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A burnout: often it does not show itself until during your long-awaited vacation, which you had so laboriously worked yourself toward. When you no longer need to strain yourself, you will notice that you cannot relax, cannot enjoy. It is gone.

Do you have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning? Do you have to force yourself to go to work each day? Are you living from weekend to weekend, from vacation to vacation? Are you often tired and emotionally less stable than you used to be? Are you constantly worrying? Do you find it difficult to relax? If you answered ‘yes’ to the questions above, it is best if you continue reading. Maybe you are moving toward a burnout, a type of psychological fatigue of which about 10% of all employees suffer nowadays.

Dangerous: the feeling that you lose control

Of course, everybody has a bad day sometimes. But people who struggle with a burnout constantly feel unhappy with their job. Sick of working too hard? Not exactly. Burnout has little to do with the amount of work, but rather with the way in which you work. Of course, the hours in which you perform, the pressure at work and the appreciation of your work do play a role. Especially the loss of a ‘feeling of control’ tends to be a decisive factor – the feeling of not longer being in charge. When does working become unhealthy?
Paul Koeck, stress manager and manager of the Center for Stress Counseling: “Positive stress is healthy. With negative stress you get the feeling that you lose control. And that is where it goes wrong. Instead of solutions, you see problems everywhere. Challenges become towering obstacles. You constantly feel like it will fail.” Burnout is caused by long-term negative stress and hopelessness. Just like many other disorders from the ‘stress-family’. Paul Koeck: “I do not like putting labels like ‘overworked’, ‘burnout’, or ‘depression’ on people, because these can worsen the feelings of stress. Often the person in question is relieved to know what is going on, of course. But such a label can also have a confirming effect. People can then ‘settle’ into the diagnosis: ‘see, there is nothing the way in which you look at things. This also has to do with the stress hormone adrenalin. Too much adrenaline in the blood stream triggers negative memories. With negative stress you then only recall negative things. thinking clearly becomes difficult to do, which means you do not find solutions for problems anymore. And you take bad decisions, only further increasing pressure. In the end, you end up in a vicious cycle, in which you sink deeper  and deeper.

If you disregard yourself, if you have to be too much for yourself

Burnout does not appear out of the blue. It slowly grows through a long-term negative work stress. Also, it affects some people more easily than others. Is there such a thing as a burnout personality? Paul Koeck: “People who disregard themselves, are not assertive and easily get feelings of guilt, are definitely more at risk. We often see it in idealists and perfectionists. They do their job from an inner conviction and they want to do their job well. This causes them to ask too much of themselves. Burnout is often also seen in nurses. They often pick their job through a social compassion: they want to help other people. But when a lot of administrative tasks are added to this, it can simply get too much…. Teachers, too, are very giving. But they are often bullied and tested, which increases pressure. The problems with drugs in school and a changed mentality in the youth adds to this…. Of course, neighborly love is a good thing, but a healthy dose of self-love is also necessary.”

We are constantly presented with new challenges

Stress disorders are becoming more and more common and anyone can suffer from them. It is a sign of our modern times. Our society is constantly moving. The new technology develops extremely quickly. For many people it simply goes too fast. Some companies need a company psychologist to guide or coach its employees. But that is not the case everywhere. Paul Koeck: “People look for stability much more often than for change. There are many examples. You pick a partner with whom you want to spend the rest of your life, you have a family together…. On the other hand, the professional reality and future have never been this unsure, because of the increased globalization, fusions, the pressure of competition…. We are constantly presented with new challenges and we need to learn how to deal with those. We simply cannot have everything fully unde control. The solution? Simply try to do as well as possible. To survive in this society, you need to be able to manage yourself. You need to take the initiative of your own life into your own hands. Trying to stay in control yourself. Those who succeed in doing this, have a much smaller chance of developing burnout.

Recognizing the signals, the faster the better!

Burnout is not an illness which develops out of nowhere. There are signals which show its development. Often these consist of many vague complaints such as fatigue, heart palpitations, apathy… If you recognize these alarm signals in an early phase, you can keep them from getting worse. Paul Koeck: “Even if you see everything negatively, you are moving in the wrong direction. If the smallest things make you burst into tears. Or if even small things get you agitated.” Postponing this can also be a sign. Or the other way around: working hard, because you think you will end up back on top. But often you can no longer distinguish between important and less important things, meaning everything seems equally important. Just letting everything be is impossible. First, finish this last hing really quickly…. Paul Koeck: “The ache gets bigger. You want to get out of it and take larger and larger steps. Even though you should be learning how to replace these large steps with small steps instead.”

Sometimes it solves itself, sometimes it does not…

Often problems solve themselves, through an accidental good talk with a friend, for example. Or you can experience something which gives you a new perspective on things. You could even just relate to a book. But if the problems keep adding up – and when you feel like you have ended up in a vicious cycle – it is better to look for professional help. Paul Koeck: “People often find it hard to admit that they can not longer deal with things. ‘I mean, I am not crazy’, is something they then say. Of course not. It often is enough to just find the ‘switch’ which helps you to see yourself in a better light. We want to teach people how to find their own solutions to their problems. In eighty percent of the cases we manage to do so in five or six conversations. We ask questions such as: ‘What was it again which made you feel better last week? A weekend in nature? A talk with a good friend?’ If something helps, do it more often. Hold on to that. Try to find these things. This way you can break out of this vicious cycle.”

You could try looking at it from a positive perspective

Important in the healing process therefore is to think differently: seeing the problems from a new angle, from a new perspective. Paul Koeck: “People always have two stories. Often, the first story is one of hopelessness: it does no longer work, I cannot do it anymore. The problematic story. Because that is how it goes in a burnout: it feels like it is constantly bothering you. But some things do bring you happiness. Except you have a tendency of generalizing a burnout experience. You thus need to find the other side of the story, too. Often this is a question of interpretation. If something does not immediately work, you can see yourself as a failure, but also as a go-getter.

And if you do make a bad choice?

Paul Koeck: “Sometimes a different job really is the only solution. But do not make that decision too quickly. Do not take leave without thinking it through, instead, carefully look for a new job. And what is more, try to decide for yourself what it is you really want, first. Make up a plan for your own life. Where do I stand? What do I want to accomplish? What do I find to be important? How do I want to combine work and family? And go over these questions again every year. By thinking about it in time, you can make adjustments in time.”

How can you prevent or treat burnout?

We developed an online self-help program which gives you the opportunity to work on yourself for fifteen minutes per day, to learn to get in control of stress, anxiety, burnout or depression.

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If you want to know what type of stress you have, then do our free online self-test now!

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