How enthusiasm turns into burnout

Füzes Nóra | psychologist, junior consultant

Füzes Nóra | psychologist, junior consultant

Although burnout is an increasingly familiar and common concept in our everyday lives, there are still many misconceptions surrounding it. One of the main reasons for this is that many similar concepts such as stress, depression or dissatisfaction are used in connection to it. Although these co-concepts are indeed related to burnout and often go hand in hand, they do not fully cover the complexity of burnout.


What do we call burnout?

Burn-out syndrome is a complex physical, psychological and social phenomenon that develops as a result of long-term stress and is sustained by inadequate coping mechanism to stress, making life stressful and sometimes lossful.


How does it develop and how can we spot the warning signs?

In the first phase, for a person who loves his job, sometimes rather idealising it, his own limits are completely stretched. To the outside world, this can be incomprehensible or frightening, as the person becomes almost obsessed with the activity at hand, neglecting their mental and physical well-being and crowding out important human relationships. Being warned can often provoke anger and resistance because “I can’t help it, I have to do it because…”. However, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the question: do you really have to do it? Isn’t there some alternative that would make me feel better about myself and my environment, but also get the job done?

The second phase is realisation. “It’s not okay that I work so much”. This is where the enthusiasm for the activity is diminished and the set of negative emotions such as feeling stuck, dissatisfied or angry increases.

In the third and fourth stages, where there is a great loss of energy, the person no longer enjoys what they are doing. On a daily basis, they are sleepless, tired, discontented, sometimes de-concentrated and often display aggressive emotions, which are already a greater burden for the environment. A “silent banging” is common during this period, which may be an alarm bell at a stage when it is easier to help with the help of a professional or a supportive environment.

In the apathetic fifth stage, burnout becomes generalised. It becomes persistent and spreads to all areas of life. It is essentially a no-man’s land, as feelings of hopelessness and incompetence overwhelm the person. Here, positive, joyful feelings are scattered and if we are not careful, we can quickly find ourselves in the sixth stage, which is nothing less than depression.


What factors can contribute to burnout and what can we do to prevent it?

Burnout was first introduced to the helping professions as Helfer’s syndrome, but researchers soon realised that a person can burn out on almost anything. We would like to believe that weak people burn out faster and that there are indeed certain personality traits (fear of rejection and criticism, desire for recognition, etc.) or environmental or personal factors (unaddressed conflicts, past negative experiences) that predispose to burnout. Yet it has to be said that anyone can burn out if the stress is high enough and persistent enough without the right tools to cope with the difficulties. Other causes can include lack of feedback, feeling overwhelmed, too much emotional involvement, unresolved conflicts and inflexibility.

As more and more fields of science are looking for ways to assess and address the extent of burnout, as personal burnout is not only damaging to the individual but also to the environment and to the often financially measurable effectiveness, it is particularly important to have clear communication and dialogue about the syndrome.



Elisabeth Lukas (2018). Live with commitment, courage and without harmful stress. Ursus Libris, Budapest