"Burnout" is an English term and means burnt out, completely exhausted. There is still no clear definition of burnout, which is why the exact number of people affected is still unclear.
The term was coined in the 1970s by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. Burnout was first described in social professions (healing and nursing professions, voluntary workers). The idealism of most people in this occupational group and the constant working at the emotional and physical stress limit with a low level of recognition can cause them to burn out.
Currently, burnout syndrome is described as complete physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. In addition, there is restlessness, tension, lack of motivation, drop in performance and psychosomatic complaints.
In most cases, these symptoms follow a strong frustration, the cause of which often lies in the job. Reasons for this are excessive demands, lack of recognition (praise, promotion opportunities, salary increase) or bureaucratic hurdles that make it difficult to achieve personal goals.
It can also be frustrating not to achieve a life goal or to achieve it without feeling the expected satisfaction.
Today, it is generally agreed that burnout can affect all occupational groups and also senior citizens or the unemployed. Burnout does not necessarily have to be preceded by "burn" in the sense of excessive commitment; it can also be triggered by mobbing.
Researchers divide burnout into different phases (usually occurring one after the other). The following model refers to the expert Prof. Martin Burisch (University of Hamburg).
Phase 1: Overstrain, overcommitment
Idealistic, over-commitment causes "burning" people to throw themselves into a project. At this stage, burnout can only very rarely be predicted. As soon as the hoped-for recognition (reward, professional advancement) lags behind the expectation over a longer period of time, the actual burnout syndrome begins.
The pressure from which those affected suffer can also be externally motivated. Exhaustion, frustration and irritation follow. The body also reacts to the overstrain. Headaches, stomachaches and sleep disturbances are the result.
Phase 2: Reduced commitment
A typical characteristic of the burnout syndrome is a strong frustration. Sufferers have to accept that the set goal will not be reached. The previous idealism fades and the commitment decreases.
Since a lot of time and diligence was invested in setting goals, demands are raised sharply. Those affected feel exploited and treated with too little appreciation.
At the same time an inner dismissal takes place. From this point on, only the most necessary things are done and even then generous breaks are taken, mistakes accumulate. For some, this attitude spreads to leisure time, while others flourish as soon as they leave their workplace.
Burnout sufferers distance themselves from their social environment. Compassion and sympathy (empathy) give way to emotional coldness, and cynicism is not uncommon. The normally positive feeling towards fellow human beings (work colleagues, friends, family) decreases.
Phase 3: Depression, aggression and apportionment of blame
A culprit must now be found for the personal failure. It can affect the sick person himself, but also people from his environment.
If the blame is sought and found in oneself, depression threatens. Feelings of failure, inability, powerlessness and helplessness take over and cause all self-esteem to dwindle.
Characteristic symptoms of depression (nervousness, emptiness, pessimism, anxiety, even suicidal thoughts) become noticeable.
A different picture emerges when the blame is found with colleagues or "the system". The own part in the failure is denied, aggression spreads. It comes to numerous conflicts with fellow men, against whom the whole anger is directed. Affected persons are moody, constantly irritated and feel attacked very quickly.
Phase 4: Degradation and dwindling performance
Errors of carelessness increase, appointments are forgotten. Decision-making difficulties, a lack of creativity and an inability to cope with complex problems are the result of constant tension.
Professionally, people work according to the principle of "duty by the book". Initiative, motivation and productivity steadily decrease.
The mental attitude also gradually changes. The "pigeonhole" and "black and white" thinking sets in, changes and break with routine are rejected, as it would require an additional expenditure of energy.
Phase 5: Disinterest, flattening
Affected persons also withdraw emotionally because of their declining performance. Indifference and boredom increase. Hobbies, family and friends are reduced to a minimum, loneliness spreads.
Phase 6: Despair
In the last phase, complete despair prevails. The meaning and value of life is questioned, suicidal thoughts accumulate and are sometimes put into practice.