Burn-out – folk disease or fashion sickness?
Stressed and burned out: More and more Germans are complaining about mental illnesses. But do companies and society really have to change something – or do we simply have to become more resilient?
Burn-out: The hunt for recognition dragged me deep
Product-Designer, ehemalige Burn-out Betroffene
- After years of competitive sports and career zeal, I broke down
- The most important thing is to realize that something has to change
- There is an indicator that can help everyone protect themselves from burnout
Performance and recognition were my identity. I started my first cross-country skiing competition when I was three years old. The adrenaline and success that I experienced in these races shaped my life. They always motivated me to perform at my best. In that time I started to be in a competitive environment. It was always about achievement, about recognition, about crossing borders.
When you grow up with such values as a child in competitive sports, these patterns are quickly transferred to all other areas of life. Performance and work became my coping strategy for all kinds of problems. Compared to alcohol or drugs, this is certainly the less damaging procedure, but I also felt the physical effects of such a lifestyle: I spent a lot of time in sports, in my studies and then in my jobs – and suffered in the meantime Migraines, heart bites, fainting and panic attacks. After a final collapse on the highway, I was finally admitted to a psychosomatic clinic for three months.
Less gives me more
Psychological treatment was important, but just the beginning. The turning point for me came from one to the next day. On a day when I wasn’t actually doing very well. At my husband’s suggestion, we watched a documentary on minimalism on that rainy day. This film opened my eyes and motivated me to change something very fundamental in my life: it takes very little to be really happy – but a well-respected title for a stressful job that brings a lot of money but makes you sick doesn’t belong to.
Almost overnight, I decided to get rid of 80 percent of my property and also my emotional ballast. That started a new life for me. A life in which I can work less because I need less money. A life in which I can invest this newly gained time for my friends, family and for projects that are really close to my heart.
There is so much behind the themes of ownership and minimalism. We all strive for things that are important to us: we want to achieve a lot, work a lot and have a lot, and run an endless race in the hamster wheel of modern life. To reward ourselves for the hard work, we buy expensive things that result in us having to work more to be able to afford these things permanently. But the feeling of happiness after the purchase does not last long and the search for the next short-term “shopping high” continues.
After donating or giving away so much of my property, I could finally see that I was chasing too many, and especially the wrong, goals. A title, a high salary, an expensive car does not automatically mean a full life – often quite the opposite.
The pursuit of success is human – to a certain extent
We all grow up to be something only when we have a title. So it happened that after my time in competitive sports, I first looked for the challenge in my studies, then as head of a start-up and finally as a marketing manager for a well-known American electric car manufacturer.
But only when I was completely torn out of this life by my burn-out and found time to think through the therapy, i did realize: I don’t need all of this to be happy! After this admission I was able to think further. If I’m experiencing a burnout just because I want to be successful, it may not be the right industry for me. Because I believe that something is only sustainable if you enjoy what you do and do not have to sacrifice your health. From this consideration I stumbled to the next thought: What is it then, my “area”? This question may sound simple, but in fact after a collapse it is extremely difficult for someone to get from the first insight to such quite concrete plans for the future.
My family and friends played a major role. Often these people know you better than you know yourself. I knew that there was no way back to marketing. But I also didn’t know where else to go. Again and again they encouraged me to do something creative and just try it out. But earlier the job seemed to me to be too little “viewed”. At this stage, however, I thought to myself – what should happen if I just give it a chance? And lo and behold, I found my first appeal that really makes me happy.
But what sounds simple here was a hard way, in which I constantly fought my inner voice. The voice that tells you that you failed while everyone else was successful. And I always had the feeling that I was alone with my problems. Then I started talking about my fear of failure and the feeling of being a nobody without professional recognition. And I noticed that many people felt the same way I did. In the meantime, I believe that we millennials are being lured by the rapid rise and made sick. Professional success is like an intoxication that quickly makes you overlook symptoms. You feel good for a moment, like the greatest pike in the pond – even if this success is often expensive, ultimately means little and says nothing about your own personality.
If you still find the exit from this psychic hamster wheel, it is essential to make yourself aware that you are and remain a great person even without promotion or without praise from any bosses. It was not easy, but I stopped defining myself about professional recognition.
Escape the tunnel vision
Many negative side effects and problems are hidden in the tunnel vision of the successful work. But despite the real and the supposed stress, as a victim you can tell when something goes wrong – the indicator for this is the social environment. When the burnout came to a head, I was always tired, exhausted and began to encapsulate myself – not professionally, mainly privately. I canceled appointments at short notice, didn’t answer messages from my closest friends for weeks, and often sat quietly at the table on family weekends.
Today I know that almost all people with burnout feel the same way. That is why this situation is a good time to realize that working life is developing into something unhealthy. As soon as you realize that the closest social environment is suffering from work pressure, it is time to act. Because what I also learned is that nothing – absolutely nothing – happens if you don’t finish a task or let an after-work drink do that work. Ultimately, the social environment is irreplaceable in an emergency, but the networking contact is not.
Stress, the hunt for recognition and the pressure to constantly climb the professional career ladder – all of this can be like an avalanche. But the good news is: you can escape this avalanche and, if it has been released, you can free yourself from it again. By cultivating your social network, finding the courage to say “No” professionally, and constantly reflecting on your own situation: On the one site, you have to ask yourself what makes you really happy. On the other site, it requires that you always be honest with yourself and that you have the courage to take the consequences if its necessary. And if you are already in the middle of the crisis, this consequence can also mean that you seek medical help, take a break or even quit.
It all sounds like a lot, I know. But from my own experience, I can tell that the work that you invest in yourself right here will pay off more in your life than any salary.