Vanessa Bokanowski - Psychologist in Brussels

Psychologist and psychotherapist specializing in burnout in Brussels.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a complex syndrome, still relatively unknown and often confused with depression. 

It can indeed resemble depression in the sense that it is also a collapse. It's indisputable that depression is part of burnout, but the reverse is not necessarily true. 

Burnout is described as professional exhaustion syndrome. The term "burnout" refers to the feeling of being consumed from within, like a candle that finally burns out after having burned for long hours.

burnout definition

This metaphor speaks for itself, as burnout is a process that generally occurs long before the individual's resources are exhausted. It's a gradual process that has its roots in stress, and is in fact a "burnout". prolonged exposure to stress

Initially, burnout is a psychological disorder resulting from chronic stress, which most often develops in a professional context. Faced with frustrating and demotivating working conditions, the individual seeks to reverse the situation by putting more and more effort into his or her work. This vicious circle leads the individual to depletion of all resources and total exhaustion, often leading to work stoppage. 

Psychotherapist in Uccles - Brussels

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I am clinical psychologist and psychotherapist in BrusselsI specialize in burnout.

The origins of burnout

The first detailed description of burnout comes from Herbert Freudenberg (1926-1989), professor of psychology at New York University: " People sometimes fall victim to fire, just like buildings. Under the strain of living in our complex world, their internal resources come to be consumed as if by flames, leaving only an immense emptiness inside, even if the external envelope seems more or less intact". 

Based on his observations, he developed his own definition of burnout: "A state of fatigue, frustration and depression, caused by devotion to a cause, lifestyle or relationship, which fails to produce the desired results". 

This definition is particularly telling, as it introduces the founding components of burnout: physical exhaustion, emotional exhaustion (depression), over-investment or devotion to a cause. 

get out of the race to work

And this devotion doesn't have the desired effect, as the return on investment is meagre, plunging the individual into endless distress.

A more motivational definition of burnout emerged with Ayala Pines in 1988. Pines describes the fundamental need of individuals to give meaning to life, which they often find through their professional activity. If, however, the individual feels that his or her activity no longer has any meaning, the immense energy invested from the outset will gradually be consumed to the point of exhaustion, which will be equal to the initial investment. This will be characterized by : "physical exhaustion, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, emotional dryness, the development of a negative self-concept, and negative attitudes towards work, life and other people".  

Pines was the first to extend the notion of burnout beyond the workplace, writing a book on marital burnout. 

Burnout symptoms

Burnout can have serious psychological, physical and emotional consequences. It begins with an over-investment in the professional sphere to the detriment of other areas of life. 

This is followed by a long period of struggle during which the individual tries to triumph in every possible way over adverse circumstances, to the detriment of his or her mental and physical health, until burnout itself marks the final stage of the process, which is divided into 5 distinct parts: 

  • Onset of exhaustion and first symptoms
  • Reducing commitment and performance at work
  • Deteriorating general condition
  • Physical reactions to stress 
  • Depression and despair. 
burn-out symptoms

More generally, the characteristic symptoms of burnout are :

  • A loss of motivation at work that extends to other areas of life;
  • A form of existential crisis characterized by a feeling of sadness, weariness and despair;
  • Excessive and chronic fatigue that seems insurmountable;
  • Generalized anxiety ;
  • Hypervigilance and hypersensitivity;
  • Excessive reactions (sudden crying or angry outbursts); 
  • Withdrawal;
  • Loss of self-esteem;
  • Physical pain (muscle tension, headaches, dizziness, sleep disorders);
  • Addictive behavior (tobacco, alcohol, drugs, eating disorders). 

Causes of burnout

Several scenarios are possible, and very often these factors combine. 

Too much work :

flat batteries at work, fatigue and the onset of burnout

A heavy workload that never seems to let up, forcing people to work longer hours, come home late and cut back on sleep, increases stress, anxiety and the feeling of being caught in a never-ending race. 

Lack of autonomy and decision-making latitude

Very often, work environments conducive to burnout are opaque and restrictive, where managers want to control everything and give employees little or no say in decision-making. The result is a feeling of suffocation, a fear of doing the wrong thing and a lack of confidence in one's abilities. 

 A lack of recognition 

In this type of environment, employees are not praised for their work and initiative is discouraged. This is part of the control strategy in place: by fostering a climate of uncertainty, individuals feel perpetually at risk as regards their position in the company, and work under constant pressure. 

Lack of social support

Understanding Burn Out

In demanding work environments, the "divide and conquer" strategy is often the order of the day. Management fosters a climate of competition between employees, but also often a generalized climate of mistrust, turning employees against each other. Each employee feels alone in his or her frantic race, with the feeling that others are out to undermine him or her. 


It is expressed in a series of attitudes and actions characterized by humiliation, hostility or intimidation within a hierarchical relationship. The person is subjected to this harassment over time because he or she fears for his or her job. 

Personal factors.

There's an asymmetry between investment and results, and a huge loss of meaning as a result. 

It's as if the individual were staking his entire sense of identity on a cause, no doubt neglecting other areas of his life. 

Psychotherapist in Uccles - Brussels

Let's talk about it!

I am clinical psychologist and psychotherapist in BrusselsI specialize in burnout.

What drives an individual to burn out so much? 

Burnout can sometimes be the expression of a pre-existing fragility in the individual, which will express itself by over-investing in one area of his life to the detriment of others, where he hopes to find the recognition that will give meaning to his existence. 

Burnout can involve a flaw in self-esteem, inherited from the past, leading an individual to have to prove his or her worth, to the detriment of his or her own life. 

How do you get out of burnout?

It's important to consult a psychotherapist in Brussels as soon as you become aware of the first symptoms.

Burnout forces us to reconsider our lives. It generally expresses itself as an identity crisis, with the feeling of having lost oneself. It forces us to reconsider our position in the world, because it challenges our previously established certainties and points of reference.

It often leads to a global rethinking of one's life choices and priorities. 

It questions basic choices (is this the right career for me?), the place of work in one's life, one's relationship with the hierarchy but also with others (colleagues, family). 

As it leads to a total collapse of oneself and one's resources, it also invites reflection on one's own limits. Why didn't I stop this situation before? What drove me to continue until I was exhausted? We often find the answers by reconstructing the thread of our own history. 

If carried out properly, this reflection can really bring about a life-saving renewal and enable you to build a more fulfilling life, by reviewing certain choices, rebalancing your priorities and reassessing the place of others and family in your life.

waking up after burnout

But also find or rediscover a connection with yourself and take care of yourself. 

We need to learn to take the time to do things that make us feel good (sport, yoga, dance) that give us pleasure (walks, friends, etc.), to know how to say no without feeling guilty. 

It's also important to identify energy-generating people and stay away from others. 

It's also important to understand that the meaning of life is not to be found in one sphere of life to the exclusion of others, but on the contrary, in plurality. 

It's often in the right distribution of energy in different areas that life seems more harmonious. We try to find the right balance between the time we devote to ourselves, to others and to our aspirations.