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Burnout - Prevention, Symptoms, and Treatment

Burned out, exhausted, overwhelmed? Here you can find out how a burnout develops, how you recognize the burnout syndrome and what warning signs to look out for. We'll show you how you can prevent burnout and counteract it in good time.

Burnout (also known as burn-out syndrome) has become more and more common in the last few decades. Excessive pressure in the job leads to anxiety, sleep disorders, exhaustion and finally to complete "burn out". But there can also be causes in the private sector. The result: the battery is empty, the reserves are exhausted. In the worst case, burnout can lead to severe depression or suicidal thoughts.

But that need not be. Anyone who correctly interprets the first signs of burnout can do something about it in good time. That is why it is important to take care of yourself. Do you get tired faster? Do you have concentration problems, make more mistakes or do you find your work increasingly pointless? Here you can find out what these warning signs tell you and what other symptoms burnout has.

When do we talk about burnout?

The topic of burnout is of the greatest relevance today. Experts estimate: Around every third person has a phase in life in which there is burnout or at least a preliminary stage of it. From 2004 to 2012, sick leave due to burnout increased by a full 700 percent (1). However, like depression, burnout is not a fixed clinical diagnosis.

Definition of burnout

The English "to burn out" means "to burn out". The term burnout was coined by the American psychotherapist Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s. He felt burned out himself after working beyond his strength for a long time.

However, burnout is not a medical diagnosis. One usually speaks of burnout when people find themselves in a personal crisis that is characterized by exhaustion and overwork. Burnout often occurs in addition to other psychological problems or leads to depression (1).

Difference Between Burnout and Depression

Sometimes burnout is equated with depression. But that's not entirely true, because there are differences. Burnout is in many cases related to work, while depression usually affects all areas of life. Burnout can be a precursor to depression. Therefore, it is important not to ignore the feeling of being burned out and overwhelmed in order to prevent depression from developing.

The symptoms of burnout and depression, however, overlap. A feeling of emptiness or senselessness, listlessness and exhaustion can indicate both burnout and depression. Ultimately, perspective also plays a role in the distinction. If you feel burned out from the job or from being overburdened in general, one speaks more of burnout. Many experts assume that the lines between burnout and depression are fluid.

What are the causes of burnout?

Often there is something before the burnout that you are passionate about. It can be a very exhausting job or a profession in which you are extremely committed, also emotionally. A typical example are people in social professions. But private things can also lead to burnout, for example great commitment in voluntary work, caring for relatives or a seriously ill child. In addition, it can contribute to the development of burnout that you generally burden yourself with too many tasks.

If you are planning to build a house, work full-time on the side and raise children, you may also be burned out at some point due to the multiple workload. Not to be neglected in this context are empty micronutrient stores that contribute to burnout at the cellular level (see below).

In general, one can differentiate between external and internal as well as physical causes in the development of burnout, which often occur together.

Internal (personal) causes of burnout

Various personality patterns and internal risk factors can contribute to burnout. These include:

  • Low resilience / resilience: Some people have great resilience, that is, a strong psychological resilience that helps with crisis management. Others are less resilient. However, there are situations that hardly a person can survive without burning out.
  • Low self-esteem: Those who have low self-esteem and low self-esteem often have a strong desire to be recognized by other people. This can lead to great internal pressure.
  • Stronger Ambition or idealism: Anyone who approaches a job, a hobby or social commitment from the bottom of their hearts or with great ambition sometimes goes beyond their limits. This can lead to burnout in the long term.
  • Wrong goals: Sometimes we work against goals that actually do not suit us at all and that meet the expectations of others rather than our own. Or the goals are set too high and unattainable. This leads to frustration, a feeling of senselessness and, ultimately, sometimes to burnout.
  • False pride: Those who cannot admit weakness and exhaustion in front of others (or even themselves) are depriving themselves of the opportunity to counteract an incipient burnout.

It becomes particularly dangerous when several of the internal and external causes come together (2).

External causes of burnout

In addition to the personal causes of burnout, there are also numerous life situations and external influences that can increase the risk of burnout (3).

  • Overwork at work: It doesn't always have to be the classic workaholic - overload also occurs in other ways. An unfair supervisor, too much overtime, constant availability even in your free time and much more contribute to this.
  • Conflicts at work: Bullying or an unresolved conflict with superiors or colleagues increases the risk of burnout.
  • Bad or lack of leadership: Ideally, superiors guide their employees constructively and motivate them. However, if goals are unclearly defined or if a destructive management style is used, the risk of burnout increases among employees.
  • Lack of recognition: Each of us wants recognition and praise. That is why we are frustrated with a lot of work without any recognition. This favors the burnout.
  • Conflicts between values, beliefs and requirements: Those who work against their inner values ​​and beliefs create a very stressful discrepancy between professional requirements and their own wishes or ethical ideas.
  • Bureaucratic obstacles: If work activities are constantly blocked by applications, permits or unnecessarily extensive bureaucratic obstacles, this can wear down in the long run.
  • Uncertain future: It is also stressful when you shimmy from one fixed-term job to the next, are affected by a possible dismissal or have no future prospects or development opportunities in your company.
  • Unsatisfactory activities: Those who are constantly under-challenged, who are not employed in accordance with their training or who only have to carry out unpopular activities, burn out faster.
  • Disappointments or false expectations: a new job, a new boss, the start of work or a move can become a major burden if expectations are not met and the change becomes disappointing.
  • Burdens in private life: Stress at work becomes a higher risk factor if there is also stress in private life or if there is no social support.

Physical cause of burnout: Empty micronutrient stores

Depleted body cells and empty vital substance stores are an important aspect in the development of burnout. The energy we need for all our bodily functions is continuously produced in our 70 trillion body cells. If the cells lack micronutrients for this energy production, we initially suffer from lack of energy and tiredness. If left untreated, such a nutritional deficiency can contribute to burnout.

At the first symptoms you should therefore have a micronutrient status done and if deficiencies are detected here, fill them up with suitable preparations. To do this, it is important to consult a specialist, e.g. an orthomolecular medicine specialist, who will accompany you through such therapy.

In this context, the following bestseller also provides interesting information:

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How do I recognize burnout? Self test

How do you recognize burnout? Above all, you should pay attention to early signs so that you can react in good time. Burnout often takes place in very typical phases. These do not have to be the same or in this order as stated here. Burnout doesn't have to lead to depression either. However, these typical phases and reactions can give you a good impression of what a possible course of burnout can look like if you do not take countermeasures:

Phase 1: The initial phase

In the initial phase, those affected often put a lot of energy into their tasks, for example out of ambition, out of idealism or out of necessity (too few employees). Sometimes there are also multiple burdens in your job and private life.

Typical reactions: You have the feeling that you never have time or that you are indispensable. You want to prove something to yourself and to others. Maybe you sleep worse. Sometimes you hardly have the time or desire for activities with friends. You neglect your own needs. However, you may also get sick more often and feel tired at times.

Phase 2: frustration and reluctance

As burnout progresses, your psyche pulls the emergency brake. The great commitment often turns into the opposite.

Typical reactions: You feel disappointed when your work is not appreciated. You often react irritably or cynically. Perhaps you develop a downright reluctance to work, get a stomach ache or a headache. You only do what is absolutely necessary. In your private life, too, you often lack patience.

Phase 3: Emotional Responses

If your great commitment gives way more and more to frustration, strong emotional reactions often occur.

Typical reactions, depending on your individual personality: You blame yourself or others. You get depressed or dejected. You feel listless and empty inside or a failure. Or you react aggressively, moodily, and impatiently. You may also develop fears.

Phase 4: dismantling and less output

At some point, the workload can no longer be managed due to the burnout and performance decreases.

Typical reactions: You make mistakes or forget things more and more often. You have fewer creative ideas and you find it difficult to make decisions. You no longer have the strength to implement changes with motivation. You often feel tired, exhausted, and feel like you need more breaks. After the breaks, however, you are usually not more relaxed than before.

Phase 5: Social withdrawal and disinterest

Not only at work, but also in private life, there is a withdrawal and lack of drive. This is where the transition to depression often begins.

Typical reactions: You give up hobbies. You do less or no more sport. You limit contact with friends or family more and more. You feel listless and don't feel like socializing. You no longer care what you used to enjoy. At work, many activities seem pointless and frustrating to you.

Phase 6: Physical symptoms

From phase 1 onwards, physical complaints related to burnout can occur.

Typical reactions: sleep disorders, indigestion (vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence), stomach pain, headache, muscle tension or back pain. You may get tired of sex, get sick frequently, or change your weight (decrease or gain). Your blood pressure may rise, you may have palpitations, or you may not feel able to breathe properly. Or you consume more nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, possibly also drugs.

Stage 7: Total despair

Ultimately, without countermeasures, burnout can turn into severe depression. This is not infrequently associated with thoughts of suicide. It is therefore important to pull the emergency brake in good time.

How can I prevent burnout?

Main Stressor Job: Most Commonly Responsible for Burnout Symptoms

In the Ärzteblatt you can read that practically every second German feels threatened by burnout. The trade journal refers to a survey by Pronova BKK from 2016. The key message of the study is as follows:

The demands on the job are getting higher and higher. A good 90% of all employees suffer from it. In particular, deadline pressure, a bad working atmosphere and emotional stress are responsible for this. Half of all respondents surveyed stated that they were permanently exposed to high to extreme stress levels. The consequence of this is that employees neglect their own health. Lunch breaks are skipped, overtime and on-call work exacerbate the problem. On a physical level, this is expressed in more than two thirds in the form of tension in the neck. After all, half suffer from it

  • Back pain
  • a headache
  • Shoulder pain
  • Arm pain
  • Hand pain

Neck tension and craniomandibular dysfunction are the most common consequences of increased stress levels.

The study comes to the conclusion that health promotion in companies must be improved. In November 2017, the Federation of German Employers' Associations (BDA) published guidelines that focus on workplace health promotion. This is interesting for you insofar as you can use the results for orientation for your own burnout measures. Back programs are at the top of the list of preventive measures. These recommendations also follow:

  • Health day and health workshops
  • Health check-up and health screenings
  • Personal advisory services (medical and social)

In principle, that reads well, and you can do everything yourself if your employer is not one of the people who are interested in workplace health promotion. You can put the recommendations of the experts into practice yourself by placing yourself in professional hands and organizing your personal body retreat. As part of your own health care, you can work with experienced doctors and therapists to create a tailor-made therapy plan that exactly suits your needs.

Last updated on May 17, 2021 / Affiliate Links / Advertisement / Images from the Amazon Product Advertising API / Note on the prices displayed see footer (*).

What options are there to prevent burnout?

Active exercise therapy

A central component of targeted burnout prevention is individually appropriate therapeutic gymnastics. You can, for example, attend a soothing back school or make targeted use of therapeutic climbing. Pelvic floor exercises, aqua fitness with a water jet massage, reflex zone massage or yoga can also be part of your personal body retreat.

For many people, regular exercise in nature such as a walk in the forest is a good way to get rid of tension and to regenerate.

Balanced nutrition

So that our body does not come under stress from a one-sided and unhealthy diet, it is important to supply it with all essential nutrients. Ideally, this happens through a wholesome, plant-based diet. A recommended diet (also from a scientific point of view) is the Mediterranean diet, about which we have summarized everything worth knowing here. As already mentioned, it can also make sense to have your vitamin and mineral status checked from time to time.

Mindful in everyday life: Live in the moment

In general, you should keep in mind that the threat of burnout or the feeling of being overwhelmed by stress is a mass phenomenon. The best tips we can give you are therefore:

  • Talk to others and don't struggle with problems alone.
  • Take some time for yourself and think about your situation.

An effective prevention against burnout is the careful handling of yourself. You can also call it special attention to yourself. When you practice mindfulness, it means that you listen to your inner voice, become aware of yourself, and make sure that you are okay. Small mindfulness exercises that you can easily incorporate into your everyday life are, for example, an attentive walk through the neighborhood or the nearest park.Look at the world. Notice how the flowers smell, how the birds chirp, how the rain falls, the leaves rustle and the water ripples.

Communication: Talk to friends or your partner

It's easy to speak to other people about your problems. But this tip is one of the most important we can give you in terms of prevention. It is best if you talk to a trustworthy friend, take your partner into your confidence, or talk to your sister or brother. Choose who to talk to wisely.

Because your goal is to take someone into your trust who will back you up and take away the stress. If you unfortunately had to neglect your social contacts, perhaps because the stress at work became too great, now is not the best time to revive these contacts. Then the affected people usually just feel exploited and talking to them brings you more problems than it solves problems.

Only when you feel better and you are able to be an equal conversation partner can you rebuild your neglected contacts in order to maintain them in the long term.

If you don't have anyone to talk to right now, find a coach / therapist. You can have confidential conversations with him / her on a regular basis and you determine the content yourself. You can talk to him / her about loneliness and recognition that you lack in your job, privately or among friends, or you can cite a crisis of meaning that throws you off balance. Take some time for yourself and think about what is on your mind.

Tip: If you like to write, you should make a list of your greatest stressors and always carry the note and pen with you. Then you can add to the list individually.

Last updated on May 17, 2021 / Affiliate Links / Advertisement / Images from the Amazon Product Advertising API / Note on the prices displayed see footer (*).

Measures against stress

  • Interrupt and pause work.
  • Deliberately call it a day.
  • Switch off the mobile phone / not always be available.
  • Creating rituals, for example cooking regularly with your partner, drinking a cup of cappuccino in the café on the way home.
  • Create mental islands of happiness: dream yourself into paradise and treat yourself to a detour to the island of happiness in times of stress.
  • Learn to let go.
  • Learn to listen to your own gut instinct.
  • Changing your own living conditions: Here we have written an article that contains the best rules of life for being happy.
  • yoga
  • Sports
  • Stay in nature and in the garden
  • Regular foot baths, alkaline baths, massages and other physical wellness measures have a positive effect on the mind.

When should you go to the doctor?

If there are any signs of burnout, even in the earliest stages, it makes sense to see a doctor. The trusted family doctor is often a good contact here. A visit to a doctor or an appointment with a psychotherapist is urgently recommended in any case if there are already more severe symptoms such as exhaustion, sleep disorders and listlessness. This is how you can prevent depression from developing.

Book tips on the topic of burnout

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  1. Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists: BPtK Study on Inability to Work - Mental Illnesses and Burnout. 2012.
  2. Rothe I, et al. Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health: Mental health in the world of work - Scientific assessment. 2017.
  3. Maslach C, et al. Job burnout. Annu Rev Psychol. 2001; 52: 397-422.
  4. Lacy BE, Chan JL. Physician Burnout: The Hidden Health Care Crisis. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018 Mar; 16 (3): 311-317.
  5. Schonfeld IS et al. What is the difference between depression and burnout? An ongoing debate. Riv Psichiatr. 2018 Jul-Aug; 53 (4): 218-219.
  6. Ochentel O. et al. Efficacy of Exercise Therapy in Persons with Burnout. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Sports Sci Med. 2018 Aug 14; 17 (3): 475-484.
  7. TK stress study:

Image sources

  • Depression, tiredness and exhaustion: fizkes |
  • Burnout prevention and methods: PopTika |

More about Dr. Silvia Nold

Dr. Silvia Nold holds a doctorate in biology and has completed training as a pharmaceutical-technical assistant with a focus on nutrition. She worked in medical diagnostics for several years. Dr. Nold writes for Lanaprinzip Publishing e.U. on topics of biology, medicine and nutrition.