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Burn Out – losing the fine connection to oneself

Stress is an activation of the sympathetic nervous system and, if stress becomes chronic, it is one of the most dangerous diseases in the western world. Self-exploitation plays an important role.

Stress grabs us from behind

This article could be about numbers and secondary diseases of chronic stress, the difference between eustress and distress or the burnout rate in Germany. But today I write about a different perspective. About a very subjective, inner description of conflicts and issues that are on the threshold of stress. Because who does not know this: stress seems to grab us from behind, apparently powerless, we are facing life and its demands when it comes.

At the beginning everything is still fine. We are motivated and feel inspired by a new project. Our heads spinning with new thoughts, the feeling of further development and personal growth. Challenged, we dare to think new and be bigger than we have been so far. And then, sooner or later, the moment will come that I want to talk about here today. We feel that we cannot do anything anymore. That the effort has become exhausting and we feel signs that it is no longer good for us to continue. What exactly happens at this point – is worth investigating.

Investigating: seizing the opportunity

First of all – there is no universal answer to this question. Such an investigation will always be a very personal one. Every one of us knows that yoga, a balanced diet and little pressure are healthy, but very few of us live accordingly. And the answers to the question about the causes of stress are so complex that only extracts can be described here.

Those of us who have been socialized in the Western world have usually very much internalized this: We have grown up in the all-embracing credo that life is about expansion and growth and often we experience further development, success and an increase in productivity synchronized with an increase in happiness. In short – seize the opportunity. And as life goes on, there are more than enough of them.

This is not a bad thing, on the contrary, successful and happy people are often people who know how to seize opportunities. And there’s no reason whatsoever against phases of intensive work and phases of high pressure at the office. But what if the very idea of missing a chance or rejecting opportunities makes us feel uncomfortable? Are we allowed to do that? We can use the money, sure. But if we are honest, we accept the professional challenges even if we are already well provided for financially. So, for worse times? Because we take it as a sign of appreciation that we’re capable of meeting them? Because we have to prove ourselves? Because we want to be helpful? Not daring to say no? Out of guilt? Fear of the consequences?

Slipping into burnout

Mostly we don’t even know exactly why. But once promised, we get out of it so easily. We get into mills of excessive responsibility and actionism. With everyone it starts differently afterwards. Some find it difficult to fall asleep, others notice an inner restlessness, a tiredness, perhaps a slight irritation or a thinner skin in conflicts. Anyone who has ignored such conditions for a long time will certainly know the symptoms come from chronic exposure to stress. Sleep disorders, physical exhaustion and infections. The whole body seems to be inflamed, a diffuse feeling of mental emptiness and erosion robs one of normal vitality. The psyche has activated a kind of energy saving mechanism, isolating from the outside world, in a state of alienation we protect our vital resources. As extreme as it sounds – a state of burn-out can be well described in this way and those who have already experienced such a state know how long it takes to really recover from it.

The research journey: search for causes

But how can it be, that people come to this point? Why do they not stop? Why do they not go to bed earlier and why do they neglect their self-care to such a serious degree? Many assumptions are conceivable at this point. Financial dependency on precariously paid jobs is a foregone conclusion, but this is by far not the only reason people with burnout describe. Many other reasons can be located within the psyche.

Work is not a drug, but in some ways a workaholism can be developed just like an alcohol addiction. At this point, work is always more than just an exciting project or financial security. It can mean strengthening unstable self-esteem, avoiding open social situations, fleeing from loneliness and emptiness or distracting from fears. If you work constantly, at least you know what to do, who you are and who you have to be. You meet colleagues in a structured office setting and when things are going well you experience a confirmation of your effectiveness and ability through small professional successes. To say no would only trigger one thing: fear. For example the fear of rejecting others or often the fear of failing. People with burnout, who take a closer look at themselves and their self-image, are sure to find something in places like these. What I am getting at is a professional self-overstraining almost always goes hand in hand with an (though sometimes unconscious) increased neediness. Often inhibited, but massive aggressions also play an important role, as well as an unstable self-esteem.

A date with oneself

If working (or other projects) in the long run means stress and tension above all, then something is going wrong. Then it is time for self-exploration. Connections must be understood: Who do I try to make happy when I try so hard? What drives me and what holds me back? Who am I angry with and what prevents me from taking care of myself?

It becomes clear: the first step is to take responsibility. If you persist in experiencing yourself as a victim of circumstances, complaining and whining about unfavourable conditions and stressors, you will not find a way out of exhaustion. Once again at this point – we know about the serious consequences of bad working conditions and a tense team climate. But burnout always has something to do with our own emotional gaps and our handling of aggression. Acknowledging that I have contributed to it, out of fear, tension, anger, whatever, is the first step. Only with a finer connection to oneself many people who have once ended up with a burnout understand that they have moved far away from themselves. They experience a coaching or therapy as an approach to themselves, they get an idea of their needs and physical and psychological limits again. They learn to identify inner motivators and boundaries and only such a process can initiate a real recovery.  The goal must be to work with joy and to enjoy successes but also moments of peace. As long as there is no such change in your personality and as long as recovery is accompanied by feelings of guilt, more yoga does not make sense.


A. Wurst, Dipl. Psych.

If stress and exhaustion play an increasingly important role in your life, we recommend personal coaching. We have been researching and advising on the topic of burnout prevention for many years. If you are interested, please contact us.