How do I recognize the development of burnout and which symptoms are typical?

The development of burn-out

Usually the development can be observed in four phases:

1. Phase: overactivity

First of all, those affected by burnout try to counteract the feeling of not being able to perform adequately through even greater commitment and hyperactivity. The feeling of indispensability in the workplace then often leads to the denial of personal needs and ‘healthy demarcation’ from demands in the workplace. But ultimately, the increased commitment is increasingly accompanied by symptoms of exhaustion and a feeling of lack of energy.

2. Phase: Reduced engagement

The phase of overactivity is followed by the inevitable increasing exhaustion, an emotional, mental and behavioral withdrawal from work and from the social environment in general, a loss of positive feelings, an emotional distancing in general, an increasing feeling of becoming numb and tougher in general. This then goes hand in hand with loss of contact, loss of idealism, corresponding reactions (inquiries, criticism, etc.) from the work environment are then quickly experienced as bullying, a negative attitude towards work develops and internal resignation begins.

3. Phase: Actual reduction in performance

There is a reduction in mental performance, motivation and creativity. It shows poor concentration at work, disorganization such as unsystematic work planning, inability to make decisions, reduced initiative, lack of renewal suggestions and reduced flexibility. Ultimately, this leads to rigid black-and-white thinking, adherence to regulations and resistance to changes of all kinds.

4. Phase: Despair

The last phase is finally characterized by the emotional processing of the perception of the changes that those affected have noticed in themselves. This manifests itself in an increased feeling of helplessness, a general hopelessness spreading through to an existential despair and a feeling of the meaninglessness of life. This condition begins to resemble moderate to severe depression.

The symptoms of burnout

Typical symptoms of burnout show up on an individual and a social level:

1. Psychosomatic symptoms

The first symptoms that are noticed usually take place on the physical level: the so-called psychosomatic symptoms. Physical disorders are classified as psychosomatic if, during the examination, usually the family doctor is the first point of contact, no organic malfunctions can be found for the recurring disorders. Such disorders can be: the inability to relax in leisure time, recurring and persistent sleep disorders, difficulty falling asleep, lying awake at night, waking up very early and not being able to fall asleep again. The body signals its exhaustion such as muscle tension, headaches and back pain with a wide variety of pains. Gastrointestinal complaints and strong palpitations, a fast pulse and increased blood pressure up to a tightness in the chest can also occur, which often leads to appropriate precautionary measures when visiting a doctor, such as examinations of whether a heart attack is imminent with the help of cardiac catheter examinations but then are inconspicuous. Often there is also an inexplicable fatigue, a reduced immune defense, one succumbs to every virus and bacterium, one flu-like infection or strep throat follows on from the others.

2. Emotional symptoms

On the emotional level, there are then changes in the mood that were already mentioned in phases 3 and 4 of the burn-out process. Feelings of helplessness, inadequacy and incompetence emerge, which can quickly lead to decreased self-esteem. Strong mood swings then lead to frequent depressive moods, up to pessimism, fatalism and a feeling of inner emptiness. The feeling of inner emptiness (= apathy) can then turn into impatience, irritability and nervousness through to bitterness, anger and aggressiveness.

3. Social symptoms

The increasing exhaustion also has its consequences in social interaction. The usual leisure activities are more and more difficult to adhere to, are canceled more and more often, and finally dry up completely. The television set is often only the only contact with the outside world. Alcohol and cigarette consumption are increasing, in part, as ultimately bad self-therapy in order to allegedly alleviate the increased internal tension up to the abuse of tranquilizers. Tension is also reflected in disturbed eating habits, either emaciation or unusual weight gain. After all, all of these changes also have their negative effects on the immediate social environment, friends are lost, tension and problems arise in the partnership and in the family. One becomes dissatisfied in the work environment, which can lead to frequent job changes or ultimately to complete quitting of the job.