Exhaustion, overwork, irritability… How to avoid burnout?


It is a very sensitive subject. We talk about it more and more in recent years, but do we really know the definition of burnout and its distinctive signs? It is sometimes difficult to know when you are suffering from it, to talk about it around you, and even to get treatment before the situation gets worse. Cathy Assenheim is a clinical psychologist, specializing in neuropsychology, and author of the book I’m exhausted !. She was the guest of Well done for you on Europe 1 to give you advice on overwork.

How long has the burnout started?

If the term is quite recent, “it has always existed”, says the specialist. “Before, we associated it with the depressive side, we also spoke of nervous breakdown.” In reality, “it’s been ten years since we started talking about it in terms of physiological pathology”, continues Cathy Assenheim.

Before that, the question was posed differently. “There has also been a change in society that places a lot of emphasis on well-being,” she says. Women and men of previous generations “didn’t ask themselves the question” of burnout, until they collapsed. “They were given other labels, of various and varied illnesses”, such as madness or depression.

How to recognize the signs of a burnout?

To answer this question, the clinician wishes to recall what adaptation is: “These are nervous and hormonal modifications that we all make on a daily basis”, when we are hungry, thirsty, or even when we must tackle a professional or personal problem. “The more nerve changes, the more hormonal imbalances.”

The first stage is therefore overwork. “When you start rowing a little, the nervous system boosts itself to give a kind of crutch” to the body. A whole set of symptoms can alert you: excitability, a “robot mode”, difficulty resting, late falling asleep or even very early morning awakenings.

Intense fatigue

After a while, the crutch your body is resting on will start to give way. An increasingly intense fatigue, like great insomnia, should warn you. Other symptoms may appear: anxiety surges, a failing immune system, irritability, irritation, sugar cravings or even repeated ENT symptoms.

Finally, nothing works, and “we lie in bed, we can not get up, we have no choice,” says Cathy Assenheim. At this point, “even recovery doesn’t work anymore”. One also feels difficulty in breathing, since the “nervous system is linked to breathing”. Hearing or vision problems may also appear.

Is it letting go?

On the contrary, insists the specialist, burnout has nothing to do with willpower, “it’s a physiological disorder”. Rest is therefore useless when you feel the symptoms of a burn-out, since you are in permanent action. “You have to do biological examinations and see the state of the disorder,” she insists.

Another received idea: the supposed weakness of the person concerned. “It has nothing to do with a psychological weakness: on the contrary, it is often people who are going to be adapting all the time.” And everyone can be affected, adult as well as child. Cathy Assenheim’s youngest patient, for example, is eight years old.

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What to do in case of symptoms?

You can go to a general practitioner, with a nuance, you need a caregiver who is “trained in the analysis of neurotransmitters” who will prescribe “salivary and urinary tests that allow you to see the adrenal function and all the hormones that are linked “. These are the indicators of exhaustion, explains the psychologist again.

Only after these analyzes, your doctor will put in place a treatment to regulate the disorders. You can also try to better regulate your sleep, since it influences the nervous system.

How long does it last ?

Can a few weeks of vacation help stop the process? For Cathy Assenheim, the answer is no. “You have to understand that when you are exhausted, it is the basic resources, therefore nervous and hormonal, that are attacked. In the mildest cases, four to six weeks of relaxation, while working to improve your condition, can ” allow you to get your head out of the water”, specifies the specialist.

For the most severe cases, “it takes three to six months” of treatment. In all cases, psychological work, in addition to physiological treatment, is strongly recommended, but it must take place after the acute phase of the burnout.

How to treat?

For example, there are plants naturally suited to genes such as rhodiola, saffron and ashwagandha, which are regulators of cortisol, the hormone produced by the adrenal glands. A good diet and good sleep are also necessary.

Physical activity can also help, but “no endurance”, details Cathy Assenheim, “because we already have a nervous system which is overboosted, so we will accentuate this lack of recovery” if we work on endurance. There are also “nervous” times to be preferred for sport, such as from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., or from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., the specialist recommends that you take a “not too long” nap, one hour, or even 1:30, “otherwise you will disrupt your entire nervous system”.

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