When work can actually “kill” you

"Time to relax?"
“Time to relax?”

In this article we are going to discuss two somewhat new mental syndromes which affect firstly our professional life and secondly our personal life. These two syndromes are “burn-out syndrome” and “karoshi syndrome”. There are both similarities and differences between them.

Burn-out syndrome

Burn-out syndrome appears in people who are “depleted” after mental and physical fatigue in their working environment. In other words, burn-out syndrome may appear in cases when an employee feels permanent stress in his working environment. After its’ appearance, it affects employee’s output and mood during the working hours as an employee thinks that he/she is not capable to cope with working demands.

More analytically, an employee who experiences burn-out syndrome usually has some of the following symptoms:

-permanent tiredness, depletion

– pain in muscles, headaches, gastrointestinal problems

-big changes (significant limitation or increase) regarding food intake and sleep

-avoidance to go to work or to cope with important things regarding job

-limited confidence and sense of failure

-need for isolation and departure from beloved people

-cynicism, intensive critique and irritation

-loss of hope and continuous procrastination of responsibilities

These symptoms initially appear in the working environment and affect someone’s professional behavior. Slowly-slowly symptoms start affecting also personal life as they create more problems. For example, a “depleted” employee who is often irritated with his/her colleagues and job in general, he/she will be soon irritated with his/her close people. This is the big “trap” of burn-out syndrome: it does not have to do only with working environment! Usually, it has to do with factors related to work, but really quickly stress makes “job factors” seem like “life-factors”. In other words, continuous stress affects so much a person that it seems impossible for him/her to separate occupational stress from everyday-life-stress. So, occupational stress becomes for a time period a general life stress.

But how somebody could be “depleted”? What causes burn-out syndrome? Here are some possible factors:

-Monotonous work, without challenges,  intellectual stimulation or significant reciprocation

-A lot of responsibilities and too much control (e.g. lack of freedom, initiatives)

-Absence of reward and recognition

-Huge amount of work, a lot of working hours, lack of schedule and overtime work without a good reason

-General lack of organization and rules in working environment

-Absence of interest for a job content

-Lack of good communication with the rest employees (colleagues, managers, etc.)

Finally, some factors that play an important role in appearance of burn-out syndrome are the profession and the character of an employee. We cannot be absolute or completely sure, but findings from existing studies have shown that people with high empathy who have a job which demands of them everyday contact with people it is more possible to appear bunt-out symptoms. Health professionals (psychologists, nurses, doctors etc.) are always first on the lists of professions in high danger for burn-out syndrome.

Karoshi syndrome

Karoshi syndrome was identified for the first time in Japan and it means “death from overwork”. The similar characteristic with burn-out syndrome is that also karoshi syndrome can be defined as an “occupational sickness” or a syndrome that which appears after a lot and not qualitative work. But while burn-out syndrome has to do with “mental sickness”, karoshi syndrome has to do with intense physical fatigue which could lead even to death. Quite a few studies during the last years have shown that increase of deaths due to heart diseases (and not only) are caused by the extreme tiredness and the significant absence of rest or sleep of many employees around the world. Karoshi phenomenon was identified in Japan but that does not mean that this syndrome only appears in the Eastern countries were work is always long and very demanding for workers. In other words, anybody who is an overly hard-working architect,  software developer or bank employee and lives in a West society could be in the same danger for karoshi syndrome as a Japanese laborer.

What are the common characteristics of people who are in danger for karoshi syndrome? Great excitement and strong will for work production and success which will make them to neglect their valuable rest. Later, appearance of physical symptoms (hypertension, diabetes, atherosclerosis etc.) will be an indication of an upcoming death (that is why after these symptoms people should completely rest and ask for advice from a doctor and a psychologist). In really serious cases like these, a doctor will really try to prevent worst of coming, while a psychologist is really necessary to help people in danger understand that no job or obligation could be more important than their own lives. In other words, here it is obvious that employees really close to death due to overwork possibly believe that work is the whole meaning of their lives and they simultaneously “despise” satisfaction which could be experienced from different kinds of activities.

Ways of dealing with occupational depletion

After identification both syndromes should be seriously and directly tackled. Both mental and physical depletion can be really dangerous, but there is always enough time to cope with for someone who will figure out the problem and he/ she will immediately ask for help. It is really important for people receiving encouragement and specific instructions from suitable professionals, but always the most important thing is what somebody does to help his/her own self.

What should be someone’s next moves?

-Ask for time off and forget job for a while. Alternatively, someone could ask for a decrease in his/her working hours – whenever that is possible – or discharge from really demanding and stressful duties could be also a solution.

-Relaxation, relaxation and relaxation. Both physical and mental rest will bring fast and positive results while pressure and stress regarding work will decrease.

-Equally important is the cognitive restructuring of the idea of “work”. We all need to understand – no matter what are the economical and social conditions around us – that a job is always a way to earn some money in order to live decently and to improve our lives but nothing more than that. Certainly, job is not the most important field of our lives! It is only field that we should be good for several reasons.

-Help of beloved people is really important for “depleted” employees. They should share their thoughts and concerns with them, but also they should ask their understanding for their strange/unusual behavior. Since existing stress has been deeply “burried” inside them, unknown and “weird” behaviors could come up during recovery period and while people feel again strong and healthy as before.

-It is good if “depleted” employee does not give much importance to any of his/her thoughts, especially in the negative ones. Anxiety and general tiredness dramatically increase pessimism and falsification of facts, so effort for as neutral thoughts as possible – positive of course are always the best – will enormously help treatment.

-Mediation still remains one of the most effective techniques/methods of relaxation. Through meditation physical and mental relaxation could be easily succeed. Moreover breath exercises are ideal for someone to control and remove stress and negative thinking. For those who are interested in learning how to use meditation for their personal well-being, they could search information regarding “mindfulness-therapy” and then they could find specialized professionals who exercise and also teach it.


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