Treating severe burnout and getting rid of it can take a long time. Permanent damage to health cannot be ruled out. Therefore prevention and early action are the order of the day. You should know these facts about burnout so that you can recognize it as quickly as possible or, at best, it never finds its way into your life.
What is burnout?
Burnout describes a combination of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced personal performance caused by chronic stress. So far, however, there is just as little a clear definition of burnout as there are generally recognized criteria for a clear diagnosis.
You can think of depersonalization as a kind of dehumanization. The affected person increasingly treats other people like objects and feels indifferent to them. Most often, depersonalization arises as a result of emotional exhaustion.
As a rule, the three symptoms emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced performance must come together to speak of burnout. Most experts also see permanent occupational stress as a further condition for the diagnosis of burnout. Very successful people seem to be particularly affected by the burnout phenomenon.
How do success and reduced performance in burnout patients fit together?
The reduced performance does not necessarily have to be recognizable to others. It is enough if you simply have to make more effort over the long term to achieve the same performance as before. On the outside, someone can be very successful, but inside is still highly dissatisfied.
This dissatisfaction can then be a good breeding ground for burnout. The stress level increases enormously due to the dissatisfaction. The efforts of the person concerned are getting bigger and bigger to finally achieve satisfaction. The problem, however, is that no amount of success brings this satisfaction. So more work is done and the vicious circle of stress, emotional exhaustion and reduced performance takes its course.
Why is burnout not a disease?
In medicine, experts disagree on whether burnout should be considered a disease in its own right. So far this has not been the case. It is accepted that burnout has a certain illness value. Some see a clear distinction from depression and thus interpret burnout as an independent disease, while others see burnout as a special form of depression.
As the number of reports about burnout has increased in recent years, the phenomenon of burnout appears in a completely different light. Burnout is almost becoming a fad. This can even have advantages for those affected. Burnout is more recognized in society than depression, so the shame is correspondingly less. On the other hand, there is the risk that the diagnosis may turn out too quickly in the direction of burnout and that depression or other mental illnesses remain undetected. Since the therapies are quite different, a completely different problem can develop from this.
What is the difference between burnout and depression?
The biggest difference between burnout and depression is probably the basic feeling that all other symptoms emanate from. In burnout it is dissatisfaction, in depression it is sadness.
Some experts see the cause of dissatisfaction with burnout inevitably in work. Therefore, they use the characteristic of work stress to distinguish between burnout and depression. Other experts, however, draw larger circles in the search for the cause. According to them, dissatisfaction can have a very different origin from work. An old childhood problem that has not yet been processed could even be the root of the evil.
But since professional life makes up a crucial part of life and brings with it special challenges, the problem of burnout undoubtedly arises very often in connection with professional dissatisfaction. In addition, many of those affected try to solve the actual problem through their job. It is also the case that someone who is very satisfied with their job is very likely to be spared from burnout.
However, there is clear overlap between burnout and depression, which often makes a correct diagnosis difficult. A lack of feelings of joy, lust and pleasure, as well as a depressed, irritable and joyless mood define depression. The triggers of depression are chronic and insoluble stress and the inability to pursue a satisfying activity.
How can you prevent burnout?
The top priority to prevent burnout is: take care of yourself! A balanced diet, enough sleep and some exercise are a very good starting point to prevent burnout. But that's not all. You have to listen to yourself and know what you want and what really satisfies you.
Love your life in the here and now and don't see a fulfilled life as a future goal that you still have to achieve. Time management and work-life balance will help you, but they are not the only means of combating burnout.
What can you do if the pressure gets too big?
Even if the pressure comes entirely from outside, you can do something about it. In such situations, you should be able to say “no”. You yourself know best where your limits are, but you also have to stand by them. Above all, you cannot expect yourself to have to fulfill everything that is imposed on you. That is often even more accepted by others than by oneself. Not doing something is not a weakness in such a case, but on the contrary a strength. Because it takes courage and may first have to be learned.
Sometimes it simply helps to talk about the stress early on and find solutions together. Rewarding yourself can also increase and maintain the appreciation of your own work. You can also learn relaxation techniques and stress management strategies so that burnout doesn't stand a chance for you.
It is also advisable to know about the various symptoms and risks of burnout. If you consciously and honestly compare this with your own life, you can recognize the danger early enough and take appropriate action.
Can sport really help against burnout?
Scientists attest physical exercise and sport to have a positive effect in preventing and treating burnout.1 They have different theories about why exercise helps prevent or even alleviate burnout. Exercise could make it easier to get other thoughts and to let go of stress mentally.
Exercise could also help by increasing self-esteem. This may make you feel more competent and your tasks at work will be easier. Sports activities can also help your body cope with stress better. Exercise also affects your neurotransmitter balance. Mainly the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine give you feelings of happiness and more drive and motivation through exercise.2 Because dopamine and Increase serotonin levels, consequently your mood rises, which makes you feel more energetic. Of course you shouldn't overdo it with sport, because then it would degenerate into stress and be counterproductive with regard to burnout.
What effects can diet have?
To avoid burnout, certain foods can help you relax and cope with stress. This can make it easier for you to take care of your inner balance and to get a better grip on sleep problems.
Scientific studies, for example, attribute a stress-reducing effect to the Reishi mushroom from traditional Chinese medicine.3, 4 You can also get your serotonin balance going in a natural way and thus increase your well-being. According to researchers, this is with L-Tryptophan Possible from chocolate, seeds of the African black bean, green tea and turmeric5, 6, 7, 8.
Experts consider lemon balm, chamomile, passionflower and hops to be calming.9, 10, 11, 12 Accordingly, they should even be able to help you get a good night's sleep. After all, getting enough sleep is essential to recover and counteract stress.
How do you recognize burnout?
Signs of burnout are:
- chronic fatigue
- mental and physical exhaustion
- Lack of energy
- Loss of motivation
- Contempt for one's job
- the feeling of uselessness and failure
- social withdrawal
- general dissatisfaction
- chronic excessive demands
- increasing indifference to other people
- constantly being stressed
If you are constantly wondering why you are actually doing what you are doing and at the same time having thoughts like "I can no longer" or "I can no longer take it" as a constant companion, you could already find yourself in a burnout. If you also withdraw more and more socially, it would be advisable to act quickly.
How endangered are you?
Burnout can basically affect anyone who is permanently under stress and can no longer compensate and cope with it. Particularly at risk, however, are the people who repeatedly set themselves exceptionally high goals and cannot realistically assess the attainability of these goals. Emotional lability also favors the development of burnout.
People from professional groups who help other people are very often affected. This includes both medical and social professions. Those affected often have a helper syndrome and fall into the burnout trap because of their addiction to help. Other forms of emotional instability such as narcissism or perfectionism are also often related to burnout.
How does burnout work?
Burnout is not an acute condition, but a process that often develops over years. The burnout process usually begins with a very high level of commitment, which is followed by reduced physical and mental performance. As long as possible, those affected try to compensate for this with even more effort.
In addition, they increasingly neglect themselves. Sleep problems, unhealthy eating habits and withdrawal from social relationships are the result of this on the one hand, and on the other hand they increase the stress and the further decline in performance.
Excessive demands, indifference towards others and social withdrawal are increasing. At some point the person concerned finds himself in a downward spiral from which he can no longer get out himself. If only problems arise at the job at the beginning, private life also suffers steadily in the course of the burnout process. At the same time, the susceptibility to disease increases.
The problems are not recognized, but denied. It can lead to a personality change and self-alienation. Those affected just function and feel empty inside. Burnout can develop into complete apathy and depression. In the final stage, burnout is like an emergency, which must then be treated professionally at the latest.
What are the health consequences of burnout?
Burnout is not limited to the psyche. Physical weakness and organic illnesses can result from burnout or at least be closely related to burnout. An overview study included the following diseases and their health consequences:13
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Musculoskeletal pain
- Changes in how you feel pain
- Gastrointestinal complaints
- Respiratory problems
- severe injury
- increased mortality among under 45 year olds
According to scientists, some of these diseases can be traced back to a disturbed cortisol balance. The stress hormone Cortisol ensures that you get going in the morning and that you get enough drive for your daily tasks. However, if the cortisol level is permanently too high, such illnesses, sleep problems and general poor performance are the result.
Burnout patients differ significantly in their cortisol levels from healthy people. There are also signs that the cortisol level changes depending on the severity of the burnout. This can be too high at the beginning and lower than that of healthy people in the late phases of burnout, especially in the morning. The low cortisol level could therefore be partly responsible for the listlessness of burnout patients.14, 15, 16
Who helps with burnout?
If you feel burned out, you should seek help from an expert as soon as possible. Without psychotherapy or an equivalent Coaching it is almost impossible to escape from this downward spiral of burnout on your own. Simply taking it easy is hard to do with symptoms like this.
Therefore, you should try not to let burnout arise in the first place. Change your life in good time and as long as it is still in your own hands, if you consider yourself to be at risk of burnout in principle. There is nothing wrong with seeking professional help as early as possible. Psychotherapy is not a shame. The brain as the seat of the psyche is basically just an organ that can get sick like any other.
*Vitamin B6 contributes to the normal functioning of the nervous system and normal psychological function. Vitamin B12 contributes to normal psychological function and a normal energy metabolism.
*Melatonin helps alleviate the subjective feeling of jet lag. Melatonin helps reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. ²Magnesium contributes to normal energy-yielding metabolism and to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.