Stress complaints

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Stress complaints

Emotional exhaustion

The terms emotional exhaustion and burnout are often used interchangeably. They resemble each other, but are different. People can become emotionally exhausted after a prolonged period of excessive stress. Stress is a part of life, but when the day-to-day stresses of life become more than you can handle, and persist for longer than you can handle, you are bound to feel the negative effects. People suffering from emotional exhaustion often describe their condition as feeling hurried, nervous and irritated. They often report that they no longer have a grip on their life or any control over their situation. They often have physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, hyperventilation and muscle pain. Early intervention is important in cases of emotional exhaustion in order to prevent more severe exhaustion and fatigue. When that happens, burnout can occur. Emotional exhaustion can be an early indicator of burning out.


People suffering from burnout often realise later that they have had symptoms for a long time, symptoms that only progressed over a longer period of time. The symptoms associated with burnout include extreme fatigue, exhaustion, heightened emotionality and irritability, trouble sleeping as well as other physical complaints. These symptoms are a reaction to chronic stress and insufficient relaxation. Burnout can occur as a result of too much stress in your personal or working life, but it usually a combination of too much stress over a long period in both areas of life.

In many ways, burnout is similar to depression so these two disorders are often confused. One difference is that with a burnout, exhaustion is usually identified as the main symptom, whereas with depression, it is severe despondency. Another difference is that with burnout, people still want to do things, but can’t because they’re so exhausted. People suffering from depression no longer have interest in doing things. People who are burned out can often identify a particular moment at which they ‘broke’ or ‘collapsed’. For example, they name the moment that yet another file landed on their desk, or that they had to stay home ill with the flu and something just ‘snapped’, leaving them unable to keep going as they had been going.

Cognitive behavioural therapy focuses on the thought patterns and the behaviour that caused your symptoms and made them become chronic. Frequently, you will be encouraged to slowly return to old activities, while learning to maintain a healthy balance between stress and relaxation.

‘Emotional exhaustion’ and ‘burnout’ are not official diagnoses, but are recognized by psychologists. Treatment is often not reimbursed by insurers.

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