Interesting article: Burnout, amygdala, neurological changes, cognition

I just came across this interesting article as I was Googling the long term effects of Burnout (because I still feel oddly "broken" and permanently changed nearly two years after going sick).

From a quick read, the article talks about enlarged amygdala, weakened connections between it and other brain structures, and problems with executive functioning - all of which I believe I've also read as features of autism (further hints of connections here in Former Member's summary of the Wikipedia entry for Amygdala in this thread: Are you good at identifying emotions feelings within yourself). So I'm wondering if in my case burnout intensified the existing effects of my own autism that I had been masking (& led to my discovery of my own undiagnosed autism). Note that I'm not at all suggesting that burnout might cause autism - that would be a silly leap and we all know that autism is a lifelong condition.

Coincidentally I also listened to a TED talk on executive function that highlighted that EF is needed when learning a new skill, before the automatic parts of the brain take over. I'm wondering if this means that masking asks a lot from the EF brain and places demands on them that eventually give in after years of over-use -> autistic burnout?

Anyway, I'm not drawing any conclusions at this stage (if ever). I have no particular experience in neurological research just an interest and personal experience of burnout and autism, and I thought this was interesting.

I'm not claiming that any of my rambling here is well-thought-through science or research, just a collection of smoking guns and interesting associations.

  • I've just gone back to the original article I mentioned and found this

    "It’s also possible that individuals who have low executive functioning to begin with end up being more vulnerable to the negative effects of stress — ultimately resulting in higher rates of burnout."

    which is very similar to what we were both saying.

  • There's definitely a good theoretical and experiential basis to support the idea that certain underlying neurological differences make a person more susceptible to the effects of stress and anxiety. The only problem with the articles that I found is that number 11 suggests that the Caudate Nucleus is enlarged in Autism as opposed to being smaller. However, I'd take a guess that as it is less stable to begin with that might make it more susceptible to the effects of stress and therefore more likely to shrink in Autistic as opposed to non-autistic people. I might have a look to see if can find any evidence to back up that theory next week when I'm less busy.

  • I've just googled all of those parts of the brain. I have a hind brain hernia I wonder if theres any connection 

  • I don't suppose that you happen to know what part of your hind brain you have the hernia in? Does it cause you any symptoms? 

  • This is an interesting thread, although I don't really understand all of it. But I do understand about burn out, and I realize this is what I've experienced many times. I've changed jobs a lot because I could no longer cope, and I can relate this burn out phenomenon with significant stressful events, at work and in my personal life.

    I found a description of what CBT is: "Practitioners base CBT on the theory that problems arise from the meanings people give to events, as well as the events themselves." . But I don't think I give stressful events meanings. I often can't make any sense of them - I can't understand why other people would seemingly want to make me feel bad. I also get upset when events are out of my control.

    I have been in the same job for 4 years now - almost a record for me. Finding out I was autistic and learning about how it affects me has given me these coping strategies:

    1. Keep working hours to an absolute minimum you can manage. I started full time in my current job but had to reduce to 25 hours a week (5 a day) - I'd prefer to do 20, but it's a compromise as I can't live on the pay from 20hrs pw. It still means I have afternoon "down time". 

    2. Don't worry about not going to social events or not seeing people you don't really get on with. They won't miss you when they're having their version of fun that you probably wouldn't enjoy but would be joining in with to not look "odd".

    3. When stressful events happen: analyse what the root cause is - perhaps you've misread  someone's intentions/meaning, perhaps you need help or support with something, or to talk it over to help you make sense of it and make it seem less of a huge obstacle? Then make an action plan - talk to someone you trust about ut, ask for clarification, or ask for help/support. Finally, review results - have you been able to get what you need to manage? Do you need to take any further action or do you need to distance yourself from it, get a new job, stop seeing someone, etc. When I asked  if my working hours could be reduced I was initially told no, so I handed in my resignation, explaining that I could no longer manage to work full time. Two weeks later I was thankfully offered part time hours as they didn't want to lose me, but I wasn't bluffing - I had to do what was right for me.

    4. Work out your own mindfulness and distraction techniques. Learn to recognise when you're starting to become overwhelmed and take action. Take yourself away from it if possible, or focus on something else, or visualise it being over and you being in a safe place / feeling ok again

    Does anyone have any other coping strategies?

  • These are brilliant Pixiefox! Likewise I'm doing 30 hours & wish it were 25 but can't afford it :-).

    Getting hit by burnout was a real wake-up call to pay attention to what my brain had been screaming at me but I didn't realise I was allowed to act on. Mainly thinking about point 2 here.

    I've got that under control plus adjustments at work (and in a way, at home too) and it's really helping; the thing I would add is:

    5. Don't be tempted to give in to pressure to conform "just this once" or "because I could & it would be seen as being helpful or at least 'not weird' " - we put boundaries and adjustments in place for a reason. Remind yourself of the reasons & what might happen. At the very least, if you go the extra mile, plan some re-balancing time afterwards and protect it.

    The other thing I keep having to lean on has come to me through various goes at CBT plus simple age & experience, and it's to be *really* firm with myself when I find myself ruminating over the past and/or possible futures; it does not help! Distract yourself, however you can.

  • Interesting, I have crappy exec function and I'm really prone to burnout. Currently signed off with it.

  • Thank, that's really useful. I used to find freelance the best solution because I could control my environment and schedules. Unfortunately the freelance boom is over and austerity hit my client base. I've had to take PAYE again, I'm 22 hours a week and still have burned out - quicker than usual, I've only made it through a year. I'm going to have to change jobs because the governance on my current job is absent with open season for bullying. I can't solve it and I'm feeling a little desperate, poverty really doesn't appeal...