Employees burnout: signs and actions to take

Unlike other mental health issues, burnout can be directly linked to work. Veronique Bergeot explains how to prevent it.

Healthcare professionals report a 20% increase of antidepressants usage since the beginning of the second lockdown. Because of work uncertainties, life restrictions, and lack of leisure, a more significant part of the population than usual is under pressure. Exposure to high stress for an extended period could have long-lasting side effects known as burnout.

More than ever, managing employees’ stress will become critical for companies in the next few months. After a long period of inactivity, companies will demand even more to their employees. Maintaining a healthy and positive workplace to prevent absences will be a crucial challenge to tackle for HR managers in 2021. However, with a better understanding of stress, its roots and its symptoms, empathetic HR managers can support their workforce with a too high level of stress.

The management team should communicate internally as soon as possible about burnout—specifically, its symptoms, consequences and the existing solutions to curate it. Sophrology, a non-invasive technique reconciling the body and the mind, gives fantastic results to reduce the stress of employees.

What is Burnout?

Burnout and stress are often used for one another though they encompass a different meaning. So, what is the difference between stress and burnout?

Burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion linked to a deterioration in a person’s relationship with their environment.

Burnout finds its origin in stress. Everyone has suffered a bit of stress from time to time. But, when stress stays high for a longer time, it can progress to burnout, becoming a lifetime problem. Therefore, it is crucial to identify burnout early and to fight its symptoms as soon as possible.

The below diagram unfolds every step leading to burnout.

The three main phases leading to burnout
A person affected by burnout has gone through a long process of reactions that unfolds in 3 main phases.

Phase 1: The alarm phase

The adrenal glands produce adrenaline, a hormone responsible for stress, as a response of a physical or psychological “aggression”. Although adrenaline stays in the body for a few hours, the human body naturally supports this phase of stress. This mechanism sparks intellectual stimulation and allows you to be particularly productive.

Phase 2: The resistance phase

For people reaching this phase, stress begins to set in overtime. Stress occurs more frequently and for a longer time, typical of chronic stress. Because of these energy-consuming alarms, immune systems of people experiencing this phase becomes more fragile and sensitive to bacteria and viruses. Anyone undergoing this phase of stress must react immediately to avoid exhaustion.

The main criteria in the resistance phase:

1. Feeling overworked (fatigue, sleeping troubles, irritability, lack of patience, anxious, pain or migraine)
2. Disorders and symptoms last for more than six months
3. Feeling tired and exhausted throughout the day.

Some patients endure hypostress, a state where they might not feel solicited or stimulated enough. Some patents can even feel useless, idle, losing their motivations, and desires. Boredom overwhelms their life, an agonizing situation. The brain considers itself endangered. Hypostress is as devastating than hypertress (see below) and can lead to “bore-out” – a syndrome of exhaustion through boredom.

Some others undergo what we call hyperstress, a very high level of stress linked to stimuli exceeding patients’ intrinsic physical or psychological capacity. This type of stress can lead to a nervous breakdown, burnout and cardiovascular accidents putting the patients’ health at risk. During this phase, patients go further and further into the resistance phase. Patients enduring hyperstress never rest, bring work at home overnight despite overly-long working days, and never go on holiday. In short, they push the engine.

Phase 3: The exhaustion phase (or burnout)

This is the red line. At this stage, patients have exhausted all of their coping skills to face the sources of stress.

In this phase, a phenomenon of denial appears because the mind, still in the resistance phase, produces thoughts such as: “I will rest later”, “I do not have time for this or because of that”, “I must”, “I cannot do otherwise “, amongst others.

Unfortunately, when the battery has run flat (Yes, as if you were a cell phone that had not been charged), the body stops responding. It gives up! The adrenal glands no longer produce cortisol, a hormone responsible for keeping you alert, awake, and active. By blocking the production of certain hormones, the body says STOP! In other words, the body takes control back to save your life.

That’s why, many patients having a burnout, literally collapse or feel paralyzed.

On average, it takes twelve months for the body to be able to produce back these hormones that are providing patients what it takes to get better!

What are the signs of burnout?

They are numerous. But to give a few examples and understand how it affects each part of our being, we will define the symptoms through the following categories:

1. Physical manifestations: physical pain, headaches, eating disorders, dizziness, sleep disturbances, chronic insomnia on nocturnal awakenings or non-restful hypersomnia.

2. Emotional manifestations: feeling stress, anxiety, anguish, irritability, lack of patience, ruminations (the hamster in our head), negative and devaluing ideas, guilt. Notice that these feelings are poles apart from what people usually urge people suffering from burn out to do: to stay stronger, to look perfect, to make more effort, not to be self-centred.

3. Cognitive manifestations such as a lack of concentration and attention and memory problems. Someone who has a burn out drags himself along.

4. Interpersonal manifestations: feeling isolated, emotional problems, getting easily angry, flaring up for no reason at all, being doubtful, feeling guilty, no longer feeling on a par with others, devaluing oneself, telling oneself that one can’t manage anymore” and that one “won’t hold out for long”.

Sophrology against stress and burnout

Very popular in countries like France, Belgium, and Switzerland, Sophrology is known as one of the most efficient non-invasive therapy against burnout. Using relaxation, meditation, and interactive exercises, Sophrology brings back harmony between patients body and mind by recreating a feeling of overall balance.

One of the starting points of Sophrology is to reconnect our brain with our body and its sensations. Above all, Sophrology enables the mind to calm down. Because when stress is prevalent and overwhelming, we progressively disconnect our brain from our body and its environment, cutting off all our sensations, in a sort of mental apnea.

Sophrology aims to positively energize the qualities and resources at our disposal to understand and perceive better not only ourselves but also our environment. Sophrology allows patients to take a step back, to learn how to let go, to be more positive. Sophrology works in reducing uncontrollable thoughts by more positive ones. The positive brings the positive; the negative leads to the negative.

By adopting these relaxation reflexes, both physical and mental, patients using Sophrology manage to reduce their stress and prevent burnout.

Researches have proven that practising Sophrology regularly:
· allows physical and mental recovery.
· enables emotional tension, anxiety and stress overcoming.
· restores and strengthens self-confidence and optimism.

Test your burnout level!

The Copenhagen Burn-out Inventory, created in 2005, is the most widely used test in the world. It assesses the three dimensions of burnout: personal exhaustion, burnout and relationship exhaustion.


Although the results of these tests are not medical diagnoses, they allow a self-assessment of you or your employee level of emotional exhaustion. If your levels are high, I recommend you consult a professional as soon as possible.

Veronique Bergeot

Sophrologist Practitioner

Ex founder of a fast-growing SaaS start-up, Veronique Bergeot is now a Sophrologist Practitioner.