Psychoneuroendocrinology 2019 Aug 4;106:195-205. Epub 2019 Apr 4.
Department of Psychology, TU Dresden, Germany.
Introduction: Burnout symptomatology is associated with various negative health consequences; however, the mechanisms underlying these associations remain unclear. One potential pathway involves alterations in the acute stress response. The aims of the present study were to examine burnout-associated alterations in stress-reactivity patterns, during a standardized social stressor compared to a control condition, as well as to examine whether effects associated with greater burnout symptomatology were distinct from other, conceptually overlapping indicators of chronic stress (i.e. depressive symptomatology and elevated hair cortisol concentration [HCC]).
Materials And Methods: In a randomized two-factor design a total of 70 employed males with varying burnout symptoms but without evidence of physical or psychiatric disease were exposed to the Trier Social Stress Test for Groups (TSST-G) or a non-stressful control condition. Acute stress reactivity was assessed using self-report stress measures and non-invasive biomarkers. Associations among acute stress reactivity, burnout and depressive symptoms (assessed with self-report measures), as well as HCC were analysed using repeated measure ANCOVAs and moderation analysis.
Results: Burnout symptomatology was associated with elevated stress perception independent of the experimental condition. In addition, depressive symptomatology was associated with enhanced anticipatory appraisal, whereas HCC was not related to any subjective stress measure. On a physiological level, burnout and depressive symptomatology, as well as HCC were associated with a pattern of blunted cardiovascular reactivity, however the timing of this effect varied.
Conclusion: Our results indicate burnout-associated modulations in stress reactivity, which diverge, at least partly, from other indicators of chronic stress.