How can I recover emotionally

No more strength? What you can do now

Burn-out - a question of personality?

Burn-out is often portrayed as a phenomenon of those who are professionally successful. A chronic exhaustion of people who demand nothing more and nothing less from themselves than to become world champions in their discipline. So is burn-out syndrome just a buzzword with which I stand out from the average and into the league of career types and with the help of which I can get a socially acceptable break if necessary? The reality is much more complex. Because a burn-out syndrome does not always have to have something to do with the job - private and family life can also lead to this complete exhaustion. And it has its cause not necessarily and exclusively in unreasonable external conditions, but presumably also in ourselves and our unrealistic expectations.


Also read:
Burn-out: symptoms, causes, therapies
Mindfulness in everyday life: exercises against stress
Work-life balance: how do you get it done?


Burned out? No more strength?

Those who feel burned out are empty: no more feelings, no more energy. Every phone ring is an attack - help, someone wants something from me. The days are full and the nights are no rest. Morning should be evening, Monday should be Friday. Friends? No power. Sports? How is that? Family? I have no idea what moves them. Body and mind are tired, infinitely tired. Matthias Burisch, professor of psychology at the University of Hamburg and one of the leading European experts on burnout syndrome, has found 130 unspecific symptoms that those affected can suffer from: They range from nightmares and aggression to loneliness and muscle tension to hopelessness and despair.

There is no general definition of burnout syndrome

The scientist also describes four core symptoms: First of all, there is the feeling "I can no longer". An emotional exhaustion that only improves for a short time, even on weekends and on vacation. In addition, there is dissatisfaction with one's own performance. You have to expend more and more energy to get a result. Everything is infinitely difficult.
Life feels like riding a bike with the frame dragging against the tire. In addition, there is what is known as dehumanization: people develop distance or even aversions towards those with whom they work. Doctors with their patients, for example, and teachers with their students. Likewise, those affected develop massive resistance to the situation that so exhausts them. They often go to the office with a headache or stomach ache.

To date, there is no clear and generally accepted definition of the burn-out syndrome. Burisch describes it as the result of a "defective feeling muscle": It is too constant for us to be able to regulate our feelings with the help of thoughts. That we, for example, overcome ourselves with filing our tax return, even though we lose our desire just to think about it. That we promise ourselves a reward before we start an unpleasant task - or divide it into tolerable portions. If this regulation of emotions does not work, tiny things can spoil whole days. Then we can no longer find our way out of our anger, anger or fear.

Burnout in numbers

  • Every third employed person works to the point of absolute resilience and the feeling of being burned out.
  • Every third person affected by burnout suffers from insomnia, among other things.
  • According to estimates by health experts and health insurance companies, burnout affects up to 13 million workers.
  • It takes an average of 18 months until a person is unable to act due to burnout
  • Experts estimate the production downtime costs and lost gross value added in Germany at 71 billion euros.

A common cause of burnout is change

Burn-out syndrome can affect anyone. It doesn't happen overnight, but develops slowly, sometimes over years. Probably all of us have already experienced at least the initial phases. If we ignore the warning signs, it can ultimately lead to existential despair. In this last phase the symptoms of burnout can no longer be distinguished from those of depression. The transitions between the two ailments are fluid. "There is no such thing as a diagnosis of burnout per se," says Dr. Andreas Kordon, senior physician in psychiatry at the Schleswig-Holstein University Medical Center in Lübeck. Because officially the syndrome is not a disease. More like a "crisis-ridden process", as the psychologist Burisch puts it. "Very often," says Kordon, "there is depression behind it." This is often difficult for those affected to accept at first. Because "burn-out" comes more easily from the lips for most people. A word that does not say: "I am sick of my soul", but rather expresses: "Hey, I have achieved something." Andreas Hillert, specialist in psychiatry and psychotherapy, and Michael Marwitz, psychological psychotherapist, go even further in their book "Die Burnout-Epidemie": Through burnout, the person concerned receives "something like a sick person, connected with legitimation, less to Not having to do anything at all without being considered (mentally) ill ".

Internal and external influencing factors

Whether someone is completely exhausted or not at some point can be due to internal or external factors - or a combination of both. External risk factors include bullying, role conflicts, unclear hierarchies and goals, constant time pressure, as well as a lack of autonomy and a bad working atmosphere. Caesuras in life can also be a trigger. It doesn't have to be a breakup, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job. Joyful events can also cause burnout syndrome: the birth of a child, the first job after graduation, the promotion that turns the engineer into a project manager. Because whenever something changes, we associate it with expectations that can be disappointed. We rush into the great new project until we may find that it places high demands on us, but does not receive the promised support. Or that promotion is holding us back on tasks that are not convenient for us and taking us away from what we love. At some point we feel trapped. We can't quit the job because we have to support a family. Or we realize that we have chosen the wrong profession and do not know how to change that.

Decisive: the personal disposition

Whether or not a certain situation leads to burnout syndrome also depends on the stress resistance and vulnerability of the individual. Burisch differentiates between two types of those affected: First of all, there is the "self-immolation" who sets no limits for himself or his ambitions, and who expects himself to do everything. But because the bar is too high, he ultimately overwhelmed himself. The second type is the less assertive, rather passive "worn-out" person who doesn't dare to say no and lets himself be overwhelmed by the circumstances. It is not uncommon for the self-immolator to become a worn-out one.

Risk factor need for harmony

In his counseling practice, Burisch observed that burnout primarily affects men and women who expect something special from their life and who fail in projects that are supposed to prove to the world: "I am more than just mediocre." These people often have at least one of the following five "inner drivers" in them: Be perfect! Give your best! Hurry up! Be strong! Do the others right! - quiet, persistent voices that remind us of what parents and other caregivers have given us on our journey through life so that we can "become something". If we allow these drivers to control us, this can lead to us losing all joy of life. It has not been researched whether the syndrome is more likely to affect women or men. However, the mostly female need for harmony is another risk factor.

Affected occupational groups

In addition to personal disposition, certain occupational groups repeatedly come to the fore in connection with burnout: managers and top athletes, for example because of the high pressure to perform that they are under. Creatives are also considered to be particularly at risk, as are teachers, nurses and geriatric nurses, doctors and social workers. The American psychoanalyst Herbert J. Freudenberger described in 1974 how volunteer drug counselors lost their glowing enthusiasm and became exhausted cynics within a few months. He called their condition "burn-out" and thus coined the term. Burisch and other scientists point out, however, that so far there are no reliable data on the fact that burnout actually occurs more frequently in these occupational groups than in others. Studies have shown that pharmacists are just as affected as undertakers, librarians and lawyers, students and university teachers.

Be flexible and mobile: The pressure on the individual is increasing

After Freudenberger had found this term, science, media and society welcomed it gratefully: a feeling suddenly had a name. At the same time, Goethe fled to Italy burnt out. Burisch also sees the literary figure of Senator Thomas Buddenbrook as an early victim - who wanted nothing more urgently than to become mayor. In 1901, the author Thomas Mann described him as "unspeakably tired and disgruntled": Burn-out symptoms - even if nobody called it that at the time. Burisch believes that the condition has actually always existed, "but it has increased in the past few decades". Because in our modern life, the job is not only a means of making money, but also of self-realization. At the same time, the pressure on the individual is increasing: globalization, unemployment or the fear of it. There is little that can be relied on. You have to be flexible, fast, mobile and happy when you are allowed to work under poor conditions at an outsourced subsidiary. And in the private sphere, too, only change is reliable: Is today's man also tomorrow's man? Who knows. To be interchangeable in all areas of life is a tremendous effort.

The first step back in life: clarity through distance

There is no magic formula for regaining the joy of life. First of all, you should get out of the acute situation. Vacation or sick leave allow you to distance yourself from the trouble spot. In general, Matthias Burisch recommends: "Think and don't stay alone." Because regardless of whether you get professional help or talk to your girlfriend or partner: First of all, it is a matter of working out the actual, individual problems from the "Something is completely wrong here". One can definitely come to the conclusion: "I have to get out of there." - "There is almost always a way out," says Burisch. "But you often have to awaken your creativity first to see it."
The seven phases of burn-out

Phase 1: Enthusiasm and idealism

We rush into the new task euphorically, putting enormous effort into successfully mastering it. The decisive factor is not how much energy we use, but how comfortable we feel with it. If we achieve our goals and earn recognition, we can live with high energy consumption for years. But if we fail to meet our requirements, if performance is not valued and if we find the work more monotonous than expected, we can develop strong reluctance to do so.

Phase 2: The internal resignation

Our commitment is decreasing. We are less involved and withdraw from our colleagues. We only do the bare minimum, count the weeks until vacation, and only live up after work.

Phase 3: Finding the culprit

The idea of ​​a fulfilling professional life is not so easy to give up. The job doesn't keep what we promised it would? We can find answers that make us more depressed - because we look for the fault in ourselves. Or we blame others - for example, the boss who does not recognize our abilities or the colleague who plays herself in the foreground. That makes you more aggressive.

Phase 4: The descent begins

Motivation sinks, mistakes creep in. We work according to regulations, avoid experiments, prefer to stay on the beaten track.

Stage 5: The soul flattens

At work and in our private life, we are less and less able to afford emotional swings up or down: The emotional life flattens out. We hear what children, husbands or friends say, but it no longer affects us. Friends withdraw, the family asks us to be more present again. This increases the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Phase 6: The body also suffers

At least now the body reacts to the mental imbalance. Stomach ulcers, heart disease, abuse of nicotine or alcohol are typical symptoms in this phase.

Phase 7: hopelessness

In the end there is only despair. We no longer know how to proceed. It is not uncommon for thoughts of suicide to arise. In this phase, the symptoms can hardly be distinguished from those of depression.