Illness, symptom or imagination?

More and more people are affected, but what is behind burn-out? How do you recognize it and what can you do about it?

Burn-out Spiral of Exhaustion

Chapter 1: Disease or not?

In May 2019, many newspapers ran headlines with “Burn-out recognized as a disease for the first time”. This is not quite correct. The WHO has assessed “occupational phenomenon” i.e. work-related burn-out in the new ICD-11 as a “factor affecting health status” and defined it in three dimensions. The first dimension is a feeling of dwindling energy and exhaustion, the second is an increasing mental distance to the job and negative attitude towards one’s own job. The last dimension is a significantly reduced ability to perform on the job. ICD-11 is scheduled to go into effect in January 2022.

The ICD is the “International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems,” which is used, for example, for billing health insurance companies.

In Germany, burn-out is already a recognized diagnosis. However, it is not a disease, but an additional or framework diagnosis. It is described as “problems related to difficulties in coping with life.”

Since burn-out is difficult to grasp and everyone has individual symptoms, there are also many definitions that make it difficult to classify it as a disease.

You can learn more in my article “Is burn-out a trend?

Chapter 2: When does burn-out occur?

Burn-out is very individually influenced. Usually situational reasons and personal factors come together.

Often burn-out hits those people who have a high self-motivation and dedicate themselves with full commitment to a cause. They often motivate themselves by having the feeling that they are doing something worthwhile or improving unjust conditions. Another motivation can be to want to fulfill one’s own, too high, demands. These personal factors alone are usually manageable. But if a catalyst is added, this can mean the beginning of a burn-out. There are many catalysts, but I would like to name a few:

  • Unfulfillable targets
  • Strong competition in the company
  • Personal upheaval (death of partner, job change, wedding)
  • Lack of control and influence
  • Conflicts in the workplace
  • Financial pressure
  • Lack of success
  • Long-lasting high workload
  • Time pressure

These situational reasons, combined with history and life situation can lead to burn-out.

You can find out more about the causes of burn-out and who can be affected by burnout in my articles.

Stronger against Burn-out

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Job, family, free time – sometimes it’s all too much for you?
Learn strategies that make you STRONGER!

Chapter 3: What are the symptoms of burn-out?

The symptoms and combination of symptoms are as diverse as we are as people. Find out if there is a difference between man and women. However, they can be divided into 4 groups.

Chapter 4: When does burn-out begin?

A burn-out is not just there. It is often a long way before burn-out is even recognized. For this purpose, e.g. Unger and Kleinschmidt or Freudenberger and North have depicted burn-out in phases on a spiral, which turns faster and faster towards the bottom. I use here spiral of exhaustion in three steps of Unger and Kleinschmidt.

Step 1: First signs of exhaustion

Many of us have already experienced this step. It is often initiated by pain of all kinds or a higher susceptibility to illness. Followed by sleep disturbance, and a thought carousel. Thoughts like: “I can’t change anything anyway!” are typical in this phase. A helplessness develops that leaves one with no way out.

Step 2: The exhaustion progresses

In this step, behavior changes, with the focus now being on working. Often one becomes more irritable than before and sometimes even reacts aggressively. The first concentration problems appear. It is difficult to remember the simplest things. Often you work more and more in this phase in order to achieve the desired success and get stuck in a topic. As a result, you withdraw because you simply don’t have the energy to do anything in your free time. In addition, there are feelings of guilt about not being able to do justice to friends and family.

Step 3: Exhaustion

In the last step, you are heading for complete exhaustion. At the beginning of this step, you are often led by thoughts such as “I can’t do this anyway!”, you make yourself small. This often leads to a loss of motivation or interest, because one no longer has confidence in oneself and becomes discouraged. This leads to strong mood swings and even suicidal thoughts. The end result is apathy and depression.

Burn-out check

You want to know where you are in the spiral of exhaustion. Answer 9 questions and find out!

Chapter 5: What to do in case of burn-out?

In this chapter I would also like to refer to the three steps according to Unger and Kleinschmidt, even though the reversal of the spiral is very individual for everyone.

Step 1: First signs of exhaustion

Here you can still do a lot yourself. Find out what makes you so exhausted or restless. Think about what is behind it. Maybe it’s proverbs like “No pain, no gain” or personal attitudes like “I have to do everything perfectly!” Or do you simply lack the change between tension (stress) and relaxation. As a next step, you can plan small but concrete steps for change. For example, if you lack relaxation, consciously plan it into your daily routine. Just a few minutes of breathing or a short walk during your lunch break can help.

I would be happy to support you in this! Just contact me for a non-binding initial consultation.

Step 2: The exhaustion is progressing

In this step I recommend that you seek support. Your burn-out has already had time to progress and it is getting harder to reverse the spiral. You should now visit your family doctor. He can clarify whether your symptoms have physical causes or consequences and help you to alleviate or heal them. In addition, I recommend psychological counseling during this phase. It can support you in planning and taking the first steps towards change. You must now systematically set a new course.

I would be happy to support you in this! Just contact me for a non-binding initial consultation.

Step 3: The exhaustion

You have reached the highest step, now it is high time to seek professional support. Contact your family doctor and/or seek psychological help. You can no longer turn the exhaustion spiral around on your own. But together with help you can! Since your way up to here was already very long, the reversal unfortunately also takes longer and is also often supported with an inpatient treatment. There you will get help to change your behavior so that you don’t get into the same exhaustion spiral again.

If you need help finding support, feel free to contact me.

In general it can be said that it is always about changing your own behavior and that increases the pain at first. If you recognize it early, you can take countermeasures in time. Do not wait until stage 3, the complete exhaustion! To gain more insight read also 3 steps to overcome burnout.

Chapter 6: Burnout prevention

Last but not least, let’s look at what each individual, but also you as an employer, can do to avoid burnout.

As an employer, the most important thing you can do is create the conditions that make it possible to admit that there is a problem without condemning it. Also, you see signs such as increased sick days or irritability. Not only is it okay to address these issues, but it also encourages an open approach to the topic. You can show your employees the possible help and support them in accepting it.

But that’s only part of prevention. Everyone can acquire behaviors and insights that will make them more resilient against burnout. For this purpose I have developed the program “STRONG against Burnout“. With the STRONG formula you can protect yourself in the best possible way. This includes having clear goals and ideas, but also knowing your stressors and adjusting your behavior accordingly.

Close your stress cycle!

Enjoy the 30 day challenge.

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Burnout Prevention

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Burnout Support

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Burnout Talk

Burnout prevention talk for Employers

What is Burnout?

Burn-out Spiral of Exhaustion
Stress management: Sometimes it i just too much or too little

Sometimes it’s just too much or too little

What can be too little in a burnout? I’ll tell you in my story.

Continue reading

Tanja Haag Life Coach


What others say about me

Thank you very much, for your always valuable advice and the open ear. I appreciate the exchange with you and your profound and situationally appropriate questions and impulses very much. They always give me an exciting and new perspective on the situation and help me to work on the topics strengthened and with new inspiration. Janina
Thank you for your valuable assessment Tanja 😊👍
You are such a great, cheerful person. So many more will benefit from this.
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