Treating Burnout with Physical Therapy

Get rested, rejuvenated, and ready to take on the world (or at least work)
By Lily Beltran
Treating Burnout with Physical Therapy

Burnout—it happens to all of us at one time or another. The ongoing pressures of work leave you exhausted, unmotivated, and helpless. Turns out that washed-out and washed-up feeling has an official medical diagnosis, according to the International Classification of Diseases, or ICD-11, the World Health Organization’s handbook for helping medical providers diagnose diseases.

As CNN reports, burnout is now in the ICD-11’s section on problems regarding employment (or the lack thereof). The handbook characterizes burnout 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;
  3. Reduced professional efficacy.

Are you suffering from burnout?

The handbook cautions that the diagnosis of burnout refers specifically to work-related experiences and shouldn’t be applied to other areas of life. However, the effects of burnout can be felt at home, on the job, and everywhere in between, according to International, a global nonprofit organization that provides mental health education and support. notes that you may be headed toward burnout if:

  • Every day is a bad day.
  • Caring about your home or work life seems like a total waste of energy.
  • You’re exhausted all the time.
  • The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
  • You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

The article goes on to list the physical, emotional, and behavioral signs and symptoms of burnout. Some of these include:

  • Lowered immunity, frequent illnesses
  • Frequent headaches or muscle pain
  • Loss of motivation
  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
  • Taking out your frustration on others
  • Skipping work, or coming in late and leaving early

The healing effects of exercise

Fortunately, there are as many ways to address burnout as there are symptoms. Experts agree that one of these is exercise. An article in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine called “Efficacy of Exercise Therapy in Persons with Burnout. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” notes that “The effect of physical activity on burnout may be ascribed to psychological changes.” For example, physical activity:

  • Distracts you from stressful situations, actually reducing the impact these situations can have.
  • Strengthens feelings of “mastery and self-efficacy,” making you less sensitive to negativity.
  • May reduce your “physiological sensitivity to chronic stress (i.e. burnout),” so you can better cope while on the job.

How physical therapy can get you moving

If you’re suffering from burnout, the last thing you may want to do is physical activity. Binge-watching your favorite show on Netflix with a limitless supply of ice cream may sound a lot more appealing. Or perhaps you’re suffering from burnout-related muscle pain. It could simply be you don’t know how to get started—how do you decide how much or what types of exercise are best for you?

Physical therapists can motivate you to move, and they can help you go about it the right way. Dr. Kevin Prue, a North Carolina-based PT, says that a physical therapist can perform a mobility screen to determine which exercises are appropriate for you and which ones to avoid. They can also help design an exercise program based on your goals, fitness level, and medical history. You’ll be more likely to stick with an exercise program that fits your needs and interests and that isn’t likely to cause injury.

Beat burnout

Burnout may be an official diagnosis, but it doesn’t have to be a chronic one. With the proper remedies, including help from your physical therapist, you can boost your physical, mental, and emotional capacities and be ready to take on the world (or at least life).

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