Burnout as a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

I’ve seen the definition of burnout evolve over the years. When I first read about it, they’d talk about symptoms such as dissatisfaction and emotional fatigue, and suggest ways to manage your stress levels. But it was the lingering after-effects that I grappled with the most.

One thing that baffled me was how similar my symptoms were to those of friends I talked to with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They each had different causes: child abuse, a train crash, domestic violence, and workplace vilification after being a whistle blower; and yet we all shared symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, sleep disturbance, depersonalisation, withdrawal, emotional numbness and physical illness.

It’s only recently that I’ve seen burnout described in the literature as a PTSD, or closely resembling one, and I found it incredibly affirming. The idea of burnout leaving a residual trauma that can take years to recover from made sense to me. It seems that even though the traumatic stress is a chronic one, rather than acute, the body’s physiological response is very similar.

Perhaps we shouldn’t let these labels define us, but I’ve found them helpful for normalising my experience and for putting the pieces together; to understand what’s really going on and work out the best strategy for moving forwards.

I found this TED talk by Dr Geri Puleo to be a fantastic encapsulation of this topic and the recovery process. Let me know of any other resources that you’ve found useful.