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Burnout and Exhaustion

The term “burnout” alludes to an analogy between a person and an electric machine that “burns out” its circuit board when overloaded. In reality, a burnout is a type of nervous breakdown in reaction to an extreme emotional situation, for example after being overworked at a job or overwhelmed from a social, relationship or familial point of view. The adaptive capacities of the person decrease, as a candle consuming the last of its wax, and they have no more energy to continue. Biologically, neurochemistry, notably serotonin levels, can be perturbed and the brain just doesn’t function as efficiently.

For the general public the term “Burnout” is a euphemism for what in psychiatry is usually called “major depression” or “clinical depression”. A burnout can be something less severe, simply exhaustion, for which the individual only needs more rest or a vacation to recuperate; however, it can also be a much more serious affair, with significant and long-term consequences for the individual’s health and that needs to be treated and followed up very closely.

The symptoms of a burnout are the following: extreme sadness, rumination of dark thoughts or even suicidal thoughts, feelings of guilt or shame, a decrease or lack of vital energy, a loss of meaning in life, effects on libido and sexual functions, sleep disorder (difficulties falling asleep, waking in the middle of the night or waking very early in the morning), eating dysfunction with either loss of appetite and weight or increase of appetite, mainly for sweets and saturated fatty foods and consequent weight gain. Migrating pain can occur that can evolve into what rheumatologists call “fibromyalgia”. The patient might suffer from ahedonism, that is a lack of pleasure in doing one’s favorite hobbies or pastimes or doing anything as a matter of fact. Memory disorder can be present with difficulties concentrating and repetitive absent mindedness and forgetting. Patients can have tremors and cold sweats and, finally, in severe cases, delusions (beliefs in situations contraire to reality) and hallucinations (perceptions in any of the five senses without an actual stimulus) can be present in severe cases of depression or other psychotic phenomena. This is why it is imperative to see your doctor or a psychiatrist in order to determine if you have a simple burnout or something more serious.

Substance abuse, conflictful family and professional situations and chronic psychiatric illness can all lead to burnout. At Clinic Les Alpes, with our multidisciplinary approach towards the mind, body and spirit, we have specialists that can help you on all these levels to rid yourself of burnout and to abstain from the repetitive behaviors that led to that condition whatever they may be.