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Burn out: understanding it to break the deadlock

Crédit photo : Daphne (unsplash)

Burn out is the manifestation of work-related suffering characterised by physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. More than a state, it is a process in which the person goes through a succession of stages, a spiral leading to the depletion of their inner resources, their physical and psychological capital.

At the height of the crisis, often under the tension created by a stressful situation, "the person's internal resources are consumed as in the action of flames" (1).

In France, in 2014, the number of people at high risk of burnout was estimated at around 3 million, i.e. 12% of the working population (2). The French National Academy of Medicine estimated that there were 100,000 confirmed cases in 2016 (3). In 2021, 38% of employees would be in a situation of psychological distress according to a recent survey (4) (5).

What characterises burnout syndrome?

There are three characteristic signs of burnout:

  • physical and psychological exhaustion, which generally leads to extreme fatigue and a deterioration of cognitive faculties (ability to memorise, reason or organise). The body is at half-mast, at a standstill, saying "STOP"! Other physical manifestations may appear such as musculoskeletal disorders, deterioration in the quality of sleep, the cardiovascular system, etc...

  • cynical behaviour towards work: the person, often very invested before, disengages by distancing him/herself from his/her colleagues and the structure in which he/she evolves, while associating a pejorative, hard and devaluing view of the structure, the nature of the tasks and the people with whom he/she interacts. Anger, sadness and bitterness are often the dominant emotions

  • the loss of personal fulfillment in the work, i.e. the value and meaning that the person found in it. They tend to devalue themselves by feeling ineffective or not up to the task. The feeling of impasse or imposture emerges.

There is often confusion between burn out and depression, but they are different: while depression is characterised by a generalised loss of the will to live, the suffering linked to burn out is rather limited to our professional sphere, even if this crisis situation can also have repercussions on other areas of our lives.

The roots of the crisis ...

The causes of burn out lie both in the unfavourable working conditions for the person (work organisation, work environment, interpersonal relations) and in his or her personality traits (place of the value "work" in his or her life, tendency to invest too much, difficulty in managing constraints, perfectionism)

It is "the result of the encounter between an individual and a situation" (6). According to studies on the subject, personal factors account for 40% of the causes of burnout and organisational factors for 60% (3).

burn out
crédit photo : Luis Villasmil (unsplash)

The role of the working environment (the organisation, the environment and interpersonal relations) in the occurrence of the problem, particularly through the associated psychosocial risks, is therefore important. It is therefore incumbent on companies to take preventive and corrective action in order to reduce occupational risks, to detect people who may be in a fragile situation in order to provide them with the best possible support and to adapt the framework to the reality experienced by its employees.

Nevertheless, as personal factors also play a part in the causes of burnout, the person facing this situation is invited to take care of themselves and make sense of what is happening to them: to understand the reasons why they found themselves in this impasse or were unable to avoid it, to find out how to approach their relationship with work differently so as to avoid reliving this type of crisis in the future, and to envisage the framework and working conditions which would be satisfactory for them in the future.

How to break the deadlock?

Find some support to find your energy again

Going through this situation usually requires temporarily distancing oneself from the stressful situation and receiving individual multidisciplinary support, both physical and psychological, to overcome it. First of all, to recharge one's batteries, then to give meaning to what has happened by working on oneself to prepare one's return to work by envisaging it more serenely.

Burn out is not only a mental suffering, the body has also generally been seriously affected by the situation and has come to a standstill. It is therefore important that after a burn out, the body's well-being and overall wellbeing are given pride of place in order to gently get back into motion and regain energy: gradually resume sports, start a physical practice such as yoga, Qi Qong or Tai Chi, the Feldenkrais method, relaxation, etc.

As a matter of priority, it is essential that anyone who feels that they are suffering from work-related distress should seek help without delay from their GP and the occupational health service in order to consider the best way of overcoming the crisis and to receive support and appropriate medical treatment.

In addition, support in psychotherapy or body psychotherapy given by a professional trained in counseling (psychiatrist, psychologist, psychotherapist or therapist) is recommended. This work on oneself will allow the person, thanks to an adapted approach, to make sense of this painful passage and to better overcome it in order to move towards a more lasting professional fulfilment. This course is helpful in understanding the roots of the problem and knowing how to detect the triggering or aggravating factors, reconnecting with personal resources (mental and physical) and recognising one's deepest desires, learning to improve one's work environment and/or one's relationship with others; regaining one's personal power and vitality, self-confidence and a better emotional balance

burn out
crédit photo : Tangerine Newt (unsplash)

Take the time to prepare your return to work

This period of reconstruction may be an opportunity to consider a professional retraining or a radical change of working environment, even if this is not an obligatory step: whatever form the professional turnaround will take after the crisis, it is rather the meaning for oneself that is important. Therefore, preparing for a return to work by giving yourself time will maximise your chances of success and allow you to continue on your way by being in tune with your deepest aspirations, your abilities and the world around you.

Philippe Bien

Body psychotherapy through touch practitioner (Relation d'Aide par le Toucher®)


Feldenkrais™ method practitioner

To find out more about my support offers, go to : click here

To learn more about this same thematic, see the following articles :

  • Body psychotherapy: a method where the body has a say (blog). Go to the article : click-here

  • Feeling better thanks to body psychotherapy through touch (blog). Go to the article click here

  • The Feldenkrais method : click here

Sources :

- Le syndrome d’épuisement professionnel ou burnout, Ministère du Travail (2015)

- Burn out : des solutions pour se préserver et pour agir, C. Maslach et M P. Leiter (Auteurs), P. Légeron (Préface), Les Arènes (2016)

- (1) H. Freudenberger dans l'article « Staff burnout » (1974)

- (2) Etude par le cabinet Technologia.

- (3) Le burn-out, Rapport de l'Académie Nationale de Médecine (2016)

- (4) Etude Opinion Way pour le cabinet Empreinte Humaine

- (5) However, there is a disparity in the figures on the subject, perhaps due to the complex nature of the subject, the difficulty of defining it and the methods of analysis used, which calls for a certain amount of caution in interpreting them. (NDLA)

- (6) Claude Veil, psychiatre, « Les états d’épuisement ». Le Concours médical, Paris, 1959

- Notes personnelles

The statements, techniques and methods presented in this publication are part of a wellness approach, complementary to conventional care. They are not a substitute for ongoing medical treatment and do not exempt you from consulting a doctor whenever necessary.

© Inamovemento – 2021 ; Crédits photos : Daphne, Luis Villasmil, Tangerine Newt (unsplash)

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