What is a burn-out and how do you recognize it?

It is a term that is mentioned more and more in the Netherlands: a burn-out. A statistic research in this country shows that one in ten working persons has dealt with burn-out symptoms in the last couple of years. So it has affected at least 700.000 working Dutch people, both men and women. What exactly does a burn-out mean, and how do you recognize it?

What is a burn-out?

A person suffering from a burn-out has an energy disorder because of excessive stress and a work overload. This leads to emotional exhaustion, which makes someone feel extremely tired. In fact, the inner 'battery' of a person can no longer be recharged without getting help from a coach or therapist. The main cause of a burn-out is an overload at work that takes too long. This disorder is therefore not the same as overstrain or a depression. Another myth about burn-out is that it is a modern phenomenon. If you watch the news every day, you will think that a burn-out is often the result of an increasing workload and a society that asks a lot from people. The truth is that people had to deal with burn-outs since the 1970s and probably even before that, yet there was probably less talk about it during that time.

How do you recognize a burn-out?

Extreme fatigue is one of the symptoms of a burn-out.  There are other signs as well, such as negativity, aloofness and cynicism. A person who shows signs of a burn-out is often very insecure about his or her performance at work and speaks in a negative way about himself. He or she also often has a distant and cold attitude towards other people, such as colleagues at work.

Work-related stress 

A burn-out is often work-related. Some people get it after a long and stressful period in which an important assignment has to be done.  Stress is a normal human reaction though. When there’s a stressful situation, the body's blood pressure and heart rate increases. The muscles also tighten and the body produces more cortisol. This is a hormone that ensures that someone can adapt to stress. If the cortisol level remains too high for a longer period of time, the stress control system in the brain becomes overloaded. At a certain point, the brain cannot handle stress anymore, which leads to a burn-out.

What are other reasons for a burn-out?

There can be several reasons for a burn-out. For example, some people experience a lot of stress because of an event at work. It can be a major emotional burden and this has a negative impact on a person's mental state. Some employees also find it difficult to find balance between their work and private life, which makes them exhausted. The following situations and feelings can also lead to a burn-out, if they go on for a long time:
  • A very high workload
  • A conflict at work.
  • Long working hours.
  • Uncertainty about the future, for example during a reorganisation.
  • More sickness due to a less effective immune system.
  • Less appetite
  • Feeling more anxious than ever
  • Depressive feelings
  • Angriness
  • More self-criticism and cynicism

Confusion: how can a person be exhausted at work, but not in private?

Sometimes there’s confusion about the meaning of a burn-out. It can be confusing that someone with a burn-out has the energy to do outside his or her work. This can easily be explained though, because a burn-out is work-related. So the energy to work is simply gone, but this doesn’t mean that a person cannot do any activities at home.

What is a burn-out and how do you recognize it?
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