The term burnout was coined in 1974 to describe the reactions of workers to chronic stress. Stress is our standard reaction to external danger, and finds its origin in our way to survive in a world of predators. We produce adrenaline and suppress our cognitive processes, to use all of our energy to fight or to flee. When you produce adrenaline for a longer period of time, the body replaces the production of adrenaline by producing the hormone cortisol. Cortisol compensates our loss of energy in the body, but it also suppresses our immune system. Once the immune system has been suppressed for some time, the smallest incident can cause a “crash” which provokes the burnout. It’s as if all of our energy has left our body.
The long period of recovery after a burnout has nothing to do with the stress. It’s the immune system that needs the time – sometimes years – to recover. That is why, when someone is at home recovering from burnout, they can be happy and free of stress, but they still miss the energy to go to work.
It’s clear that to suffer burnout, people need to be exposed to high doses of stress over a longer period of time. This means that in your personality you have to have certain preferences that make you perceive that you must undergo this stress, that you do not have a choice. While someone else with other personal preferences has the choice to escape this stressful situation, and often do so.
Here are some of these important preferences – in NLP we call them meta-programs – with a big influence on our vulnerability to burnout. These preferences are contextual. This means that you could have a particular preference in the workplace, but for example not in your relationships.
A first preference is to like to have everything the same. You prefer to stay in the same job, with the same employer, in the same function. Some people go as far as driving the same way from home to work, needing to have the same parking spot … or their day will be ruined. If this weren’t your preference in a high stress situation, you would have changed jobs long time ago. But in your perception, somehow it seems to be impossible.
A second preference is to always seek external confirmation for the work you do. You’d love to know whether or not you did a good job, and time and again you go ask colleagues, your boss, your customers … anyone for feedback. You have a difficult time evaluating yourself as to whether or not you did a good job. This is especially difficult when you don’t get that confirmation, maybe because your boss is experiencing a difficult time or because your task is taking too long.
A third preference is to put yourself in the shoes of others all of the time: “What will my colleagues say? If I’m reporting sick, someone else will have to take over, so let’s continue doing whatever I’m doing.”
How you can protect yourself?
Increase your mental resistance. You can do this through self-study, or by attending an NLP training or alike. At least, learn to relax.
Start taking up some physical activity or sport. Having a daily walk of about 20 minutes can suffice already.
Increase the flexibility of your body, for example through practicing yoga or Pilates.
Watch what you eat and drink plenty of water.
Take a hobby on which you spend some time every week, and in which personal expression is important: painting, drawing, learning a musical instrument, take drama classes …
How a coach can help you now with stress and burnout:
- When stress is high, but before you’re in a situation of burnout, coaches like us can help you to reduce stress. Less stress means less impact on your immune system.
- A coach can guide you through your personal preferences to support you in finding better choices for yourself. Preferably before it’s too late.
- Even in the situation of a burnout, we can still reduce the amount of stress. Reducing the impact of the stress on your body, will make it easier for the body to recover. The physical characteristics of the burnout and the recovery itself of the immune system obviously require the guidance of a medical doctor.
- Finally, once it’s too late, and you are recovering or have recovered from a burnout, a coach can help you not to fall again for the same trap as you’ve done before.
You want to know more? Attend one of our free sessions.