Life after a burnout: permanent stress complaints or full recovery?
in Stress

Life after a burnout: permanent stress complaints or full recovery?

Life after a burnout is often a lot harder than thought. During a burn-out you have the will to get better again. Not so crazy when you realize that you are completely empty and have no oomph to get out of your chair and do something. When you have reached your lowest point in a burn-out, you can drop off on your way to recovery.

One person’s recovery takes on average seven months, whereas the other takes two years, but in any case everyone wants to get better and just be able to participate in daily life. Recovery after a burn-out takes a long time. You will sometimes think despondent that you will never feel better again.

Gradually you get more energy and have more good days. You pick up your life bit by bit, but how do you make sure you don’t relapse? You don’t want to step into your old traps. Getting the balance back between your mind and feeling after a burn-out takes time and energy.

The low point of a burn-out

Many people experience a low point when they get burn-out. This happens because the body then indicates its limits in a hard-handed way. It then says: “Stop! It really can’t go on now.

Stories of experience:

I arrived vomiting at work, threw up in the toilet and tried to take part in the meeting. Sweat came out of all my pores and I really didn’t get anything anymore. I had to report sick, but driving home on my own turned out to be impossible’.

At night I woke up with violent palpitations. I panicked completely and soon there was an ambulance next to my house. A week later I got rid of the heart monitor. The nurse said it was close one. My body was exhausted, empty and my recovery lasted 2 years’.

After the low point (as described above) the road to recovery starts. It often goes with ups and downs. Over and over again, a boundary is crossed and someone is thrown back into the recovery path.

Complaints while recovering from a burnout

Common complaints during recovery:

  • Physical exhaustion
  • Fear and panic (e.g. while driving)
  • Fear of getting tired again
  • Headache/migraine
  • Severe stress complaints
  • Doubts and worries

Persistent complaints after burn-out

It happens regularly that people keep having permanent complaints after a burn-out.

The body reacts over-alert to prevent another burn-out. For example, a lot of panic and anxiety may recur in certain situations. Sometimes this only passes after years, sometimes it never wears off.

In my own case it took years before I dared to play sports again. Nevertheless, some sports still don’t work out. In this case it’s not that exciting: there are plenty of other sports that I dare to do and can do very well.

Life after a burnout

Why is the recovery taking so long?

Of all work-related psychological complaints, recovery from a burn-out takes the longest. After a year you usually function again, but the real recovery can sometimes take years. Your reserves are completely exhausted and your body has entered a kind of state of emergency. You have a recovery debt. It takes a long time before you’re back on top of this. Common complaints during the recovery period are stress complaints, fear of a relapse, fatigue and worrying.

Change of behaviour after a burn-out

Something will have to change when you’ve recovered, but it takes effort. Often a large part of self-esteem depends on all the achievements you made before the burn-out. You could do anything and always worked to your maximum. Continuous performance at 120% made you burn out. Yet that performance often gave you a good feeling. People knew you and admired you for this.

Although you have often run up against your own limits, it is very difficult to perform at maximum 100% (by the way, at maximum 70% you are much more effective).

“Recovering a burn-out feels like blowing up an already used balloon. As long as it’s not completely inflated again, it feels like it’s not full.”

Afraid to relapse

Anyone who’s had a burnout knows the fear of relapse. This is not surprising, because 20 to 30% of people experience a relapse. This makes you dare not listen to your body. There are a number of things you can watch out for during your recovery. It is especially important not to go back to work too quickly. You may feel the pressure to start again. Especially when you have more and more good days. That does not mean, however, that you have recovered sufficiently to be able to cope with working life again. If you go back to work slowly and then can only lie in bed at home, you’re really not there yet.

Cherish your good days

It’s nice when you slowly climb up and feel better again. You will soon tend to do too much. When you have a good day, you immediately feel like you have to make up for everything, not just work. You have to clean your house, meet up with that friend you neglected. That’s where it goes wrong. You’re not there yet and after such an intensive day you have to recover, so that you don’t have to use the reserves you build up during good days. You need these reserves to fully recover. Cherish your good days, but don’t do much more than on a lesser day. Build up a daily routine and stick to it. At first you may do this on a more intellectual basis, but if you experience that this does you good, you will also find the balance more and more based on feeling. Don’t be too careful, because finding that balance is something you also learn by trial and error.

Life after a burnout

Believe in yourself

Just as with someone who has to recover from a physical illness and every ache or pain makes you think something is wrong again, this can also be the case when recovering from a burnout. Every time it goes not so well, you are afraid that you will end up in a burn-out again. Keep believing in your recovery. Taking a little gas back may be enough to get you back on track. Talk to your employer about this. Many employers don’t realize that the real recovery will take a lot longer.

Getting started with yourself

A burnout doesn’t just happen. In addition to work-related factors, there are also factors related to your personality that cause you to get burned out. There may also be private factors that have contributed to your burnout. So it is important that you start working with all these factors.

At work it can be about too much work pressure, a bad working atmosphere and too high expectations. It may sound strange, but the risk of burn-out, or rather bore-out, is also there if you don’t do justice to your work and too little is expected of you. So think about what you would like to do differently in your work and get started.

People who are perfectionist and find it difficult to set boundaries are at greater risk of burn-out. A high degree of loyalty also often plays a role in this. If you are also very involved and have difficulty asking for help, you run a considerable risk of going over your limits at some point. Don’t set the bar too high for yourself, you can make mistakes. Not everything has to be perfect.

Learning new skills

In order to recover from a burn-out you should learn skills like:

  • Setting and monitoring boundaries
  • Saying no
  • Assertiveness
  • Communication

But even better is to start looking at your own strict standards and values:

  • What’s the reason you always think you should only give 120%?
  • Why do you have so much discipline that you’ve completely exhausted yourself?
  • Have you noticed that making others happy makes your own strong qualities become snowed under?

Studying about what makes you human, who you are, what makes you special and what gives you energy will ensure that your balloon will be refilled in a healthy way.

As a result, you are not only many times more effective, but also a lot happier. The moment you are able to fill your balloon with healthy, inspiring activities and keep a good balance between effort and (emotional) recovery, you can only say that you are happy that you had a burn-out.

Life after a burnout

What gives you energy?

One of the causes of a burnout can be that you do too many things that don’t give you energy. It helps if you do things you’re good at and get energy from. This makes you a lot more effective and also happier. People who have trouble saying ‘no’ are at greater risk of burn-out. So say ‘no’ more often. First think about whether it gives you energy or whether it costs you energy. This applies both at work and in your private life. Do you really want to go to that birthday? That assignment at work really suits your qualities? Isn’t volunteering in combination with your other obligations too much? Stand up for yourself and find the right balance between work and private life.

Changed due to burnout?

People who’ve just had a burnout will no doubt say they never want to go through that again. Nevertheless, it happens regularly that someone experiences a second burn-out. How is that possible?

The moment a person just recovers from his burn-out, and doesn’t see that he will have to do things differently plus learn different skills to get another burn-out, coaching is of no use. Structural steps need to be taken to really help you move forward

Do realize: You’re not going to change the nature of the beast. However, you can learn skills to deal with yourself better.

Your home should be the moment of peace in your life. The place where you can be yourself and where you can relax. So the fight against burn-out starts at home!

Return to work

Many who are recovering from a burn-out experience difficulties when they return to their old work situation. Not because you have learned nothing, but because the environment knows you, and therefore expects the same performance from you, before the burnout.

It is wise to remember in advance that the ambition you have always had can no longer be fully realised.

Changing employer after burn-out

For some people this is the reason to change employer after a burn-out.

Others seize this opportunity to really do what they like and/or always wanted to do.

Get help!

With these tips you can get to work yourself, but you can also put one of the tips into practice right away. Ask for professional help. Also a coach can help you to deal with the fear of a relapse and to trust your feelings and your body again. Our coaches have a lot of experience with recovery after a burn-out. You learn new skills and look at your own strict standards and values. We work together to find the right balance between mind and feeling, so that you can confidently face the future again.

Maybe you feel you haven’t fully recovered from your burnout yet, or you know someone who still regularly suffers the consequences of a burnout.

Personally, I would think it would be a shame if you (or he/she) would continue to walk around with this. Give yourself (or them) a better life after a burn-out.

Verstoorde werkrelatie werknemer

Training and coaching

Milltain provides training and coaching for private individuals and organisations. Our team consists of 35 coaches and trainers who have now helped thousands of people struggling with stress and burnouts.

Milltain for private individuals:

Are you stuck in life because of stress or a burnout? We developed an effective online programme that is fully focused on the complete recovery from a burnout. More than 2000 people have successfully completed this training!

Movement and nature play prominent roles in this training. Recovery is a process that contains peaks and troughs, and that’s something we know all about. Our highly experienced coaches provide you with active support.

Learn more: Stress and burnout coaching

Milltain for organisations:

With the help of a team of experienced trainers, Milltain supports organisations in the prevention of stress and the (re) finding of work happiness in the workplace. A single burnout can easily cost an organisation € 70,000 (or more!)

In addition to financial suffering, the human suffering is great. Not only for the employee but also for close colleagues who have to deal with the blows. Before long, you find yourself in a negative vicious circle.

Get long-term absence and stress among employees under control with the help of our highly effective team training via Zoom or a similar tool.

This training has proven to be an international success for both managers (leadership skills) and employees (dealing with stress).

Learn more: Online team training

Contact us

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About the author
My name is Ruud Meulenberg. Owner and founder of Milltain and Meulenberg Training & Coaching.
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