What to do in case of burnout?

Prof. Dr. Verena Briner, FRCP
Prof. Dr. Verena Briner, FRCP
Healthy Lifestyle
Exhaustion, despondency and inner emptiness – there are many warning signs for a burnout. But what do you really have to watch out for? And what to do when it is already too late?

Burnout is a widespread disease and a mass affliction of the modern working world. But the illness is not so easy to grasp. Because the familiar name is actually a generic term for various symptoms and diseases. There is no uniform definition and no corresponding medical diagnosis. Nevertheless, the disease is very real and without professional therapy the affected people sometimes suffer from the consequences for the rest of their lives.

But what is it really about? The visual language of being „burnt out“ is already a good approximation. It describes the feeling of simply not being able to do anything anymore and not being able to continue. In this respect, burnout is a state of unbearable emotional and often physical exhaustion. Mostly but not exclusively, the disease occurs in connection with professional life.

This description also applies to many depressions and other diseases. But this is also the nature and difficulty of the burnout syndrome. It is often an evasive diagnosis and the problems at work are not the original problem. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to deal with the topic of stress management and mental illnesses. Still all too often they are played down and treated too late.


First signs

There are often early warning signs. A burnout does not suddenly come out from under the bed like the proverbial monster, even if it sometimes might seem that way. For many people who feel great stress, an ever-increasing psychological pressure builds up over a longer period of time, which cannot be discharged.

Not infrequently, there are clear physical complaints which are, however, reinterpreted or not perceived at all. The first signs often include persistent tiredness and exhaustion and generally a decline in performance. Symptoms such as headaches, gastro-intestinal problems or insomnia are often added. Anyone who notices such problems per se should be very self-critical in questioning whether there could be more to it.

Not less important, but often even more difficult to recognize, are the psychological symptoms. The feeling of "simply not being able to do more" is usually central. This is accompanied by a retreat into the inner being, simultaneously with inner emptiness and a feeling of senselessness. "Why am I doing all this?" and "none of this makes sense" are frequent thoughts of people affected. Added to this are feelings of fear, dissatisfaction with one's own life and often a low self-esteem.

In general, most of the symptoms and signs of burnout syndrome can be attributed to emotional exhaustion, experiences of depersonalisation or the experience of failure.


Burnout Test: Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI)

These categories are also the basis for most of the tests that can be used to determine whether a burnout syndrome is present. In addition to various self-tests, many doctors also use special questionnaires to obtain indications of the disease. The most widespread test is the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), which was originally intended for research purposes only, but has now proven to be a useful tool.

With all tests, however, the limitations of such queries must always be considered. Self-tests are per se already prone to errors and in such a specific case like a depression with ist ambiguous clinical picture, the validity of the results should always be treated with particular caution.



Only in a conversation with a doctor or in a therapy can the cause for a depression be investigated and treated in peace. In most cases, what most people associate with the topic of burnout is closely related to the world of work. Most cases can be assigned to one of the following topics:

  • Bad working atmosphere
  • Excessive stress
  • Pressure to perform and too high expectations of oneself
  • Smouldering conflicts
  • Unclear hierarchies
  • Mobbing
  • Job loss fear
  • Crisis of meaning
  • Double burden from job and private life ("work-life balance")

Of course there are many other possible causes, especially since burnout can also start in the private sphere. The overlaps with depression diseases are, as already mentioned, numerous.

In principle, however, every person can suffer from a burnout syndrome. Although there are particularly vulnerable professional groups, such as teachers or competitive athletes, students, pensioners and housewives are also increasingly suffering from the disease. Risk factors can include low self-esteem, perfectionism and excessive ambition.



What to do?

In any case, it is crucial to develop a feeling for the disease and to consult a doctor or therapist at the slightest sign. The sooner those affected by burnout syndrome realize that they need help, the better the chances of recovery.

Which methods are necessary has to be decided individually and with professional help. A first step should be to avoid stress triggers. This often includes a sick leave and absence from work. One should not be afraid of this. In the short term such means can already help. In the long term, however, it is a matter of questioning one's own lifestyle and entering an environment that is more compatible with the ideas, wishes and needs of the person affected. This may well mean a change of job and a fundamental reorientation.


Spa stays and holidays as first measures

In order to avoid stress and to take a step out of the crisis, a time-out is helpful. Relaxation holidays and spa stays can have a particularly good effect. The concrete arrangement can be very different. The spectrum ranges from sporting hiking holidays to wellness oases. The motto is: Do something good for yourself!

However, the time invested should be used specifically to treat burnout. A specific burnout cure can be done, for example, in various specialised clinics and spa hotels. Every person needs sufficient physical and mental relaxation. Longer stays in appropriate hotels and taking advantage of health and wellness offers can help to restore balance.

At the Waldhotel Bürgenstock, for example, we offer the Mindfulness Pro programme, in which particular emphasis is placed on a balanced combination of natural remedies, nutritional principles, mindfulness and the natural treatment of your health. At best, such an offer is already used for prevention. Once the stress has become too much and the complaints too great, it is sometimes already too late.

In any case, the insight that burnout is not a mistake, nothing wrong, embarrassing or weak, remains decisive. Body and mind tell you that you are heading in a direction that is not good for you. The burnout is the chance to change this!