Burnout syndrome: «Suddenly it was all too much»

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The Swiss are stressed – at least, if the Job Stress Index is to be believed. This index shows that the number of Swiss citizens who no longer have the resources to cope with life’s pressures is rising. In the same way, the number of burnout illnesses is also rising. What exactly is burnout and how can you protect yourself?

What is burnout?

Burnout is an emotional, mental and physical state of exhaustion. The WHO describes the syndrome as «workplace stress that has not been successfully managed». Sufferers no longer have the resources to cope with the excessive demands they face at work and experience permanent exhaustion.

But it's not just stress at the workplace: for many sufferers, it also includes their private life. This shows once again that burnout is not a clear diagnosis but a complex phenomenon that manifests itself differently in each individual.

Burnout symptoms

Burnout syndrome does not appear overnight but develops in several phases and over a longer time period..

WHO definition: 3 main symptoms

  • feeling of exhaustion
  • increased mental distance from one's job or feelings of negativity about one's job
  • reduced professional efficacy

Other possible symptoms

Physical symptoms:

  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • sleep disorders
  • tension
  • gastro-intestinal disorders
  • heart palpitations

Psychological symptoms

  • sinking levels of self-esteem
  • inner emptiness
  • greater vulnerability towards disappointments and losses
  • decreasing job satisfaction
  • heightened susceptibility to stress
  • depression (low mood, joylessness, disinterest, etc.)

In the initial phase, many sufferers are still highly dedicated to their work. In the next phase they become increasingly exhausted, irritable and uneasy. Chronic fatigue can also set in. In the final phase, they become increasingly resigned, find it difficult to concentrate and feel listless. Many sufferers are then also very downcast.

What can lead to burnout?

Because each person’s needs, goals and environment are different, the causes are correspondingly diverse. One thing is sure: burnout syndrome results from chronic stress. There are internal and external risk factors associated with the syndrome:

Internal risk factors:

  • extreme dedication
  • high self-imposed standards
  • high levels of idealism
  • perfectionism
  • excessive expectations
  • doubts as to the sense of one’s own actions
  • difficulty in saying no

External risk factors:

  • work overload
  • lack of appreciation
  • bullying
  • injustice
  • little control over one’s own work tasks

Preventing burnout

Everyone can help protect themselves from burnout. The main aim is to reduce stress, but which approach is the best varies from person to person.

Possible preventive actions:

  • awareness of own needs
  • recognition of basic needs
  • relaxation and mindfulness
  • stress management
  • self-care and attention
  • raised self-acceptance
  • healthy lifestyle
  • seeking and accepting professional help
  • flexibility and autonomy at work
  • support from the team
  • time management
  • setting boundaries and saying no
  • work-life balance
  • lowering unrealistic expectations

Burnout treatment

Burnout treatment involves different components and is adapted to the individual. The earlier the intervention takes place, the better the outcome of the treatment. Important milestones to ensure effective results are: recognising the symptoms, accepting the symptoms and seeking help – or even accepting help in the first place.

Further measures are:

  • time off from work with subsequent reintegration
  • change of mindset coupled with relaxation methods
  • behavioural therapy, body therapy, group therapy, depth psychology-related procedures etc.  

If the symptoms of burnout syndrome are particularly severe, it may be advisable to have inpatient psychotherapeutic treatment at a clinic. In cases of severe burnout syndrome, short-term treatment with medication may also be a worthwhile option.

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