New Research Reveals How Burnout Can Mess With Your Heart Health

Now that we’re recognizing the more subtle forms of burnout that are so common, we’re finding more ways that it can affect our mental and physical health.

A new study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, has found a new link between our culture’s burnout problem and our health, specifically our heart health. It’s enough to make us take a second look at our work habits and to consider more ways to fight burnout each day.

What’s the link between burnout & heartbeat?

In a survey of over 11,000 people, researchers found that participants with high levels of “vital exhaustion” were 20% more likely to develop atrial fibrillation, more commonly known as an irregular or rapid heartbeat.

Vital exhaustion is another term for burnout syndrome, and it “is typically caused by prolonged and profound stress at work or home,” said study author Parveen K. Garg, M.D., of the University of Southern California.

The study began with assessing vital exhaustion, anger, antidepressant use, and social support levels in the test group. The researchers then followed the group for 25 years to see what the occurrence of atrial fibrillation was.

“Vital exhaustion is associated with increased inflammation and heightened activation of the body’s physiologic stress response,” said Garg. “When these two things are chronically triggered, that can have serious and damaging effects on the heart tissue, which could then eventually lead to the development of this arrhythmia.”

The other conditions tested (anger, antidepressant use, and poor social support) did not have correlation with irregular heartbeat.Article continues below

What can we do to fight burnout?

“The importance of avoiding exhaustion through careful attention to—and management of—personal stress levels as a way to help preserve overall cardiovascular health cannot be overstated,” said Garg.

Here at mindbodygreen, we’ve predicted 2020 is the year of “productive downtime” in an effort to fight the chronic stress so many of us face. Even the World Health Organization has updated its definition of burnout to include a broader group.

There’s also evidence that taking more breaks can make us more productive in the end, and we’re adding this bedtime practice to our regular nightly routine to help fight future burnout.


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