Problems at work, unpleasant conversations that are coming up, deadlines that are too tight and everything else on your mind? To prevent acute stress from becoming chronic, action should be taken early. Otherwise, in the worst case scenario, there is a risk of burnout. Recognizing stress factors and burnout risks is just as important as actively and effectively preventing both. And what if the time comes? Targeted treatment can lead to a return to normal everyday life even after burnout.

Stress or burnout: what is it?

In colloquial language these days it is easy to talk about burnout. But it should be clearly differentiated between when there is real burnout and when it is stress so that both can be effectively counteracted and treated accordingly if necessary. Both should be avoided.

What is stress?

Stress is often referred to as burnout, but it is not always “real” stress. According to a Forsa survey from 2016, more than 60 percent of those surveyed felt stressed at this time. A little later, however, it turned out that high demands can actually make people more efficient and fitter under certain conditions. Not all stress is the same and it has been proven that positive stress can actually have a positive effect on our well-being.

Stress usually arises when a person is in danger or in an exceptional situation in which they feel completely overwhelmed. These days, the factors are different than they once were: In the past, people had to defend themselves against wild animals in nature, but the release of stress hormones served to release energy so that they could either fight or flee.

If people feel stressed these days, it may be due to (life-)threatening circumstances such as financial worries, problems in the family or conflicts at work. But these days we neither take flight nor engage in a fight – and therefore an important outlet is missing. The stress cannot be reduced.

If these stressful situations become chronic stress, it can have an impact on psychological well-being or affect the body in the form of psychosomatic illnesses. Headaches, cardiovascular diseases and stomach ulcers can result. Burnout also usually arises from chronic stress.

Prevent stress and overwork

To prevent stress, you should find an outlet. Many sufferers rely on sport for this purpose, but the necessary balance can also be achieved through quieter activities, such as regular meditation.

It is also often recommended to create small escapes and retreats, such as 20 minutes for yourself, in which you listen to your favorite music, enjoy reading a book or simply do nothing.

How to recognize burnout

Burnout is difficult to define because a person largely explains and defines whether they feel burned out. Like the definition of burnout, the symptoms can also be extremely individual. It is therefore sometimes difficult to tell whether it is depression or burnout. It is not uncommon for:

  • Fatigue and persistent exhaustion: Those affected feel tired, listless and simply overwhelmed. While those affected find it difficult to calm down, they also long for breaks.
  • Inner emptiness: Many sufferers describe that they feel empty inside and no longer see any meaning behind tasks. Nothing they do really fills them with fun, which is why they often withdraw from friends and hobbies.
  • Declining performance: People with burnout are often not as productive as they once were, forget things more easily and have difficulty making decisions.

Which leads to burnout

Since burnout can be a result of stress, it is certainly not surprising that burnout can have similar triggers to stress. Even with burnout, these factors persist over a long period of time, as the name suggests. Because they feel powerless in the face of ongoing factors, those affected feel burned out.

At the same time, it must be noted that the trigger for burnout – unlike stress – does not always have to be just fear and panic. Although an increasing number of burnouts have occurred during and due to the Corona pandemic, burnout can also be due to the fact that you want to fulfill expectations that others don't have of you, in a boring everyday life with the same ones Being stuck in routines or having no control over certain situations.

How can burnout be prevented?

There are a variety of ways to avoid burnout. This includes a balanced diet, regular exercise and fresh air, as well as optimizing the workplace. While maintaining social contacts is recommended, constant availability is less positive – so: switch your cell phone to silent more often or simply leave it at home.

Even if burnout is imminent, it is advisable to create opportunities for retreat. This can be achieved by doing something that brings you joy for several minutes a day. By the way, an upsetting TV program in the evening has a counterproductive effect, as even a good night's sleep can prevent burnout. Instead, it is recommended to avoid blue light and emotionally stirring films and series before going to bed and instead read a few pages.

Meditations and relaxation exercises round off the burnout prevention measures.

What to do if you have burnout?

Different therapeutic approaches come into play when treating burnout. Since burnout is as individual as the person, suitable therapy is discussed in collaboration with an expert. Medication can play just as important a role in treating burnout as breaking out of entrenched structures. A change of perspective is often brought about and those affected are shown how their situation is perceived from the outside.

As a rule, every therapy approach is accompanied by a reduction in working hours, while at the same time leisure activities are encouraged and increased. Depending on the diagnosis and stage of burnout, behavioral and art therapies can also come into play.

The use of appropriately designed apps and online courses can also play an important role in dealing with stress and burnout. However, seeking professional help, for example by first contacting your family doctor, is essential in any case.

Preventing and helping with burnout

Stress and burnout continue to represent an often underestimated danger. It is therefore important to pay attention to warning signs and act early in order to avert possible permanent damage and to increase the quality of life again.


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