Learn more about the causes and treatment of burnout

The problem of burnout is increasingly well-recognised in modern society. Dr. Brühlmann, one of Switzerland's leading experts in treating burnout syndromes, shares his knowledge about this specialist field of mental health.
Dr. med. T. Brühlmann is a renowned expert for burnout syndromes and life crises. He is the Medical Director of Privatklinik Hohenegg in Meilen close to Zurich and head of its specialist centre for burnout and life crisis. In this interview, he talks about the best treatment options for burnout syndromes, as well as preventive measures that can taken to avoid it.

Burnout and life crisis problems increasingly attract a lot of attention. Why do so many people have problems like burnout?

This phenomena is largely due to recent developments in society and in the economy. Society‘s thinking in terms of what constitutes performance and success has spread widely.

In this context, the expectations of efficiency and competition placed on an individual have increased and in recent years, the incremental economic and financial crisis has led to a generalised uncertainty. 

So what are the causes of burnout syndromes?

There are external and internal causes. External factors are the actual impacts of working and life environment on the individual, as a result of the above described social developments. If the pressure is too much, it results in an overwhelming degree of stress.

The internal causes are personal character traits that combine with the external causes to create an even greater degree of stress. These personality types tend towards extreme traits like perfectionism, over-ambition or over-responsibility. Often there are people with obsessive-compulsive or narcissistic traits.

Do you think that many people realise their burnout problem too late and why?

Yes, that‘s true. It‘s difficult for the typical person at risk of burnout to acknowledge their limits and to realise that they‘re not as strong and capable anymore.

Showing weakness is not congruent with her or his previous self-perception. It‘s understandable, when today‘s ideal is to be always fit and successful in everything.

What can people do to avoid developing burnout syndromes?

It‘s important to maintain a good balance between work, relationships and leisure (the work-life balance).

The meaning of life should not only exist in success and achievement, but should also involve values such as solidarity, enjoyment or authenticity.

Furthermore, it is crucial to plan sufficient recreational time in the weekly agenda, e.g. regular physical activity.

How can you recognise the symptoms and signs of burnout syndrome?

Burnout is an exhaustion syndrome. It presents with physical exhaustion symptoms like fatigue and energy loss and various psychosomatic symptoms such as pain, digestive problems, heart palpitations and insomnia.

Emotional symptoms include depression and loss of motivation, but also irritability and nervousness. Further signs could be rapid mental and intellectual fatigue, concentration and memory problems, as well as a general decrease in performance.

On a social level, it leads to withdrawal, distrust or even cynicism.

Burnout presents as physical exhaustion with fatigue, energy loss and various psychosomatic symptoms such as pain, digestive problems, heart palpitations and insomnia.

Dr. Brühlmann

What is the best way to treat burnout syndrome and how long does it take?

The focus is on psychotherapy, possibly combined with coaching. Often, methods for relaxation and improved body awareness are helpful (e.g. autogenic training or activities such as yoga, Qi Gong, Shiatsu).

Drugs should be used carefully and specifically, for example with insomnia or in case of depression. If out-patient treatment is not sufficient, inpatient treatment should be suggested. Ideally, this should be done by a psychiatric hospital with a psychotherapeutic orientation and expertise in dealing with burnout.

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