What is a burnout?
A burnout is the exhaustion of 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, when there are long-term relationship or family problems, for example.
How does someone with work stress or burnout feel?
People with a burnout can either feel overtired and hyperactive or just (over)tired. The stress system becomes hypersensitive to stress and, therefore, tries to suppress it more actively. The stress system is thus overactive in being stressed but also in trying to suppress it. As a result, the person feels less alert, is not able to cope as well with stress as before and is more tired. A common symptom of burnout is having no energy to be active or to exert yourself. In addition, you may find it difficult to motivate yourself to do something about your situation and you can start to experience a low mood because of this. For that reason, a burnout can also lead to depression. If you are experiencing a burnout, it can be very difficult to recover from that on your own.
What is it like being around someone going through a burnout?
It is not only the person going through a burnout who suffers from his or her psychological complaints. It can also affect those in their nearby social circle, such as a family member or partner. Life becomes more focused on the person with the psychological complaints than on the other(s) in the family. This can cause tension and cost those others energy. Because a burnout has many consequences for the immediate social circle, it is important that the people in that circle are also involved in the treatment. You can read more about how you, as a loved one, can be involved in the recovery process of your partner or family member here.
What can you do as a friend or family member?
- Try to listen and be understanding when someone close to you expresses their burnout complaints. Someone with a burnout has often had to deal with years of investment in work or other matters. Someone with burnout symptoms can experience strong emotions, such as anger, injustice and despair.
- Avoid trying to justify their complaints. It can mean a lot to someone just being there to listen to them.
- Show that you have faith in them.
- Be aware of the small steps in their recovery. Recovering from burnout takes time and energy. A common phenomenon is that a lot of focus is placed on the end goal, while the steps in between are just as important.
- Whenever it costs you too much energy to offer support to someone experiencing a burnout, it is time to call in (professional) help for yourself.
- Do fun things with them and stimulate their senses; go gardening, hiking, cooking and/or painting.
- Get outside: fresh air and exercise stimulate the production of mood-boosting neurotransmitters in the brain. It will do both you and your loved one good.
What should you avoid doing?
- Criticising or giving advice. This can make someone feel insecure.
- Pressuring them while they’re not ready yet.
- Explaining to the other person what is wrong with him/her or what he/she is doing wrong.
- Self-involvement: Don’t involve yourself in their behaviour or take his or her behaviour personally.
- Being judgemental: Telling your partner that they are taking too much on their plate can make the partner feel like he or she has failed.
Keijsers, G. P. J., Van Minnen, A., Verbraak, M., Hoogduin, C. A. L. & Emmelkamp, P., (2017). Protocollaire behandelingen voor volwassenen met psychische klachten.