—  Belgique  —

From being a victim of burnout to becoming a burnout coach

- 21 février 2023
Burnout is a reaction to chronic professional stress, sometimes mixed with other life factors, which affects many people in society. © Storyset sur Freepik

Dr. Özgün Ünver is originally from Istanbul and has been living in Belgium for 15 years. After obtaining her PhD, she decided to take her career as a research support assistant at the university in a new direction, to become a burnout coach for academics. Considering her own personal experience with burnout, she found it more useful to take this coaching training to help others.

Özgün sees burnout as a phenomenon that affects many people in society, often due to the same causes, although everyone experiences it in a different way. Even if the main origin of burnout is directly linked to the world of work because of the stress it causes, some external factors coming from the management of daily life induce such a high load of stress that they also trigger a latent burnout.

Burnout is a reaction to chronic professional stress, sometimes mixed with other life factors, which affects many people in society. It is characterised by symptoms such as: exhaustion, pessimism, lack of interest in work and a sense of diminished professional competence. Simply put, if you feel tired or burned out, start to hate your job, and feel less capable at work, you are showing signs of burnout. Most people spend a significant proportion of their waking hours working. If you curse your activity or work, dread going to work and are unhappy with what you do, it can seriously disrupt your life. The symptoms of burnout present in a clear and understandable way. They can affect you physically and mentally. Although burnout is not a diagnosable psychological disorder, this does not mean that it should not be taken seriously. See the Guidelines of the World Health Organization.

An energy disorder

She points out that the result is a deterioration in the quality of life of the person affected, the symptoms being physical and/or psychological, with permanent exhaustion and pessimism being the most frequent. « Gradually you may find yourself unable to function in society and to play an active role. It is very important to always remember that burnout is not something that happens in a few weeks or months. It is an accumulation of chronic stress », says Özgün, who experienced it herself towards the end of her PhD.

Dr. Özgün Ünver burnout coach. © D.R.

She added that while depression is a mood disorder, a psychological phenomenon, burnout is an energy disorder, where you can have depressive feelings until you are properly diagnosed. Compared with depression, in which only these depressive feelings may appear, burnout develops in three distinct phases: cognitive exhaustion, emotional exhaustion and, finally, disconnection from your work.

When you experience burnout, you don’t want to socialise with your colleagues, friends, or loved ones. Even your parents and family members may become « unwanted ». Physical symptoms can also appear in many people, such as sleep problems, changes in weight and appetite, skin rashes, and so on. There are many ways to check if a person is facing such an issue, to what extent, and on what basis, to make it possible to adjust the way of treating the disease.

With the experience gained from this debilitating condition and the studies she followed to become qualified in the treatment of burnout, Özgün strongly advises sufferers not to remain isolated and to seek the assistance of a coach or specialist therapist as soon as possible. The longer the affected person remains in isolation, the longer it will take to recover and reintegrate into the working world.

As she points out, there is a difference between burnout and depression, and many people confuse the two. She added that sometimes depression and burnout come together and this is called « complex burnout ». It has short- and long-term treatments because burnout doesn’t come quickly and doesn’t go quickly. She gives them advice and doing some exercises, on how to help themself.

«You don’t know how to start, because everything is new ! »

Ahmed Wali Ahmad Yar is originally from Afghanistan and has been living in Belgium for seven years. He is currently a doctoral researcher at the Free University of Brussels (VUB).

Ahmed Wali Ahmad Yar PhD student at VUB. © Lailuma Sadid

According to Wali, life is always difficult and sometimes very complicated: «You don’t know how to start, because everything is new! »

« For example, when I decided to study, I registered for my master’s degree at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and I didn’t think to inform the authorities like the CPAS, even though they take care of my financial situation. When they found out, they refused my social aid and sanctioned me because I had registered at the university without informing them, but I continued my studies. »

Wali said it was a really difficult time but he did his master’s in political science at ULB without any assistance. « I went through a difficult period, I felt more tired, hated my life, and was less active. I think it was a burnout. Fortunately, I recovered quickly. » Yes, when you don’t have any support from the social or government, all this pressure makes you burnout.

« I had this feeling that I didn’t want to do anything anymore. »

Wali added that all the pressures, stress, and everything that goes with them, slowly leads to total exhaustion. He explains: « I had this feeling that I didn’t want to do anything anymore, I felt like I couldn’t work, I couldn’t talk, I didn’t feel happy at all, and I totally lacked the energy that I had before. » On top of that, sometimes people interfere with your personal life, your work, and all your activities and destabilize your life even more at that crucial moment when you could really use some support, he said.

Elisabeth Dubois, who is from France and is currently working in Brussels, shared her experience of this phenomenon: « I thought it would never happen to me, but unfortunately, I was the victim of burnout. My life changed very quickly when I broke up with my boyfriend. I suffered from insomnia and overeating. I distanced myself from everyone, I had no other choice but to cry. I spent difficult days. I took a one-year break from university and stopped studying. »

Feeling bored

Describing how was feeling, she said her first reaction was feeling bored. As with many others, depending on the severity of the situation, this developed into a feeling of finding herself unable to function in society; in daily life and in work, she said

Elisabeth added, unfortunately, in modern society we have become used to coming under a lot of pressure and stress, and before burnout, we go through very stressful periods. Give a lot of priority to study, work, or duties, then put you under a lot of stress.