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The Sign that Tells You are Headed for Burnout

The extreme exhaustion tends to sneak up on us-we don't realize it until it's too late

Our jobs push us to our limits. Sometimes, even our friends and family. The world around us has become so fast and competitive that it’s difficult to stop. Mobile phones have only amplified the busyness, keeping us connected almost every second. While trying to finish work, we keep reminding ourselves that this is just a temporary phase and that the tiredness will disappear once the long-awaited vacation starts. But time goes on, we find ourselves tired, sick, irritable, and nothing, absolutely nothing, makes us happy. Worst of all, we live in denial that any of it is at all happening to us.

This is burnout, and it sneaks up on us. Research shows almost half of all professionals between the ages of 25 and 33 are stuck in some form of a burnout. The problem is, burnout isn't a medical diagnosis. Overwhelming scientific data suggests that many people who experience symptoms of job burnout don’t believe their jobs are the main cause.

Knowing it

The best way to prevent burnout is to find ways to relax and take out time for yourself every now and then. And addressing it before it affects you.

A study by researchers at the University of Missouri (MU)-Columbia in the US says your eyes may provide a window into your mental workload. It was published in the International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction.

“If your vitals are bad, then something is wrong with your body and doctors will work to figure out what's wrong with you,” says Jung Hyup Kim, an assistant professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering in the MU College of Engineering, in the press release. “What about your mental health? Many people multitask, but currently there is no measurement for someone's mental well-being. However, we found that the size of a pupil could be the key to measuring someone's mental state while they multitask.”

Stress experiences

To find a way to measure stress levels in employees while they are multitasking, Kim and Xiaonan Yang, an MU graduate student, compared data from a workload metric developed by NASA for its astronauts with their observations of pupillary response from participants in a lab study.

Kim and Yang used a simulated oil and gas refinery plant control room, and through motion-capture and eye-tracking technology, they watched the participants react to unexpected changes, such as alarms, while simultaneously watching the performance of gauges on two monitors. During the scenario’s simple tasks, the participants’ eye searching behaviors were more predictable. Yet, as the tasks became more complex and unexpected changes occurred, their eye behaviors became more erratic.

The duo discovered a negative relationship between the fractal dimension of pupil dilation and a person’s workload, showing the researchers that pupil dilation could be used to indicate the mental workload of a person in a multitasking environment.

“It would be great if people could work perfectly every time,” Kim says. “But when you're tired, you often make a mistake. So, if we can monitor a worker's mental well-being, then we can hopefully prevent future mistakes from happening.”
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