stressThe term burnout is a popularly used adage that we apply to a spectrum of different feelings of exhaustion. We’ve all been to the point with a job that we’d rather just curl up and take a 22-hour nap than do anything related to it. It’s not a great feeling, but it’s one that we’ve become familiar with.

The $3.7 trillion global wellness industry has innumerable methods to cope with this stress and billions of people around the world subscribe to whatever might bring them even the briefest respite from the throes of that burned out feeling. At one point in time, people accepted this feeling as normal, a fact of life, working, etc. As it turns out — who would’ve thought — we’re not supposed to feel crushed by stress at all times and that it is most definitely not normal, nor is it healthy. How it took so long for this discovery to be made remains a mystery.

With more than 6,210 hospitals in the United States seeing increases in patients checking in with stress-related anxiety and panic attacks, it has become alarmingly clear that chronic stress is slowly eating away at our physical and mental health. So much so that the World Health Organization bringing the topic of work-related stress into the conversation. With Americans spending an average of eight and a half hours slumped in front of some type of screen every single day, it’s no wonder that we’ve become burned out.

They recently announced that they’ll be revising the current definition of burnout in the upcoming version of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) handbook. The newest edition of the ICD-11 will go into effect at the beginning of 2022 and it will focus on the work-related stress that factors into burnout. The updated version characterizes it thusly:

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 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; and 3) reduced professional efficacy. Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

Burnout has historically been in a bit of a grey area. Americans get more than a billion colds every year and we’re quick to give ourselves the needed rest and recovery time our bodies need. This hasn’t been the case with chronic work-place stress, which leads to burnout. Thus, giving burnout its own specific classification will help the millions of people it impacts and will also help medical professionals more readily identify it for prevention and treatment.

“There needs to be greater critical discussion on how we can more precisely measure and define this condition. I think a lot of people have a lay definition of what burnout may be, but I think by highlighting the specific facets of burnout. My hope is that it might create greater awareness,” says Elaine Cheung, a professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

She goes on to characterize burnout as something different from depression because it’s bound to the stressors that originate in the workplace. In diagnosing burnout, the WHOs new definition also requires professionals to rule out depressions, anxiety, and other similar stress disorders.

From here, the WHO also aims to start creating evidence-based studies that tackle mental health in the workplace. The goal is to implement ways for employers and employees both to fight as a team against undue workplace stress, making work and life that much healthier.

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