From stress to burnout – work


(Work) Stress can lead to various stress related complaints. Someone suffering from these stress complaints is usually still able to do his or her work, but it can be difficult for them to perform at the same level. Short-term stress is not necessarily unhealthy; it is quite normal to be tired after a hard day’s work. After such a day, you can easily recover from the stress, but as soon as there are too many of those days, recovering starts to become more difficult. There is not enough time to recover and the stress can start to build up. It is therefore important that you rest sufficiently after busy days and that you do not take on too much for a long period of time.


What is chronic stress?

Chronic stress is the inability to relax after a period of work stress. Your body does not get enough rest and can no longer adapt. Complaints such as restlessness, headaches, difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, low mood and irritability may arise. Some people can no longer work because of these complaints. Chronic stress has a relatively short lead time, is temporary and has a favourable outlook. An average of 80% of overworked employees will be back at work within six to twelve weeks.


What is burnout?

Burnout is exhaustion of body and mind after years of high-pressure work or stressful working conditions, such as a requirement to continually work at a high standard, insufficient coordination between the person and the workplace, and on-going tension at work. People who are perfectionist or ambitious are at relatively higher risk than others. Similar complaints can also arise in other consistently stressful situations that have nothing to do with work, when you are experiencing long-term relationship or family problems, for example.


Biological process of burnout

Mental overload leading to exhaustion is not solely a psychological issue, it is also influenced by biological processes. When biological processes (that regulate alertness in our body) are constantly triggered, this has repercussions on the brain. The brain will adapt itself over the course of months and years. As a result, people are less able to deal with stress and feel increasingly more resistance to mental exertion. People experience this increasing resistance to mental exertion as fatigue.


How can chronic stress or burnout occur?

There are various factors that can influence the development of chronic stress:

  • Stressful work characteristics: time pressure, work that’s too hard, little autonomy, structural overtime, being stuck in traffic for a long time, being bullied, or receiving too little support from a manager or from colleagues.
  • Personal characteristics: perfectionism, great ambitions, fear of failure, great sense of responsibility, being too nice, or not being assertive enough.
  • External influences: relationship problems, financial problems, arguments, or major life events such as a death.

Which complaints are related to stress and chronic stress?

Stress can cause all kinds of different complaints:

  • Physical complaints: fatigue, insomnia, pain (muscle, head, back), heart palpitations, increased blood pressure, increased cholesterol.
  • Psychological complaints: mental exhaustion, insecurity, worrying, anxiety, stubbornness, difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, irritability, and low mood.
  • Behavioural complaints: underperforming, smoking more, eating or drinking more alcohol, avoiding social contact.


What can you do about it?

It is important to reduce your complaints to an acceptable level. There are specific skills you can learn to help you with this. For example, a good sleeping routine is important; various hormones (communication regulators) in our body influence our sleep. The production of these hormones is influenced by daylight and exercise. Therefore, ensure you spend a sufficient amount of time in daylight and exercise during the day to promote sleep. Your physical fitness also has an important influence on the stress system, so it is twice as important to maintain or improve your fitness. Tips on how to deal with work stress can be found on this page.


How can your coach support you?

Your coach can discuss and tackle certain things with you. Together, you can look for certain characteristics (such as perfectionism) and explore your ambitions and things that you think are important in life. In addition, you can learn how to effectively communicate your boundaries and limits, both in your private life and at work. You will learn this by performing a number of exercises, which will teach you to be more assertive. You can discuss specific events in which certain intentions were successful or when things didn’t go as well with your coach. By analysing and talking about the situation, you can determine what is already going well and what you might want to change.


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