Posted by: Lars Oestreicher | May 14, 2012

Yet another one…

Today I got some knowledge about another friend of mine who has reached the end of his bodily petrol tank, running out of gas. I met him at the end of April, and it was difficult to realise that this would happen, because nothing could be noticed, at least not directly. In afterthought there were small signs, but it is much easier to make post-fact-observations.

So, now he has joined the club of burned-out people, or the club of people with stressrelated exhaustion syndromes. This group of people is constantly growing, it seems, and nobody seems to really care about any preventive actions. People with this syndrome are really impaired for a long time after the events that caused it, and even thinking in economical terms, it is really a waste. But what could be done to prevent this type of illness? Isn’t it, as I said, always easy to see afterwards, but much more difficult to see the warning signs in advance? Actually, I think there are plenty of possible warning signs, that should lead to a preventive consultation with a psychologist or someone educated in stress therapy (I know that this is not a formal term, but I think the intention is clear).

So what are the warning signs? Well, there are many different ones, and I will write down those that I can see should have given me a warning, apart from the major indicator: the constant feeling of being stressed:

  1. Keeping many things going at the same time. This is of course not a problem, as long as you are not in the risk zone. Often this is regarded as an important skill. But if you are continuously forced to juggle many tasks in order to keep them up and running, then this is a high risk factor.
  2. Loosing the control and overview. When you now and then feel that you are no longer in control of your work or personal life, and that you have lost the overview over all things that you have to do, then that is also a warning sign. If it happens once, there is of course not a problem, but if it reoccurs, then you need to check what is going on.(*)
  3. Forgetting things and missing meetings. One of the first things that fail under stress, is the memory mechanisms. Most affected is the short term memory, and a person who has kept most things in his memory, will soon discover that he cannot do so any more. One of my first signs, was actually when I missed having a full class waiting for me to give a lecture, while I was happily skiing.
  4. Fatigue Being unexplainably tired is a late warning sign. If you are unable to sleep the tiredness away regardless of how much you sleep, this is also an indicator. The body is trying to avoid the burnout by shutting down, the only way it knows. Unfortunately, this will most of the time result in an even greater stress, during the waking hours.
  5. Problems talking. Stress does affect our oral output. If you start to stutter or realise that you are sometimes saying things without thinking, that is also a very strong indicator. Our speech system is very sensitive to stress, and gives us away immediately.
  6. Losing of focus or having difficulties reading. When we are too stressed, the mind tends to sprint between many different things that are wirling around in the head. It becomes difficult to stay focused on one topic for a longer period of time. Reading texts is also one of those skills that are affected by stress. If the reading gets to slow for the stressed mind, it gets bored, and skips reading.
  7. Mood changes. Getting angry or upset without any reasonable cause, or having large mood swings is one of the indicators of that something is out of balance. This can of course have many causes, but is one of the indicators.
  8. Denial of being stressed. Many people who are on the edge do not admit to the problem. And even if they admit to a stressful situation, they still maintain that they cannot change the situation now, or that “when I have only finished this”, things will get better. But the situation never changes, and the stressfulness continues.

There are several other symptoms, I presume, but these are the ones that I can more or less easily see in my own pre-burnout history. And towards the end, I had most of these at the same time, and did still not understand… We are very good at denying our own weaknesses, and many times we need other people to help us in detecting the problems enough to make something of it. I think we need to be aware of this, all of us, because we need to help our friends colleagues in understanding that something is wrong, and that something has to change.

This is difficult, and we are often scared of intervening in other peoples lives, but I think it is completely necessary, in todays society with all requirements that meet us everywhere… So my only advice is to look around you, and be aware of the warning signs. And maybe we can help other people to regain their health.

(*) People with very stressing work situations, such as flight controllers, can report “loosing the picture” when they have been in the business for a long time. This is a warning sign as well, since it is a signal telling that the mental mechanisms are not coping at the same rate any more.


  1. […] you didn’t read that post, I can tell you that the list contained eight items. And this morning I just couldn’t get out […]

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