Last week, a group of leading therapists warned of a shocking 20% rise in the number of workers in their twenties suffering from the type of burnout normally seen in the middle-aged. They say insomnia, anxiety and depression are being seen much more often in younger people – with stress now the leading cause of long term workplace sickness. Noticed ‘mania’ in your collegue; chain smoking and talking at a million times an hour but not really making any sense? Felt yourself ‘self-medicating’ with an excessive amount of red wine to switch off? Or seen your boss so stressed she can’t get anything productive done? They’re all signs if ‘Can’t Switch Off Syndome’.

‘I see so many people who tell me they’ve got a sleep problem and can’t switch off’ says Dr Andrew Parker, from London’s Capio Nightingale Hospital, a mental health clinic which has just set up a new stress and trauma service to cope with the increase in patients suffering from work related stress. ‘They’re up early and the first thing they do is check their email. They work a long day – constantly checking their BlackBerry and responding – and when they come home they do the same, even while eating dinner. I’ve seen people who fall alseep over their laptop at home at night. It leads to anxiety, panic attacks and worse’.

Alot of the symptoms of Can’t Switch Off Syndrome are similar to normal stress. The tipping into fully fledged burnout comes when you start expereincing symptoms on a frequent basis; not being able to sleep for nights in a row, waking up feeling light you’ve got a hangover, self medicating with drink … until a point when you can’t just try to ignore it. If you don’t do anything about it, you will get ill. ‘This is something we normally see as a prelude to a midlife crisis where the person has been trapped in the same unsatisfying job all their lives’ says Dr Michael Sinclair from the City Psychology Group, who sees lots of financial workers suffering from stress. ‘It’s only recently there has been this boom in much younger people – and especially women who push themselves harder and struggle to juggle family and work.

And thanks to the global economic crisis, our stress is only getting worse. A report released last week showed soaring unemplyments with women losing their jobs 10 times faster than men. ‘The cuts are widespread and relentless. They are leaving people incredibly unsetlled’ adds Dr Sinclair. ‘There is a tremendous amount of presenteeism; people are working longer and harder for fear of the next chop and are constantly on their Blackberries’. It’s like we’re all suffering from collective anxiety disorder – fearful of a very real threat of unemplyment, out paranoia only made worse by the endless, seeming inescapable doom-saying on the news. Or, worse still, trapped in a job in which you feel unable to cope but can’t afford to leave.

So what can you do to minimise your chances of burnout? The first step is seeking help. ‘As it’s often high-flying women – and men – who are at the highest risk of this burnout, some find it difficult to admit they’re struggling. It’s alot to do with stigma’, says Dr Parker. ‘It’s important that we dispel that attitude and teach them how to manage their stress. I wouldn’t advise an impulsive reaction of jacking in your job. Instead, I’d suggest speaking to your boss to see if you can arrange reduced hours. This will give you the breathing space to decide if this is the right career for you. When you’re feeling very negative about everything, you might make the wrong choices’.

As reported in Grazia Magazine by Louisa Pritchard and Clare Thorp, November 2011

There is more to life than your Blackberry! Perhaps its time to book that Xhilarate Office Massage ……

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