Chronic Stress and Burn-out

An inability to perform as a reaction to chronic excessive demands and lack of appreciation

A persistent imbalance between one’s own abilities and external demands, coupled with a lack of recognition, can lead in the long term to the exhaustion of one’s own resources and to inability to perform. In some cases, the symptoms of burnout are similar to those of depression, such as persistent depression, exhaustion, feelings of failure, subjective overload, reduced performance. It is therefore important to classify exactly whether the syndrome is a depressive illness or the consequences of stressful occupational or extra-occupational activities (e.g. caring for relatives). For the first time, burn-out syndrome was diagnosed in persons from the so-called “helping professions” such as nursing care for the sick and elderly, voluntary work, teaching professions and doctors. In the meantime, however, it is assumed that burnout syndrome can occur in all professions.

Symptoms of burn-out

The burn-out syndrome has not yet had its own diagnosis category in the current classification systems for mental disorders. Therefore, it is still difficult to determine exactly what a burn-out is.
Signs of a burn-out are often shown in the tendency not to be able to “switch off“ even after work and in leisure time, to work a lot of overtime, not to be able to say no, to have a high perfectionist expectation of one’s own work performance and to put one’s own needs at the back. As a result, the person concerned increasingly comes up against his or her stress limits and falls into a state of permanent subjective overload. On an emotional and cognitive level, fears of failure, fears of losing one’s job and self-conscious thinking can develop over time. The persistent internal stress level can also lead to initial physical complaints such as muscle tension, digestive problems, nausea, weight fluctuations, sleep disorders and increased susceptibility to infection. Over time, one’s own physical, emotional and cognitive resources become depleted until a “breakdown“ of performance occurs. The end of this process often results in a temporary inability to work. In some cases, burn-out can develop into depression.

Diagnostics and therapy for burn-out

Since burn-out is not a diagnosis in the actual sense, but a syndrome of various symptoms, which usually result from a permanent occupational or extra-occupational overstraining situation, there is no uniform, scientifically effective therapy concept. Nevertheless, it is important to have these professionally clarified in the case of an inability to perform and persistent stress symptoms. Particular attention should be paid to finding out whether any other physical or mental illness might be the cause.
If the burn-out cause originates in the (non-)occupational context, short-term psychotherapy can help to react more appropriately to the current stress factors, to learn strategies for stress reduction and to apply them effectively in the work context and to distinguish oneself better from external requirements, taking one’s own needs into account.

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