Can burnout make you sick?

published on 28 April 2023

In today's fast-paced society many of us are susceptible to burnout. Characterized by feelings of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy, burnout can have a significant impact on one's physical and mental well-being. But can burnout actually make you sick? In this article, we will explore the connection between burnout and illness, as well as provide practical tips for identifying and preventing burnout in the workplace.

The Science Behind Burnout

Burnout was first described by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s, and it has since become a widely recognized phenomenon in various fields, including healthcare, education, and business. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is a "syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." The three main components of burnout are:

1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion

2. Increased mental distance from one's job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job

3. Reduced professional efficacy

But how exactly does burnout relate to illness?

The Connection Between Burnout and Illness

When an individual experiences burnout, their body's stress response system is activated, releasing a cascade of hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can help us respond to short-term stressors, but when they are chronically elevated, they can negatively impact our physical and mental health. Some of the potential consequences of chronic stress include:

1. Weakened immune system: Chronic stress can suppress the immune system, making it more challenging for the body to fight off infections and recover from illness.

2. Increased risk of cardiovascular disease: Prolonged stress can lead to high blood pressure and increased inflammation, both of which are risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

3. Mental health issues: Burnout can contribute to the development of anxiety and depressive disorders, as well as exacerbate existing mental health conditions.

4. Sleep disturbances: Stress can interfere with the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, leading to insomnia and other sleep disorders.

5. Digestive problems: Chronic stress can cause or worsen gastrointestinal issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Identifying Burnout

To prevent burnout from causing illness, it is essential to recognize the warning signs and take appropriate action. Some common indicators of burnout include:

1. Chronic fatigue

2. Insomnia or difficulty in falling asleep

3. Inability to concentrate or reduced productivity

4. Irritability or mood swings

5. Physical symptoms, such as headaches, muscle tension, or digestive issues

If you notice these signs in yourself or a colleague, it is crucial to take them seriously and address the underlying causes.


Burnout can have severe implications for an individual's health, increasing the risk of illness and exacerbating existing health conditions. By recognizing the warning signs of burnout and implementing strategies to promote workplace well-being, both employers and employees can help prevent burnout and ensure a healthier, more productive work environment.

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