(Arnsten & Shanafelt, 2021)

The prefrontal cortex [PFC] is the portion of the brain taken offline by burnout and it is responsible for all of our high level thinking such as:

  • Controlling your behavior and impulses
  • Delaying instant gratification
  • Regulating your emotions
  • Planning
  • Making decisions
  • Solving problems
  • Making long-term goals
  • Balancing short-term rewards with future goals
  • Changing your behavior when situations change
  • Seeing and predicting the consequences of your behavior
  • Being able to consider many streams of information
  • Being able to focus your attention

Burnout causes difficulty with focus and attention, making decisions, forgetfulness, reduced insight and judgment, decreased empathy and compassion, decreased optimism and persistence, and inability to self-regulate behavior.

The portions of the brain in red in the diagram on the right, are more or less your survival brain.  They are the ones that serve you well when you are in danger, but they do not work well for loving your family, having self-control, and can cause emotional decisions.

Alcohol and cannabis should be avoided.

Many people deal with the exhaustion of difficult or boring jobs by drinking alcohol or using cannabis.  While these substances do provide some temporary relief, they actually make the problem worse long-term by further insulting the PFC.

If you are feeling burned out, know it is not your fault.  There are reasons outside your control which have caused it.  Recovery from burnout is possible and it can also be avoided altogether.  In the next few articles, we will talk about solutions for burnout.

If you are feeling suicidal, please call 988 for support, go to your hospital’s emergency department, or call 911.  God is not done with you yet.