Stress Syndromes

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Three of the most publicized states associated with prolonged stress are burnout, bereavement, and posttraumatic stress disorder. The symptoms of burnout, a condition precipitated by the stress of overwork, include emotional exhaustion, reduced productivity, and feelings of depersonalization. The emotional exhaustion in burnout may be accompanied by physical symptoms such as headaches and backaches, in addition to social withdrawal. Compulsive, insecure workaholics whose jobs have ceased to provide them with self-fulfillment are particularly prone to burnout. Such individuals attempt to compensate for low self-esteem from off-the-job activities by dedicating themselves to their jobs and becoming workaholics.

Another job-related event that is potentially stressful is retirement. As noted by Butler and Lewis (1982, pp. 128, 130),

In retirement, otherwise perfectly healthy men and women may develop headaches, depression, gastrointestinal symptoms, and oversleeping.. . . Irritability, loss of interest, lack of energy, increased alcoholic intake, and reduced efficiency are all familiar and common reactions.

Though these symptoms are certainly not the norm, retirement is often accompanied by a sense of diminished usefulness, insignificance, loss of independence, and sometimes feelings that life is essentially over.

Bereavement, like retirement, is more likely to occur in later adulthood. Depression, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite and weight, chronic fatigue, lack of interest in external things, and difficulties in concentrating are among the symptoms of bereavement. In some cases, reactions to the death of a spouse or other close relative are so intense that severe physical illness, a serious accident, or even death may result (Parkes, 1972).

One of the most dramatic and widely discussed disorders stemming from the Vietnam War is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Similar conditions were called "shell shock" in World War I and "combat fatigue insomnia" or "combat neurosis" in World War II and the Korean War. PTSD is, of course, not limited to the casualties of war: Earthquakes, fires, airplane crashes, and other disasters produce their share of victims. PTSD involves feelings of anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, problems with social relationships, and other emotional responses. In many cases, "flashbacks" associated with the stressful experience may occur months or even years after the stressful experience (Roberts, 1988).

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