A burnout is the exhaustion of your body and mind due to a long period (years) of high work pressure or stressful (work) conditions. An example of this could be high demands at work, insufficient coordination between person and work or persistent tension in the workplace. Perfectionist or ambitious people are especially at risk of becoming burned out. Similar complaints can also arise in other stressful situations that have nothing to do with work, for example when dealing with long-term relationship or family problems.
Chronic mental stress leads to exhaustion. Biological processes play a major role in this progression. When a particular biological process is repeatedly activated, such as the production of stress hormones, it has consequences on our brain, which adapts to the new environment over time. As a result, your ability to deal with stress decreases over time and you feel an increased resistance to mental effort. You experience this increased resistance to mental effort as fatigue.
How do you feel when you are burned out?
When you are burned out, you feel exhausted or overtired. You can barely work anymore. Nonetheless, people suffering from burnout often continue to work until they are no longer able to. Afterwards, you will probably come to the realization that you’ve been struggling with work for some time. Your overactive stress system makes you feel less alert, you can’t handle as much stress as before, your concentration and your memory deteriorate. You may also suffer from headaches, sleeping problems and hypersensitivity to stimuli, crowds and noise. Often, you won’t have the energy to do activities and you struggle to make an effort. You may struggle to motivate yourself and can experience low moods. It can be very difficult to recover from this on your own. Would you like to read more about the diagnostic criteria and the symptoms associated with a burnout? You can find more information in this article.
What are the risk factors for developing a burnout?
A burnout is caused by an interaction between (working) circumstances and personal characteristics. At work, you may have to deal with high work pressure, conflicts in the workplace, (too) little control or uncertainty over what is expected of you. In terms of personal characteristics, being over-involved in your work and having difficulty saying ‘no’ can significantly contribute to feeling burned out. You may be a perfectionist and a hard worker. As a result, you are often occupied with work outside of working hours, you struggle to take criticism and become irritated when something does not go according to plan.
Treating a burnout
During the treatment of a burnout, you and your therapist will look at tension and relaxation, lifestyle, thoughts and situations that contribute to your complaints and your work environment. You will learn to know your limits and boundaries and how you can set them. You can read more about what the treatment will look like in this article.
Keijsers, G. P. J., Van Minnen, A., Verbraak, M., Hoogduin, C. A. L. & Emmelkamp, P., (2017). Protocollaire behandelingen voor volwassenen met psychische klachten.