The word burnout seems to describe our 21st-century life all too well. Almost everyone knows someone who’s had it, even though we’re all very familiar with the consequences of chronic stress. How come we’re not doing more to prevent it?

Long-term stress can lead to burnout

Burnout is a consequence of prolonged stressful lifestyle, and it refers mainly to stress at work. It can cause mental and physical symptoms, leaving one feeling exhausted, numb, and unable to cope. Performance at work suffers significantly, and at some point, showing up to work is no longer an option.

All the fuel is gone, and there’s no energy left.

As I wrote in my previous article, stress-related absenteeism and presenteeism are not only harmful to an individual, but they’re also costly for the employer. Chronic stress is eating away our health, well-being, and our wallet.

Cortisol Stress Management Burnout

New approach powered by biotechnology

Instead of listing a bunch of human resource management tools or “what makes a good manager” bullet points, I’m approaching the topic from a somewhat surprising angle: biotechnology.

We are about to find some fresh solutions from the rapidly developing world of biotechnology combined with digital health.

One of them is based on the good old principle: what gets measured, gets managed. Measuring stress has been at the center of interest for a long time, and people have measured stress with various methods — some of them more valid than the others. Imagine if we could monitor stress easily and accurately, and recognize those with a high risk of burning out — then we could act early instead of reacting when the ship is already wrecked.

Cortisol level as a biomarker for stress

Cortisol is one of the primary hormones that our adrenal glands produce when we face a stressful situation. Cortisol can be measured in our blood, urine, hair, and saliva. Researchers see salivary cortisol as one of the best biomarkers for stress, and that’s why measuring stress from saliva is an established method among scientists.

What gets measured, gets managed.

Until now, measuring cortisol hasn’t been easily accessible for the public without a laboratory test, but we’ll be there very soon. That might offer some brand new tools for stress management and burnout prevention.

High cortisol is a warning sign

Cortisol is not harmful in moderation. We all have it in our system every day, and we need it to survive. A healthy amount of cortisol keeps us going. Ideally, our cortisol level is highest in the morning, and lowest when we’re going to sleep.

A brand new study suggests that measurement of salivary cortisol can be a reliable marker for burnout and work-related stress symptoms. Researches compared the cortisol levels of people with and without burnout symptoms, and found significantly higher levels of salivary cortisol in the burnout group compared to the healthy participants.

The results are promising. Monitoring cortisol levels and identifying people under risk could work as effective burnout prevention if we’re willing to adopt some new gadgets into our stress management toolbox.

Taking action in time

Being able to measure our stress can work as a warning sign, motivating us to add some stress management routines into our week before it has caused too much damage. We do know that too much stress is dangerous, don’t we? And yet we keep pushing forward, with no signs of slowing down when needed.

Cortisol Stress Management Burnout

Sometimes we just need a trigger to push us towards change. Seeing those elevated cortisol levels on the smartphone screen might do the trick.

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