Themes common in adults

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Burnout is often confused with depression, but it is not a mental illness in itself.

Burnout occurs in the workplace. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is a feeling of intense fatigue, loss of control and inability to achieve concrete results at work.

In recent decades, scientists have also discovered an important physical difference between people who suffer from depression and those suffering from burnout. In fact, people with depression secrete too much cortisol, a hormone secreted by the cortex from the adrenal gland, while those showing signs of burnout do not secrete enough cortisol.

This discovery now helps make a more accurate diagnosis of workers showing signs of burnout or symptoms of a depressive disorder.


Symptoms of burnout may be similar to those of depression. It is therefore important to consult a health care professional if you develop several of the following symptoms, and that they persist over time:

  • Persistent fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain
  • Sleep disorder
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety
  • More common physical ailments (such as colds)
  • More aggressive behavior
  • Decrease in social interactions
  • Lack of motivation
  • Decrease in work performance
  • Higher rate of absenteeism

Risk Factors

Even though this condition is attributed mainly to workers in demanding positions in terms of personal commitment (e.g., nurse, doctor, social worker, teacher), it would be wrong to believe that only these people are at risk. In fact, all workers, male or female, may one day suffer from burnout, as well as all may, some day or other, suffer from a mental illness. On the other hand, the presence of certain risk factors can increase the incidence of burnout. Here are some examples:

  • Work involving a high level of stress
  • Significant number of responsibilities, both professional and personal
  • High level of personal involvement at work
  • Number of hours worked per week above the average
  • Poor time management
  • Working climate that is unfavourable to development
  • Relationship problems
  • Lack of resources
  • History or presence of physical or mental problems
  • Harmful attitudes or behaviours (e.g., perfectionism, low resistance to stress, low self-esteem, etc.)


Burnout does not just affect an individual's career. This condition may affect his or her family situation, financial situation, relations with others, mental and physical health and general behaviour. A person suffering from burnout and without professional help could possibly suffer from anxiety, depression, physical illness, an eating disorder, sleep disorders, addiction and even have suicidal thoughts.

What to do?

Although a temporary withdrawal from work is recommended for people suffering from burnout, it does not solve the problem systematically. It is advisable to consult a health professional (doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist) to better identify the sources of stress and burnout in the workplace with the aim of finding effective solutions to specific situations. This does not necessarily mean changing jobs, but rather changing certain habits or addressing certain situations in a different light.

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Stress is the body's response to an external demand or pressure. It is a coping mechanism to a destabilizing event that comes from outside. Stressful events can be either positive (marriage, birth, relocation) or negative (separation, job loss), and can come from every part of life: work, family, social life, etc.

On the other hand, when facing the same situation, not every one analyzes it in the same way. In fact, a number of individual factors come into play: genetics, personality, social environment, experiences, etc. Thus, it is not the situations themselves that cause stress, but the reaction that each person has.

Stress in itself is normal and necessary in a situation perceived as new, unpredictable and a threat to integrity. The problem is that, when stress becomes chronic, it leads to excess mobilization of certain biological mechanisms, and that can eventually have a negative impact on psychological health. For example, a significant financial hardship, divorce, or termination of employment are certainly stressors that can generate a certain level of anxiety.

Am I stressed?

It is often helpful to take stock of the probability and severity of the situations that arouse fear and anxiety, because it is one's perception of these situations that determines the degree of perceived stress.

  • Is there a another way of seeing things?
  • Is there is an error in my judgment?
  • Am I jumping to conclusions too quickly?
  • What would I tell a friend who might have the same kind of thoughts?
  • What is the worst that can happen?
  • What is the probability that the worst will happen?

How to prevent stress?

A healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce stress and anxiety down to a tolerable level. Some elements of a healthy lifestyle include:

  • Good balance between work, rest and recreation
  • Low consumption of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine
  • Good nutrition
  • Regular exercise
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Well known by professionals in recent years, "presenteeism" refers to employees who should be absent because they are suffering from physical or psychological ailments, but who still come to work. These employees then attempt to perform their daily tasks, but without possessing their full mental or physical capabilities. Presenteeism is the opposite of absenteeism, where a sick employee takes time to rest instead of working.

Presenteeism can be attributed to both physical and psychological problems. As the name says, physical presenteeism is a physical harm. The causes can be short-term conditions or illnesses, such as migraine or flu, or long-term like a cancer or injury from an accident. Presenteeism refers to psychological problems internalized by the employee, such as psychological distress, mental disorder, a dissatisfaction with the job, extra work or responsibilities, or a high stress. In all cases, the employee reports to work when his or her physical or mental capacity to fulfill his or her role is limited and they should be resting in order to heal.

The causes and consequences of presenteeism are many and recent studies have shown that employers, managers and employees engage practice absenteeism as much as presenteeism, but to varying degrees. In fact, employers and managers who occupy an important position in the organizational structure of their business practice high levels of presenteeism more often than other employees. This is because many people depend on them and their absence could lead to negative consequences for the company. There has also been an increase of presenteeism among employees in recent years. Among the many reasons, this increase is attributed to a social ideology that values ​​hard work and performance and devalues ​​absenteeism. So, an employee would come to work even when ill for fear of being judged by his or her colleagues, reprimanded by the employer or in fear of affecting productivity while away.

However, it is important to understand that presenteeism can have serious long-term consequences. For those suffering from a physical illness, it could get worse if not treated properly. Presenteeism would then lead to absenteeism, and the employee would suffer the consequences on their health, employment and income. They also run the risk of contaminating coworkers, when suffering from the flu, for example. That's when a whole group of workers is affected physically by one person’s presenteeism. What’s more, since the mental or physical abilities of the employee are limited, the quality of his or her work is affected, and this could also affect the work of other employees or even the entire company. Among employees whose work requires a high degree of concentration, presenteeism could put their lives and those of others at risk. Just think of construction workers who operate heavy equipment on dangerous terrain, or doctors and nurses with patients' lives in their hands.

In short, when we suffer from a physical or mental illness, reporting to work can have many more consequences than staying home, especially over the long term. So do not ignore the illness, but treat it quickly to be able return to work in good shape!