What is Burn-out Syndrome?

More and more people talk about Burn-out and there are many news articles on Burn-out.

But what is it actually? Is it a mental problem? People who just work too much or don’t like their work anymore?

Burn-out as a work-related disease is on the rise. Not only in the Western world but increasingly in Asian countries as well.

But only a few years ago it was finally acknowledged as a real medical condition in the DSM 5 ( The handbook of Psychiatric symptoms). This means that medical insurances cover the treatment because now it is finally recognized as a “real disease”.

Burn-out is defined in ICD-11 as follows: (ICD-11 is the handbook of medical conditions that is used primarily by physicians)

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • reduced professional efficiency.

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

But this is actually only the finale state- and the energy depletion is not only mentally but also physically. A lot of people who suffer from Burn-out Syndrome experience severe physical problems besides the psychological aspects of this disorder.

The stages of  Burn-Out

As with any illness, symptoms of burnout change from person to person, however these five stages are commonly observed:


High job satisfaction, energy, creativity and commitment to the job. The key issue is how you cope with the inevitable stress that comes with any job.


Stress kicks in, job dissatisfaction starts, concentration and efficiency is decreasing but your head keeps busy at night which keeps you from sleeping. You might develop a general fatigue.

At work escapist activities are increasing (smoking, zoning out, etc..)


Chronic exhaustion; physical illness (remember that stress is a risk factor in many diseases); anger; depression


Physical symptoms intensify and/or increase in number; obsessing about work frustrations; pessimism and self-doubt dominate thinking; you develop an “escapist mentality”


The symptoms of burnout are so embedded in your life that you are more likely to be labeled as having some significant physical or emotional problem than to be called a burnout case.

Burnout often stems from your job. But anyone who feels overworked and undervalued is at risk for burnout, from the hardworking office worker who hasn’t had a vacation in years, to the frazzled stay-at-home mom tending to kids, housework, and an aging parent.

But burnout is not caused solely by stressful work or too many responsibilities. Other factors can contribute to burnout, including your lifestyle and personality traits. In fact, what you do in your downtime and how you look at the world can play just as big a role in causing overwhelming stress as work or home demands.

The treatment of Burn-out

The form of treatment depends on the stage of Burn-out the client is in.

One of our clients was admitted for outpatient treatment on request of his employer because of anger problems at work. What looked like a form of depression in the beginning, clearly showed to be the 3d stage of a Burn-Out development , because it was primarily work-related. Because the burn-out wasn’t fully developed, it was advised that the client should keep on going to work, but he had to make major changes in his style of working. Even though he worked a lot- he didn’t seem to work efficiently and moreover, he himself assumed that he never did good enough because in spite of his efforts, he could never witness any concrete result of his personal work. And this wasn’t about money or salary benefits- he just felt this way because he never got the feedback he needed. So he seemed to have developed unrealistic expectations. Part of this was influenced by the way the management interacted with the employees. They only gave general feedback of the company’s gains and for quite some time now they talked about decreasing figures.

 How does your boss react?

Fortunately the boss of this client was very willing to support his employee, so one day they came together to the counselling session. Backed-up by the psychologist, the client finally asked his boss about realistic feedback and could tell him all the things that bothered him at work. It was a very constructive talk, in which not only the client learned important information but also his boss gained more insights about how his employees experienced working at the company.

Following this session, the boss of the company asked for consultancy from the psychologist  about how to communicate better with his employees and implemented several burn-out-prevention- strategies suggested by the psychologist.

The client had 10 more sessions that were devoted to healthy self-care not only at work but also in regards to his private life in order to stay physically and mentally healthy in the future. Because in order to prevent a Burn-out at work, it is important to also have a healthy personal life.

Different forms of treatment for Burn-Out

Unfortunately not everyone recognizes the symptoms that early. Some of our clients were already in the phase of a “Habitual Burn-out”. They showed severe physical problems related to ongoing stress. Those clients might need a much longer rehabilitation program which focusses at the beginning primarily on the re-establishment of the physical health and the basic daily structure and tasks. Some people even realize that their jobs are not a good fit for their personality and they are choosing for a career switch.

For sure experiencing a Burn-Out will teach a person a lot about their own personal assets and weaknesses, about healthy boundaries and a good balance between work and private life.

Recovery and rehabilitation: life changes

People who suffered a burn-out and recovered were often confronted with very fundamental questions. They had to reconsider their values, goals and choices in life and most of the time they learned a very valuable lesson of how to create a healthy and happy life, that suits their personal conditions.

Obviously we hope that no one has to experience a drastic event like this.

If you are interested in finding out more about treatment and prevention of Burn-Out, you can read more about it in our Case studies.

Stay healthy!