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Ema Stanovská
October 24, 2021, 6:46pm
Reading time: 6:16

A Burnout is Not Something to Be Proud Of and You Certainly Won't Fix it With a Vacation

No, it's definitely not just fatigue you'll „sleep on“, or the most obvious everyday stress.

Ema Stanovská
October 24, 2021, 6:46pm
Reading time: 6:16
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A Burnout is Not Something to Be Proud Of and You Certainly Won't Fix it With a Vacation
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You must have heard at least one story about a top manager, IT guy or a successful entrepreneur who burned out, resigned and went on a year-long road trip around Bali. In some versions they even set up their own cafe on wheels or move to a farm to grow vegetables.


Such "romanticized" stories concern only a very small percentage of people. The real "unfiltered" reality of burnout represents emotional exhaustion, loneliness, frustration and long-standing health problems. Even worse, today's society's ideal is a "human machine" that leaves the office long after the sunset, is always available and pushes all personal matters to the side.


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During pandemic home office days, the risk of burnout increased even more. People had trouble making distinction between work and private life and their superiors often expected their employees to be available 24/7 - at least digitally. According to the Economist, the average number of working hours doubled in 2020.

First you get used to it, then you burn out

According to a study by the American analytical company Gallup, up to two thirds of people experience burnout. However, the study was built on subjective feelings of people and many confuse burnout with exhaustion. So what does burnout really mean?


Bad weather, darkness and cold days are upon us. Autumn can sometimes really get to us. At Refresher, we don't take mental health lightly, so we bring you a series of mental health focused articles. Together with psychologists, we zoom in on different topic each time. This time around, we are discussing the topic of burnout together with psychologist Eva Sulekova.

In this article, we wrote about what a session with a psychologist looks like, how to choose it and when is it time to plan a visit. 


Burnout is not the type of fatigue you "sleep on" over the weekend. It's not even stress - an easily identifiable one-time affair. Burnout is something you work your way up towards gradually.


At first, you won't even notice it, because your body adapts to the load. However, your ability to regenerate decreases over time. Suddenly you can't handle little tasks that you had no issues with previously. You have hard time getting yourself to work (or school), you're frustrated, irritated, cynical and have no idea how to get rid of these emotions.


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"A person in a more advanced stage of burnout feels hopelessness, emotional exhaustion, irritability, loss of courage, loss of ability to think objectively and inability to take risks. A pessimistic outlook on life can lead to loss of personal identity and self-esteem," says the psychologist. Such a "burnt out" person eventually begins to escape into solitude and loses interpersonal relationships. The advanced stages of burnout therefore often resemble depression in certain aspects.


Signs of early burnout syndrome that you should be aware of: 

- non-completion or postponing of work duties
- avoiding of obligations
- error rate at work
- exaggerated emotional reactions
- pain in individual parts of the body (head, back)
- fatigue
- trivialization of problems, or their compensation by alcohol and other substances
- searching for external stimuli to overpower the problem

Beware of exaggerated enthusiasm

Burnout is not associated with specific professions, but rather with certain factors such as time pressure, stress, little recognition, ineffective "coping" strategies, poor working conditions and, of course, unhealthy lifestyle. This is all very individual. While one person handles the load just fine, for someone else iit may be destructive.


According to the psychologist, the risk of burnout increases especially in people who have a low self-esteem, but are unaware of it. They are more likely to be anxious and fail at higher demands or overestimate their abilities. You can be the most successful person in the world and still feel like you're not doing enough.


"One of my clients almost divorced because he thought his wife was hurting him emotionally on purpose. He couldn't see the reality of the situation that he had burnt out. It turned out that behind his overestimation and wrong way of evaluating situations, there was a trauma from his childhood, a feeling of inadequacy and low self-esteem, " says the psychologist.


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In the event of burnout, a person loses a certain degree of objective judgment and the ability to assess situations from different angles. "When you are physically and mentally exhausted, rationality withdraws to the background. On top of that, a person who has unresolved emotional trauma or pain from the past, tends to assess reality through the lens of these experiences,"  explains the expert.


5 stages of burnout according to the Winona State University study:
1. Honeymoon - the first phase is typical for initial enthusiasm, creativity and energy. You are extremely productive and optimistic.
2. Stress - at this stage you already realize that some days are worse than others, you lose a bit of optimism and start to feel the usual symptoms of stress.
3. Chronic stress - you feel chronic fatigue, begin to suffer from various pains and often get angry or depressed.
4. Burnout - all previous symptoms become critical. You avoid people, you feel extreme frustration, and you doubt yourself.
5. Burnout syndrome - at this advanced stage you may already have a serious physical or mental issue that requires the intervention of a psychologist.


Even seemingly innocent initial enthusiasm can lead to a burnout syndrome - for example, after starting a new job. Jan Uring, an expert in behavioral sciences, summed it up excellently in a podcast:


"The first months at a new job, people give us different labels. If we allow them to label us as an inexhaustible person, a philanthropist, and a team player, by the fourth month in, it's gonna be hard to say no  - even if we are exhausted or don't want to.” The initial enthusiasm can be replaced with a loss of any interest in work or activity whatsoever. In connection with this, it is also often said: "He who doesn't burn, will not burn out."


Attention must also be paid to unrealistic expectations. From superiors or from each other. If you are trying to fulfill something that is beyond your physical or mental strength, or it's simply too much, you are on a highway to burn out. And we're not talking about private life here, which is also not always a walk in the park - in many cases, work can even be less stressful than private life, according to recent studies. We're often able to have more control over work responsibilities than over daily situations at home.

A student can also burn out

A well-known myth says that only business people can burn out after twenty years of their careers. This is definitely not the case. Although the WHO defines burnout syndrome as "syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed," according to some experts, it can also affect students or even mother during motherly leave. According to a study by Winona State University, most people will experience burn out by the age of 32.


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"I had a client who had to interrupt her studies for health reasons. She found that the way she had led her study life was unhealthy. She slept for three hours a day throughout the exam weeks and eventually stopped leaving the house altogether, “ recalls psychologist Eva Sulekova.


"She felt she had to know the material by heart. The closer she was to the start date, the more tension and resistance she had felt. It went on like this for about six semesters, until it eventually built up to life-threatening health problems that still persist to this day."

What to do when you're in for a burnout?

The psychologist advises that it's most important to identify it and accept the current situation. "Subsequently, some work needs to be done to identify the 'triggers' that are causing the burnout. These are often, for example, the mentioned feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and self-worth, " she explains.


However, one cannot identify it oneself, so it's best to cooperate with a psychotherapist or a psychologist. Changing jobs or moving to Bali might not always be the solution. "If you always look for a problem in a specific job and not in your internal settings, you may have to repeat the same mistakes in the future," she warns.


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The scientific journal Harvard Business Review has a similar advice for the "burned out", according to which it is important to realize why you work beyond your self. Is it because you enjoy your job, or for status, or money? If you identify with the latter, according to studies, there is a higher chance that you'll ignore health problems (caused by overwork).


In mild situations, you can, of course, help yourself. According to the psychologist, if you are set up for high performance in the long-term, a "less is more" principle applies, and you may not immediately accept that. It means switching to a lower gear, take less work and responsibilities and instead, indulge in more relaxation, sleep, nutritious diet, adequate exercise and time spent with loved ones.



However, the bodily needs alone are not going to suffice - attention must also be paid to the soul. According to the Big Self School portal, you should ask yourself - how do I want to spend the rest of my life? Burnout will sometimes help you answer it. You will recognize how you do not want to spend it. And not only will it help you identify your real needs, but ultimately to live a fulfilling life.


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