Chronic burnout, somatic arousal and elevated salivary cortisol levels

J Psychosom Res. 1999 Jun;46(6):591-8. doi: 10.1016/s0022-3999(99)00007-0.


Burnout syndrome, comprised of the symptoms of emotional exhaustion, physical fatigue, and cognitive weariness, is believed to be a result of ineffective coping with enduring stress. This study of 111 nonshift blue-collar workers free of cardiovascular disease (CVD) examined whether chronic burnout is associated with a state of somatic and physiological hyperarousal. Results showed that 37 workers exhibited symptoms of chronic burnout, with symptoms lasting at least 6 months. These workers, compared to those with no burnout symptoms (n = 52) or nonchronic burnout symptoms (n = 22), had higher levels of tension at work, postwork irritability, more sleep disturbances and complaints of waking up exhausted, and higher cortisol levels during the work day. These results suggest that chronic burnout is associated with heightened somatic arousal and elevated salivary cortisol levels. This may be part of the mechanism underlying the emerging association between burnout and risk of CVD.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Burnout, Professional / diagnosis*
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis*
  • Male
  • Saliva / chemistry*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Somatoform Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workplace


  • Hydrocortisone