Burnout, occupational burnout, exhaustion disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, or exhaustion syndrome seems to be used interchangeably.

As long as everyone knows what we’re talking about, what we call it is less relevant. The point is that it’s caused by stress without sufficient recovery for a longer duration, generally months, and can make people extraordinarily disabled and totally unrecognizable compared to how they used to be. It seems as if it’s almost exclusively a phenomenon of society today – a consequence of the stress of modern life. Stress has become one of the most common reasons for sick leave today with its long-term consequences.

But are the usual treatment methods really effective?

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Relevant blog posts:

The Big Three: What Is Burnout?

Why Do We Get Burnout?

Treating Burnout

More is found here, on the blog, under the stress and burnout category.

Nope! We can’t have a stress response all day, no rest in between, repeat infinitely, and expect to thrive. That’s modern life bonkers.

Man with perspective

Exhaustion and burnout in its authentic form will lead to plenty of issues. The ones below are some of the really common ones. Recognize any of them? They are at least some of the most debilitating.

Fatigue. Energy levels that once made you productive for eighteen hours a day are now depleting practically instantly when doing something – or more or less nothing – and they barely ever recharge. Not to mention the extreme lack of energy in the BODY – not just the MIND.

Physical pain – everywhere, or in places without any good reason whatsoever. Except… there might be a reason here. Psychosomatic pain from a brain signaling for help and doing everything to try to pull the emergency brake for a chance to rest and recover. Some common examples are headaches, back pain and spasms, trouble with the forearms/legs and hands/feet, making the hands and feet mostly painful and dysfunctional, rather than lovely tools you’d like to use. Perhaps some chest pain?

Stress intolerance. The stress you earlier thought of as nothing suddenly seems like the whole world is coming down over you – and you break. You can’t take it. All this pressure!? Was it always like this?!

Worse memory, brain fog, and feeling stupid because the brain simply won’t cooperate as it used to. Perhaps due to the long-term stress, that gave plenty of cortisol, which practically acts like a toxin for the nerves and, according to some, could even produce brain damage.

Emotions. Did you always have all of those? Did you usually get annoyed and irritated by such minor things – or cry for such minor details?

Sleep, this once lovely thing – where are you now? Nowadays, it’s exhausting even to sleep. Or try to anyway. You’re lucky if you get any at all in between the episodes of sleeplessness. Do you sleep anything, or are you rather just rolling around in bed all night?

Depression sneaks in; helplessness, general tragedy, and misery become the new common theme of life.

Anxiety might creep up on you in one way or another. There is a new, but kind of blurry, discomfort around doing a simple thing like shopping for groceries or walking through town. Perhaps you planned something fun like going to a restaurant, traveling somewhere, or just going to the movies – and suddenly you stumble upon your first panic attack? Does your heart usually race?

Symptoms from the heart seem to be quite common when you’ve been at it too hard for too long. The heart might race, skip a beat or add extra ones. Usually uncomfortable and most often harmless, but a symptom nonetheless. To make sure, asking a cardiologist to look at it might be a good idea. Long-term stress really does strain the cardiovascular system, so the heart attacks you’ve heard about from stressful events are not just a made-up thing. The heart is supposed to react to stress. To beat harder and faster is helpful to get the blood flowing to get you going when you need to. But if that stress is at all times, when you’re at work, at home, when you can’t sleep and when you’ve got all that anxiety in general – that’s not functional. That’s not a good thing and useful, though it would explain why the heart rate might be elevated at practically all times. A resting heart rate shouldn’t be 90-110, but it might if the physiology is really at it from the stress.

Tight chest, pressure in your chest, or a hard time breathing though nothing’s wrong is likely similar to the hearth-thing, as long as nothing else is wrong. To ensure that, someone with the right equipment and who usually look at hearts might want to take a look. It’s more common to find out that there’s nothing wrong, but you don’t want to ignore it and be a part of the minority. It might be from tense muscles around the ribs and the chest area, which refer to pain and restrict movement, but then again, it might be something else.

Gastrointestinal issues you’ve never had before could suddenly start showing up.

Sensitivity to stimuli like sound, smell, touch or lights.

Dizziness for no “apparent reason”.

Perhaps you don’t suffer from all of them. If you don’t, I’m glad. But these are all common – and they are quite horrible in and of themselves. They are some really relevant things to tend to; they are far from the whole situation, but parts that are ordinary to relate to in case you are exhausted. The beautiful part is that they ARE, without a doubt, possible to influence, change and affect without medications. I can be your guide and help you. If so, we will start by mapping out a far bigger picture of life than just the above and then work on pinpointing what’s causing trouble – and change it.

Stress is very general wear and tear. It’s wide and a little here and there – which might be why it varies what people get bothered by once they really do get bothered enough to care. Once the weakest link of the chain breaks – and that weakest link varies – it might get serious. Some get depressed, and some get panic attacks, some get CVD, and some get pains and aches.

Some get burned out – or “exhaustion syndrome” and bothered by plenty of symptoms, of which some might persist for quite some time.

The exhaustion syndrome, a diagnosis in some countries, comes with certain criteria.

  • Physical and psychological symptoms of exhaustion under at least 14 days due to one or several identifiable stress factors thatch have been there for at least six months.
  • Notably declined mental energy dominates the picture. Less productive, less stamina or longer recovery time after mental work.

At least four of the following have been present practically daily for the 14 days:

  • Hard to focus [suddenly incapable of doing more than one thing at at time, keeping track of a conversation] or remember [names, places, dates, where you put things, parked car, find words]
  • Notably harder to handle stress and pressure, such as doing something timed. Intolerance to stress; trying gives anxiety, and increases the dysfunction of focus and memory.
  • More emotional, unstable and irritable. Bad mood, easily provoked.
  • Physical fatigue and weakness.
  • Physical symptoms such as pain, heart racing, upset stomach, dizziness or sensitivity to stimuli.
  • Sleep disruption, sleeping more or less than before.

For a diagnosis, the patient “should suffer from the problem” or have a decreased function in social- or work-related situations where it can’t be a result of drugs, medication, or other illnesses such as depression, panic syndrome, or GAD.

It usually consists of a few phases, where it’s a decently long process to get it. It won’t happen overnight.

Build up

– Work consists of handling stress, challenges, and demands. Speed, perhaps an unsafe environment, and things are unfair. Conflicts and you lack control. – At home, there’s something else, if you do have any free time to spend at home. Perhaps people to take care of, illness, conflict or bothering economics?

Once one does crash and burn, the situation often gets obvious. You’ve been too busy, and it just went over your head for months, years, or perhaps”practically always”. But you kept going bravely. Ambitious and thorough, that’s who you are – and perform – that’s what you do! You’re a doer, you help, and you achieve at any cost. You rest and sleep less, ruminations and brooding start, cognitive symptoms appear, or perhaps it starts with weird pains and aches.

Acute phase

Sudden and often something you really notice. It’s practically a breakdown of some sort, so it’s common to know when and where it happened. Some break down in the office and cry under their desk, some drive to their old workplace they haven’t been to for years – and once there, they have no idea how to get in “because the key doesn’t work?!” – and once they get what they’re doing they have no idea how they got there or why. Some don’t get out of bed one day. They can’t. The body won’t do it. There’s nothing you can do about it. The cognitive symptoms and fatigue suddenly hit. You might get some sort of blackout, confusion, or disorientation.


Symptoms regress, and capacity increases. But if it’s done without decent control and competence, it’s often confusing, irregular, slow, and sometimes utterly incomprehensible without any pattern. Unless there’s a dramatic change in relation to what you did in the build up-phase, this might take years (if it ever gets done – there are those who’ve kept going for 15+ years and can’t work to this day).

People often hope for a week off – and then they’re back at it, but the going back is never sudden. If you got here, you worked hard to get here. It wasn’t achieved easily, and there’s a journey back. You can’t force getting better, but you can create the conditions necessary for recovery.

Memory, concentration, stress intolerance, and difficulty with pressure are usually the most persistent symptoms. If you really did do something about it early enough, the recovery time might be weeks. If you didn’t – years.