our way of relating to work: ask ourselves what satisfies and gratifies us, what motivates and enriches us and try to invest our energies in this direction. Finally, we see how many hours we spend at work each day, reminding ourselves that sometimes, even if we are away from the office, our minds can continue to work, sometimes even at night, hindering a good balance between the quality of sleep and wakefulness.


If the amount of work we face on a daily basis has got out of hand it may be time to consider a positive change, a new way to collaborate with colleagues or talk to a superior about workloads, roles and tasks.

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