Chronic Stress Can Actually Change Your Brain

If you think you can bounce right back from long-term stress at work, think again. New research highlights some serious neurological consequences of job burnout, or a state of chronic stress that leads to exhaustion, detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness. According to the study, led by Armita Golkar, Ph.D., at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and cited by the Association for Psychological Science, burnout changes neural circuits in the brain and hurts people’s ability to cope with stressful situations. In other words, it’s a vicious cycle: The more stressed you are, the harder it is to deal with stressors in the future.

Researchers also scanned participants’ brains while they were sitting quietly and found that the amygdala, a part of the brain associated with fear and aggression, was bigger among participants in the burnout group. More stressed participants also had stronger connections between the amygdala and brain areas linked to emotional distress. As for why the burned-out participants had trouble regulating their emotions, the brain scans revealed that they had weaker connections between the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with executive function.

These findings have significant implications for burned-out employees’ well-being. The researchers say that difficulty suppressing negative emotions could make them more vulnerable to symptoms of depression.

Shana Lebowitz

Business Insider

1 August 2015