Emotional burnout: definitions, causes, symptoms and solutions to overcome it

Emotional burnout: definitions, causes, symptoms and solutions to overcome it

What is emotional burnout? What are the symptoms, origins and how to treat it? Update with psychologist Emeric Lebreton.

Emotional burnout can be due to different situations or factors and manifest in several ways. But, in all cases, the result is the same: the person experiencing burnout feels exhausted and has difficulty containing their emotions. Hence the importance of not taking this state lightly. Talking about it and consulting your doctor is essential to get out of this period of stress which can have significant impacts on daily life. This disorder can be treated by a psychologist or psychiatrist. Prevention, particularly in the professional sphere, must be at the heart of concerns in the company. Find out what the signs of emotional burnout are, the risk factors (health, life, relationships), but also the treatment.

What is burnout?

“Burnout is a syndrome of exhaustion which can be physical, psychological or both”defines Emeric Lebreton, doctor of psychology and author of Emotions card game (Orient’action Paris). Thus, it can be both physical and/or psychological. As for the causes of this exhaustion, “they can be multifactorial, hence the fact that we speak of a syndrome”, specifies the specialist. We most often hear about burnout within the professional sphere. However, sometimes, it is within the framework of a relationship or in his parenthood that we have a burnout. And then, “it happens that burnout is both the consequence of an overload of work at the professional level and of too many tasks to be carried out at home”, observes Emeric Lebreton. It then combines several factors. The same goes for the symptoms: we can find very different ones, but which, through their cumulative effect, will make us think of burnout and harm the person’s state of mental health.

Differences between burn out and emotional burn out

As Dr. Lebreton points out, “emotional burnout is really an approach through emotions”. However, burnout, in the classic sense of the term, is not necessarily addressed through emotions. For example, this intense fatigue can be caused by stress and give rise to purely physical problems of exhaustion. Thus, the symptoms in burnout can be essentially physical, or the person suffering from it may experience few emotions, which is then closer to depression. Indeed, “some people are completely sluggish and will not necessarily react or feel overwhelmed by their emotions”, notes the psychologist. On the contrary, in the case of emotional burnout, the symptoms are predominantly “emotional”. In short, this state of extreme fatigue comes from experiencing too intense emotions for too long a period of time.

Emotional burn out: the different possible causes

  • Burnout can occur in the professional field. This may follow a work overload in business (overwork) or at a pression exercised by colleagues or superiors which can sometimes go as far as harassment. Some people are also very/too perfectionists in their work, and always invest more energy and overtime to complete their tasks. Consequence: they become exhausted and experience a feeling of failure or incompetence.
  • Burnout can have a sentimental origin. “As a couple, the contrast between what we dreamed of and everyday reality can cause disappointment, which can, in the long run, lead to emotional burnout”, reports Emeric Lebreton. Indeed, whether in love, at work or in daily life as parents, burnout is often linked to a situation where we want to achieve a goal, an objective, without being able to achieve it. And this, despite the means implemented. As a result, the person will put more and more effort and energy into it, in vain. Over time, it will completely exhaust itself, because it draws on all our energy reserves, without realizing it. Ultimately, we arrive at the opposite of the expected result, it is counterproductive. Especially since, as Doctor Lebreton points out, “the desired objective is generally unattainable, because we have idealized our romantic relationship, our career objectives or even the education that we wish to give to our children”. For example, in the situation of a couple’s life, if the other partner no longer loves us, striving to try to get him back is wasted effort, continuing in this pattern can therefore lead to emotional exhaustion.
  • Concerning parental burnout, it is most often due to exhaustion, parental overload, overwork, societal pressure, etc. The distinction with emotional burnout, in the context of parenthood according to the psychologist? It can manifest itself, for example, because our child systematically refuses to do his homework and the situation upsets us. We feel an emotion, we will try to correct ourselves, to find solutions. Sometimes, the father/mother manages to control himself, other times, he/she loses his calm, except that the problem does not resolve itself, the emotion becomes omnipresent and manifests itself in an increasingly intense manner. Result, the parent becomes exhausted, overwhelmed by emotionto which can be added other negative emotions such as fear and guilt. Our exhaustion then intensifies further and can lead to loss of rationality, which could nevertheless allow us to find an alternative solution. Note that as a bonus, it is often a emotional buildup due to a set of daily tasks that are difficult to complete : the child is reluctant to do his homework, to eat his vegetables, it takes an hour to get him to bed and the bath turns into a struggle every evening.

Why do we burn out?

For the psychologist, “emotional burnout is linked to experiencing emotions that are too intense, which overwhelm us”. For example, we have an excess of anger which means that we feel angry all the time. The same goes for sadness, fear, loss of desire, motivation or even when a feeling of permanent disgust invades us, overwhelms us. Besides, “all these emotions can mix with each other”, he notes. According to him, emotion functions like pain: we can listen to it, accept it until it subsides, or deny it. Or, emotion being a signal that something upsets usif we do nothing, if we do not deal with it, our annoyance risks transforming into anger and increasing tenfold until we lead to emotional exhaustion.

The main signs of emotional burnout

The first signal that should alert is frequency : do we often feel overwhelmed by our emotions? And for good reason, we can all feel overwhelmed by anger one day. On the other hand, “if it happens every day and persists over time, it becomes problematic”, estimates the doctor of psychology. The other sign to take into account according to him is intensity of our emotional exhaustion. As long as we manage to let go, to take a step back to let the emotion pass, everything is relatively fine. If this is no longer the case and we lose lucidity and rationality in our reactions, it is a signal that we must react. Finally, this emotional fatigue can be accompanied or give rise toother signs or disorders, this time physical : a feeling of fatigue, trouble sleeping, pain in the body, the appearance of eczema, tachycardia or an anxiety attack can be physical manifestations of this emotional overload.

Depression or burnout?

But how to distinguish emotional burnout from depression? According to Emeric Lebreton, depression is rather the opposite of emotional burnout: a depressed person tends to be subject to a gradual erasure of their emotions. On the other hand, he warns, “emotional burnout can turn into depression, that is to say that from one day to the next, the person ceases to feel the slightest emotion”.

How to recover from emotional burnout?

If you find yourself experiencing the symptoms of emotional burnout, that you feel emotionally exhausted, do not hesitate to go consult your general practitioner without delay. The latter will be able to offer you medicinal treatment or/and refer you to a professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapies) is an effective therapy for healing from emotional burnout. Another alternative: with the help of a therapist, work on managing your emotions. In his approach, what comes first for Emerci Lebreton: correcting the situation. “The intensity and frequency of the emotion tells us that it is either inconsistent or unacceptable, so we must modify the patient’s environment to help him get better.” Or/and learn to give up on certain goals, when they are unachievable. For example, in romantic relationships, when there are daily arguments despite efforts to try to calm the situation, it may be time to consider a separation. Likewise, if our emotional exhaustion comes from work and we cannot remedy it, it is probably better to change it to preserve our state of mental health. As for emotional burnout linked to children, the psychologist advises not to hesitate to get psychological help to learn how to change our behavior and make things go better. At the same time, we can…